Childhood adventures with Daphne Guinness

As Daphne Guinness adds a new album to her portfolio of achievements, I was reminded of some enjoyable weekends away with her when we were 11 years old.  She had a pretty face, sparky eyes and good nature, which you can see in her wedding photos. We were in the same class from 8-12 years old, then she went to boarding school and we have not been in touch since. Her nickname was Digit – for DG.

The Belfast Telegraph 24.04.2023,  in an article on her life, mentions how as a child ‘she often spent time in solitude’. And loneliness is what I remember, most vividly, as it contrasted so much with my own home life. There was masses of space but all of it empty, both in Kensington and in the country. A very nice London-based nanny flickered on and off,  and called me ‘sensible’.

Daphne was mischievous and creative. One time we went to her local joke shop in Kensington and got some metal shapes which were supposed to mimic the sound of crockery smashing when you dropped them. We duly staked out the large kitchen, performed our prank and waited. Nobody came.

We had a meal with her parents in London in a  beautiful dining room, with elegant tableware. I had to be on my best behaviour. The parents sat at either end of the table. The silence was unnerving. And after, her father slumped back waggling his finger in his ear with an intensity which intrigued me. Kids remember the strangest things. I now know it to have been a minor ear infection, as I have found myself doing just that. Her mother seemed frail and unwell and didn’t come with us to the country.

At her country house there was a borderline-lake with an island, and a rowing boat with a puddle of muddy rainwater gathering in the bottom. We scavenged lighter fuel, matches, frying pan and sausages, and rowed ourselves to the island. This has to be my best memory. The freedom to roam, the landscaped gardens, building a fire, wolfing down our fry-up. Proper Swallers and Amazons. One time she thought it fun to pretend we were marooned, so we pushed the oar out and called for help.  A few members of the Philippine staff did come running that time. It was all a jape, and we had a good laugh at their expense.

Her father came and sat with us in the nursery to watch Doctor Who, a programme which always scared me. The nursery had a large rocking horse which Daphne rocked hard and high. We took turns being on the horse or wedged between each of his hooves. The game was to try to make the horse tip up but it never did. The castles full of soldiers, the four-poster beds, the mirrored bathroom, the corridors to run in… it felt like I was touring Queen Mary’s doll’s house. One time I argued with her and I went off on my own which was a mistake. I felt the desolation, so I had to track her down, which wasn’t easy, and make peace with her.

On one car journey, I was looking up dazedly at the motorway lights flashing past and she rested her head on my lap. I stroked her hair and she lay quite still.

I blurted out something unprintable in the tube when, years later, I saw her wedding photo in the papers. She was the first to take the plunge and was so young. A way out of the emotional vacuum, a chance to feel loved. Why do the super-rich bother with children. Accessorising is it…

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