Vincent Poklewski Koziell, aristocrat, businessman. Born: 30 June, 1929, in London. Died: 1 September 2017, in France, aged 88.
Vincent Poklewski Koziell was a London-born Polish aristocrat whose family lost most of their vast fortune overnight following the 1917 Russian Revolution.
As a bon viveur and raconteur, he enjoyed the lifestyle of a fictional PG Wodehouse character, marrying several times, attending and throwing outlandish parties for the well-heeled, while also trying to earn a living, turning his hand to selling vacuum cleaners, advertising, property, banking and even running a Mayfair night club.
Born in St John’s Wood, north London, in 1929, Vincent was the son of Alfons, who he described as from ‘run-down Polish nobility’, although his grandfather was the largest vodka supplier in Siberia and at one stage owned swathes of land, gold, sapphire and asbestos mines in the Urals, and established schools, hospitals and churches for Polish exiles who had served time in the gulags; they were dubbed the “Siberian Rockefellers”.
Conversely, his mother the ravishingly pretty Zoia de Stoeckl, was from a renowned family of diplomats; her grandfather had been a envoi in the Imperial Russian Embassy in Washington; aged 18, she was a maid of honour to the last empress of Russia.
After the October Revolution, Alfons and his family were forced to flee to London.
He worked as commercial counsellor at the Polish Embassy but struggled to live on £350 a year; in Russia he had enjoyed £50,000 a year. Alfons met Zoia at one of Lady Cunard’s parties and the couple married in 1919. They had two sons (Alexander and Vincent), before returning to Poland to run a mining business in Katowice.
The family followed in 1933 and moved into Lancut Castle, which possessed no fewer than 11 dining rooms, a theatre and Turkish bath. Here Vincent enjoyed himself driving a miniature Rolls-Royce, participating in shooting parties and picnics, and sitting alongside Count Potocki as he drove his four horses at breakneck speed through surrounding villages, with two grooms blowing their horns to warn unsuspecting pedestrians.
With the outbreak of the Second World War imminent, the Koziells fled to London, a week before the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.
Good friends of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Koziells moved to their estate in Buckinghamshire. During school holidays, Vincent attended many grand lunches and dinners on the estate, where the guest list included Winston Churchill and members of the Royal Family, including Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, with whom he played charades. Vincent later became one of the present Duke of Kent’s closest friends.
Unacademic, Vincent failed to win a scholarship to Cambridge University and then failed his medical for National Service due to poor eyesight. He subsequently became an office boy at Electrolux, before being promoted to selling vacuum cleaners for £2 15s (£69) a week, but had to ask for a day off to attend Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Philip.
Thereafter, he bought a motorbike and headed for Glasgow to sell washing machines for commercial laundries but soon returned south to sell built-in refrigerators for council flats.
With a penchant for cocktail parties and white-tie dinners, his evenings and weekends, however, were spent either in Buckinghamshire or with his brother Alex, (who died, aged 41, having “overtaxed his liver with a final bottle of champagne”) partying the night away in Mayfair and Soho or at debutante dances and country house parties.
Resigning from Electrolux, Vincent pawned a pair of silver Georgian candlesticks and sailed to New York where he worked as a butcher and learned about the grocery industry. Returning, a friend asked him to set up a supermarket venture but this fizzled out.
Family contacts secured a job with the advertising firm of Coleman Prentice & Varley, where he lasted a few years. Having gained a promotion and the Jaeger fashion account, his lack of professionalism caught up with him. He blotted his copybook when he blew the department’s budget on what he thought was an inspired idea – a trip to Kashmir to photograph models wearing cashmere.
Concurrently, he took over the running of a struggling Polish nightclub called Chez Sophie, “the sort of place where you took your girlfriend rather than your fiancée”. This too proved unsuccessful, with the police raiding it for serving drinks after hours, and many of his friends “failing to pay their bills”.
Fortuitously, Vincent landed a job with a private bank, run by a Romanian friend, where he was almost the sole employee, which led to him becoming a property developer in Sardinia, where he was dubbed “Il grande banquiere Inglese”. He found himself, he said gloomily, “for the first time in danger of having to do some hard work”.
A late starter with women by his own admission, despite the protestations of friends and family, in 1958, he married Natalie Potocka, from a leading Polish family. An unmitigated disaster, they divorced after a year and in 1962, he married Annabel de las Casas, with whom he had three children.
In 1965, living in Dublin, Vincent became a director of Brown Thomas, an Irish department store. It proved a lucrative venture and he supplemented his income by successfully playing the stock market from his bed explaining, “why get out of bed when you can work from bed”.
In the mid-1970s, he bought Stacumny House in Co Kildare, but tragically, aged 42, Annabel died of cancer in 1977. In the intervening years, he was involved in a short-lived mushroom business, a dry cleaning company, and restoring a Victorian vicarage, blown up by the IRA.
In 1982, he married Vicky, who divorced Ivor, 3rd Viscount Wimborne. They enjoyed a heady mix of socialising, holidaying and parties. For Vincent’s 60th birthday, the family organised a party at nearby Castletown House, followed by a large “hangover lunch” at Stacumny, attended by Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall.
In later life, Vincent served as chairman of the Irish Cancer Society and established its home care service. He also helped a friend establish a residential multi-sports club in Florida, before finally retiring to Kensington, London.
His rollercoaster life was revealed in his 2014 memoir The Ape Has Stabbed Me, which showed how he was always determined to have fun, exemplifying, as writer Philip Marsden put it, “that wonderful Polish quality of ‘polot’, meeting danger and adversity with the courage not just to survive, but to survive in style”.
Following a drink-driving ban, he took to cycling and was often glimpsed travelling with a cocktail shaker and a pug he liked to dress up in hats. He described himself as having “a keen sense of the ridiculous and liking to wear a mask of ruthless frivolity and ‘joie de vivre’ at all times.”
He died holidaying in France and is survived by Vicky, three children and two stepsons.