For more than four decades the Lucan title has been tainted by murder and intrigue. Now ANNE-SOFIE, the 8th Countess of Lucan, wants to give her daughter a legacy she can be proud of.
‘It was a dark time for my husband. He lost his father, mother and nanny. But it’s time for everybody to move on. It’s a new era,’ says Anne-Sofie Foghsgaard, Danish heiress and, since February last year, officially the 8th Countess of Lucan through her marriage to George Bingham the month before.
For a certain generation, she could not have taken on a name more imbued with scandal, intrigue and mystery, but Anne-Sofie, 39, has the energy and non-Britishness to put the tainted family legacy behind her. Daunted? Not a bit. She is about to embark on turning Lucan into a brand, not a burden: ‘It’s a fresh start for the name,’ she says.
It has been more than 40 years since George’s father, the 7th Earl of Lucan, enraged and broken by a toxic custody battle with his estranged wife Veronica (who died last month, aged 80, just after our interview) over their three children, is alleged to have entered the family’s Belgravia house and bludgeoned to death the nanny, Sandra Rivett. His intended target, it has been widely assumed, was actually Veronica.
By her own account, Lord Lucan attacked her, too, then fled. Three days later, his car was found at the port of Newhaven on the Sussex coast containing traces of blood and hair belonging to both his wife and the nanny. A lead pipe covered in blood was found in the boot. The Earl was never seen again. There could be no arrest and no trial.
The story was a perfect storm, with dramatic elements that kept it alive for four decades. A handsome, gambling aristocrat bitterly feuding with his wife (who was in poor mental health) over their three small children. Friends in high places; friends in low places: had he, in fact, hired an East End hitman through his gambling contacts?
And a brutal attack in which a young woman lost her life and for which nobody was ever brought to justice. The overnight disappearance of Lord Lucan himself has spawned an industry of books, films, documentaries, all with different theories.
In 1974 Lord Lucan was named the prime suspect in Sandra Rivett’s murder. It was the last inquest in Britain to make such a pronouncement without an individual standing trial in a court of law.
Those who have followed the story know that Lord Lucan’s children – George (a financial consultant), his younger sister Camilla (a QC) and elder sister Frances (a corporate lawyer) – have never acknowledged or accepted his alleged culpability, maintaining that their father, whom they adored, was never given the chance of a fair trial.
George was a young teenager when he and his sisters were made wards of court because of their mother’s fragile mental health, and went to live with their aunt, her sister. The estrangement between the children and their mother – and between the dowager countess and her sister – continued until her death.
In 1999, the 7th Earl of Lucan was officially declared dead. Finally, as a result of last year’s High Court hearing, a death certificate was granted. George legally became the 8th Earl and the couple’s baby daughter, born ten months ago, has the title of Lady Daphne.
‘It was important to George,’ explains Anne-Sofie, widely known as Fie, ‘not only because of his birthright but because he feels a sense of responsibility for what comes with it. It was important for closure; to move on and to have everyone else move on.’
We meet today, in the flat they have just moved into in St John’s Wood in London, because the new Earl and Countess of Lucan have decided to step into the limelight together and face questions of the kind that George has been asked all his adult life. Lady Daphne – conceived on their honeymoon last year (‘a bit of a surprise!’) – is playing in another room with her nanny.
On the sofa are garments from the couple’s new business venture, Lucan – a proudly British collection of stylish, multipurpose outdoorwear for men and women, designed for the field and moor but equally at home in the city.
Frustrated with the boxy tweediness and drab functionality of much shooting wear, Anne-Sofie has redesigned traditional pieces and revitalised them with pops of orange and chartreuse, expressing what she describes as ‘stylishness, femininity, masculinity and the simple, unashamed self-confidence of an accomplished shot’.
Shooting is Anne-Sofie’s passion. Having grown up on her father’s estates in Scotland and Denmark, she has more than 15 years’ experience; she won the 2012 European Championship for box pigeon shooting and has shot for both Team France and Team GB.
Her own title is, she continues, unimportant to her. ‘Look,’ she says, ‘in Denmark the royal family ride around on bikes with their children on the back. Nobody cares about that stuff apart from in England.’ Still, she does use the Countess title, both for business purposes, running Fie’s Club – which organises shoots on private estates – and in her personal life: ‘It’s part of the fun of it!’
She is always delighted when she books a restaurant table and has to spell out the name, ‘because Lucan is a great deal easier to spell than Foghsgaard.
