Obituary:Angus Douglas-Hamilton, the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon

Angus Douglas-Hamilton, 15th Duke of Hamilton.Born: 13 September, 1938, in London. Died: 5 June, 2010, aged 71.

ANGUS Hamilton was two people: a man surrounded by, suffused in and part of the history of Scotland and an ordinary bloke, in his language, who was an engineer, flyer and racing driver. He bore the weight of his father, the first man to fly over Everest, the man that Rudolf Hess flew from Germany to see in a bid to end the war, the force behind the creation of Prestwick Airport and Scottish Aviation.

But he cut away from that to be an aerial photographer in Malaya, a racing driver and one of the team which developed the Supercat, an amphibious vehicle still in military and civilian service today.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Angus Alan Douglas Douglas-Hamilton was born into a family at the centre of a lively London and Edinburgh social scene. His mother, Elizabeth Percy, was the daughter of the Duke of Northumberland, and married the heir to the dukedoms of Hamilton and Brandon. Her wedding in St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, to the "Boxing Marquess" was a highlight of 1937.

Angus Hamilton came into the world in 1938 as the Earl of Angus and succeeded his father as Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale in 1940 on the death of his grandfather, the 13th Duke. Angus Clydesdale often recalled the consternation in 1941 surrounding the arrival of the "nasty Nazi", Rudolf Hess, who tried to land near the family's home at Dungavel, in a bizarre mission to persuade the 14th Duke, presumed to be a confidante of the King, to use his influence there to end the war.

Angus Hamilton spent his earliest years at Dungavel, with his grandmother, the vegetarian and animal rights campaigner, Nina, Duchess of Hamilton, which left a life-time aversion to violence and cruelty to animals, later to form a key part of his life with his third wife, Kay Carmichael. His father bought Lennoxlove, near Haddington, in 1947, and it remains today the centre of the Hamilton family concerns. Archerfield Estate was added soon after.

He started school life at Carlekemp in North Berwick where his father bought a large house by the sea to help Angus recover from bronchitis. He soon progressed to Summer Fields School in preparation for entry to RJN "Purple Parr's" house at Eton College in 1951. He always claimed to be no scholar but clearly his lessons in Greek had struck home and later he was self-taught in Italian through listening to opera.

In 1953 he was page to his father at the Coronation. In 1955, his father sent him to Perth for the month of August, at the end of which he had his solo pilot's flying licence – which he kept up for the next 50 years. He joined the Air Cadets while at Eton, and the Oxford University Air Training Corps when he went up in 1956 to read engineering, which became the core of his business interests.

After university he went into the Royal Air Force, which provided the chance for independence and a life away from the demands of high society and most, but not all, of the preparation for future ducal responsibilities.

For example, in 1963, he was ADC to HRH The Duke of Gloucester who was Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He flew reconnaissance for the British forces in Malaya fighting against communist insurgents.

In Singapore, he started to drive racing cars and soon picked up the "Racing Marquess" nickname and raced in many parts of Europe in cars like the Maserati 250F and Lola-Climaxes. In 1967 he was invalided out of the RAF and came back to Scotland to work as a test pilot, principally on the Bulldog, a three-seater all-purpose aircraft developed by Scottish Aviation at Prestwick.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In 1972 he married Sarah Jane Scott, born in 1945 the daughter of Sir Walter Scott, 4th Baronet, and started to refurbish the farm at Archerfield which was to be his family home for the next 35 years. They moved into Archerfield in 1975, having succeeded his father to the dukedoms in 1973, just months before his first daughter, Lady Eleanor Douglas-Hamilton, was born.

In 1973 Hamilton made his maiden speech as a cross-bencher in the House of Lords on the subject of nuclear fusion. He described himself as a "humble engineer", and was listened to by his great friend in the House, Lord Energlyn, who had been a South Wales miner.

His quiet work for charity showed when he was appointed to the Order of the St John, and he often wore the insignia of a Knight of the Order. Even so, his politics were always to the left and his style self-effacing. As Professor Gordon Donaldson wrote in Hamilton's 1991 study of Mary, Queen of Scots, "he makes no plea to be judged other than by professional standards. The fact he is a duke has nothing to do with it, the fact he is not a trained historian has much to do with it."

The pressures of history, perhaps the shadow of a father who had achieved so much, seem to have been heavy; alcohol became a refuge and life became difficult. A divorce from Sally followed in 1987 and she died in 1994. A brief marriage to Jillian Robertson followed but already the most important person in his life had joined him. Kay Carmichael, then divorced from her husband, met him through an interest in an abused dog and over the next few years she rescued Hamilton from the despair of alcohol, forming a bond which gave him the stability and happiness to pursue with vigour his life as an entrepreneur, aviator and custodian of more titles than anyone else in Britain.

They married quietly in 1998 and put much energy into Staffordshire terrier rescue, campaigns to abolish animal cruelty – especially against the production of foie gras.

In 1999 the Duke of Hamilton, as the descendant of the ancient Lords of Abernethy, bore the Crown from the Honours of Scotland to the opening of the re-convened Scottish Parliament in which his ancestors had played major roles from the creation of the dukedom in 1643. He renewed his marriage vows to Kay in the summer of 2009 by which time the cloud of dementia had descended on their lives.

Music, especially opera, was a lifelong interest. In 1966, Hamilton sported a massive handlebar moustache and hearing that his favourite tenor, Giovanni Martinelli, was signing record sleeves in a record shop in Oxford Street in London, marched in, bought a copy of everything that was on offer and asked the maestro to sign them.

That moment was scored in his memory, with the keepa da mustachio story being recalled right to the end, together with the autographed discs. Even late in his life, a recording of a fine tenor could be guaranteed to bring a tear. Hamilton was a wicked mimic, not least of members of his own and other great families with whom he inevitably came into contact in his formal roles.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He was very proud of his ancestors, not the great dukes of the 17-19th centuries, but the sailors of modest rank from whom his branch of the family descended, the titles, but not all the property, having moved between distant cousins when the 12th Duke died in 1895 with no male issue.

The house was always full of visitors from a huge circle of friends – ranging from astronauts to country and western singers, such as George Hamilton IV (a friend, not a relative). He and Kay were patrons of the arts, as his mother had been before, and in latter years they were keen to maintain the history of the family represented in the Kneller portraits at Lennoxlove. But while flying, driving, opera, art and Lennoxlove were his preoccupations, his passion was for Kay who remained with him through his most difficult periods.

His son, Alexander, succeeds to the Dukedoms.