‘Those were very, very dark times for George,’ she continues, ‘and like any of us, he doesn’t like to dwell on dark times. He was a very small boy and adored his father, mother and nanny. He lost them all. The children remember their father as being funny, warm and kind. It’s not nice when everybody else thinks something different from the truth, but the children know that their friends and family support them.’
She shows me a framed picture of her husband as a child, chubby-faced and beaming, on holiday with his father. But what of the incriminating evidence against Lord Lucan? ‘All circumstantial. It seems to me all the evidence is weak.’ The new Lady Lucan offers no theory of her own, or if she has one, she is too diplomatic to voice it. ‘I don’t care,’ she says.
Anne-Sofie, whose own father was a successful Danish industrialist, spent her early childhood in Copenhagen where she was born. At 13, she and her twin brother briefly attended Gordonstoun School in Scotland in order to improve their English.
She returned to the UK at 16, to a boarding school in Yorkshire. On leaving, she took a series of jobs, then at 23 settled on a history of art degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. But it was after discovering shooting, also in her 20s, that she really hit her stride professionally, both as a competitor and later by setting up Fie’s Club.
She first dated George around ten years ago, after meeting him at a party in London. Anne-Sofie, fiercely Danish – there are Danish flags all over their flat – knew nothing of the Lucan legacy: ‘I am not interested in gossip,’ she says. ‘I can’t remember the moment when I did come to know [about it]. George is the love of my life – funny, clever, kind, warm. [The murder] had nothing to do with him – he was a small boy asleep in his bed when it happened.
‘I had no idea [about the story] and none of my friends cares either. It is very much a generational thing.’
And perhaps, I suggest, her lack of interest in the Lucan gossip is helped by the fact that she is not English and is thus an outsider to the idiosyncratic ways of the British class system. There is a vitality, directness and ‘otherness’ about her, which makes her a breath of fresh air. ‘Yes,’ she acknowledges, ‘I am very not-English, although I have just got my citizenship – yay! I think of myself as European, even though I have lived in the UK since I was 16.
I still find it so funny that the English talk endlessly about the weather, and the way you are hopeless at ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ and that you don’t make eye contact or instigate a handshake. I am very direct. I am Danish and it is important to me that my daughter is as Danish as she is English. I will certainly talk to her in Danish.’
The ten-year age difference between her and George, who recently turned 50, was more apparent when she was younger than it is now: ‘I wanted to shoot, party and go out all the time, while George was working very hard in finance and preferred to stay in on a Friday night and watch Jack Bauer in 24 on TV.’
Back then, George, like his sisters, was intensely private: ‘They didn’t want to seek the limelight. They all wanted to keep a very low profile.’
The relationship ended after four or five months. ‘He finished with me and I was broken-hearted,’ she says, ‘but I do think if there is magic, it finds itself again.’
They stayed in touch, during which time she lived in London and built up Fie’s Club (despite suffering several years of ill health following a burst appendix, which meant she was in and out of hospital). In 2013 they began dating again: ‘I think everybody grows up and matures. While we retain all the fundamental parts of ourselves, we do soften.’
The marriage proposal came as a wonderful surprise. There was, however, a sadness that the estrangement from George’s mother meant the dowager countess did not attend the wedding:
‘All I can say is that all three children persistently and consistently tried to get in touch with her with no success. I would love to have met my mother-in-law. It is only natural.
‘When we announced our engagement, I wrote a letter to her inviting her for tea and to our wedding. I dropped it round to her flat by hand. George and I waited at The Goring Hotel in Belgravia but she did not come. Obviously, that made my husband extremely sad. Sometimes it is better to let things be. I felt very sorry for her but also extremely grateful to her because she gave birth to George.’
New parenthood for Anne-Sofie and her husband has brought the couple great joy. Her husband might carry the weight of the ancient Lucan title, but he is a thoroughly modern man who, she says, has had to find his own way through the tragedy, with the strong support of his sisters (‘who are fantastic and so close to him’), all of them not only losing three people they loved but also coping with the public speculation that threatened the memories of their father. In that sense, it was a double loss. Now George is a father himself, he is relishing it.
‘He really is very, very Danish,’ she says, making it clear that this is the utmost compliment. ‘He is so helpful. When I had Daphne, he cleaned and cooked three times a day. He would arrive at the hospital to see me at 5am and we’d lie snoozing together. He is kind, intelligent and bright and we have this wonderful new family, and a new business. I think it’s time everybody started focusing on the positive things in our lives.’
For more information about the Lucan range visit houseoflucan.com
By Louise Carpenter