George 7th Earl of Harewood, KBE AM

The Earl of Harewood, KBE
The Earl of Harewood, KBE
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HIS was a life of astonishing richness and variety, in which he left his stamp on both high art and popular culture. And even though he was born to privilege and wealth, ordinary people found to their delight that they could talk to him as an equal.

The Earl of Harewood was a thoroughly modern Royal long before the arrival of a generation that shook the House of Windsor out of its old certainties. But he achieved his impact not through frivolity or scandal, but through a passionate commitment to music, sport, liberal campaigning and the restoration of Harewood House from faded splendour to one of Yorkshire’s great stately homes.

The earl’s life was packed with incident. Nobody else in Yorkshire could have said that their death warrant had been personally signed by Hitler, or that they had presided over English football when Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966, or that they had been in charge of some of the finest opera companies in the world.

The earl could, and did, without once sounding boastful. His 1981 memoir, The Tongs And The Bones, told the story of his life with characteristic humour. The voice that came through on the page was the same heard in conversation – charming, urbane, witty and fired by passion for his enthusiasms. More than one profiler noted that the Royal Family could have done with more like him.

Those profilers were fond of tagging him “The Royal Rebel” during the 1950s and 60s, a label he dismissed, saying: “I have never thought of myself as being even remotely royal.” But he was. His blood was of the bluest. He was a first cousin of the Queen, grandson of George V and 38th in line to the throne.

What we know of George V as a person came from Lord Harewood’s recollections of him. The old King “found it so easy to find fault with anyone that what was probably a basic kindness was quite lost in his gruff exterior, added to which the ritual good morning and good night peck had to be offered to a beard of astonishing abrasiveness. I don’t think he really cared much for children and he had a positive mania for punctuality”, he wrote.

George Henry Hubert Lascelles was born in London on February 7, 1923 and was eternally sorry that it was not in Yorkshire. But, baptised in Yorkshire, at Goldsborough parish church, near Knaresborough, he always regarded himself as a Yorkshireman.

He became the seventh Earl of Harewood in 1947 when only 24, inheriting 20,000 acres of land which estate duty reduced by 1978 to 7,000 acres, and has further reduced to the 3,000 acres that it is today. His mother was the Princess Royal, the daughter of George V, and he shared Harewood House with her for 20 years. A canny business sense led him to capitalise on Harewood’s assets.

He went to Eton, but war intervened and he joined his father’s old regiment, the Grenadier Guards, in 1942 as a private, not taking a commission until eight months later. His war was take a dramatic turn two years later. On June 18 1944, he was fighting in Italy when he was shot in the stomach and leg, spending the night in a muddy puddle before being taken prisoner.

The Germans took him first to Spangenburg POW camp, and then, six weeks later, to the notorious Colditz. There, he was to be classified as one of the “Prominenten”, prisoners of social standing who the Germans considered using for propaganda purposes. A nephew of Churchill’s was also among the group. As the war neared its end, the Prominenten were marked for death. Hitler signed Lord Harewood’s death warrant in March 1945. A copy of the document surfaced long after the war, and he had sight of it. The group was moved from Colditz, and in a castle in Bavaria, the earl and his comrades made a final attempt to avoid execution, walling themselves up in a tiny cavity for three days. “It was,” he would later drily recall, “something of a test of character.”

They were found, but fate intervened in the form of an SS general who realised the game was up for Germany and it would go badly for him if he murdered the men, so he informed them he was disobeying the Fuhrer’s orders and handed them over to the neutral Swiss.

The year he inherited Harewood, he went up to King’s College, Cambridge, to read English. He was fortunate that EM Forster was a college Fellow. It was to Forster he turned for advice when Benjamin Britten invited him to become president of the first Aldeburgh Festival. He accepted, but was suspicious that he had been approached by the musical world not for his knowledge or experience, but solely because he was a member of the Royal Family.

But he was a quick learner, and within five years was David Webster’s right-hand man at Covent Garden. Soon he was the obvious choice to direct the Edinburgh Festival, which he did between 1961 and 1965, a post sandwiched within his time from 1958 until 1974 as director of the Leeds Festival.

The invitation to be artistic adviser to the New Philharmonia Orchestra came in 1966. The orchestra at that time was staggering back from the brink of closure. He was adviser for 10 years. His expertise was such that he would subsequently serve as a director of the Royal Opera House and managing director of Sadler’s Wells (later English National Opera), and English National Opera North.

His knowledge of opera was probably unparalleled. And it dated back to his very earliest years. He was four when his parents bought some Wagner records. He came home one day and they were playing the start of The Valkyrie, the second opera of The Ring. The lad was immensely impressed and found that the sound of good singers gave him a “tremendous kick”.

His name became known among opera lovers the world over, thanks to his editing of Kobbe’s , the standard operatic reference book of a million words on 1,400 pages.

His other great passion was football. His knowledge of soccer was profound and had been accumulated from the day in 1932 that his father took him as a nine-year-old to watch Leeds United play Arsenal at Elland Road. His memory for football facts and figures was prodigious.

Few men were better suited to be Leeds United’s president – a post he had held since 1961 – or president of the FA, which he was from 1964 until 1971, a period covering England’s victory in the World Cup in 1966.

Such commitments would have been more than enough for most men, but Harewood had an appetite for work and took on even more. From the early 1960s, he was a prominent figure in the campaign to abolish capital punishment. He also served as chairman of the British Board of Film Censors.

His private life was not without pain. It was during a performance of The Rape of Lucretia that he met his future wife, the concert pianist Marion Stein, the daughter of an exiled Viennese music publisher. They started courting during a tour of The Beggar’s Opera, and he proposed after a performance of Berg’s Wozzeck in the summer of 1949. The marriage produced three sons (among them the heir, David) but its days were numbered.

In 1959, Harewood met Patricia Tuckwell, a Melbourne violinist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The couple soon fell in love, but Marion initially refused to grant him a divorce, though she relented in 1967, three years after his mistress gave birth to a son. The affair cost him his friendship with Benjamin Britten, who was also a friend of Marion’s.

But it had far greater repercussions. It caused a major scandal and constitutional difficulties involving the Queen herself. As supreme governor of the Church of England, the Sovereign was officially unable to countenance remarriage after divorce – her permission for a relative to marry being necessary under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. But Prime Minister Harold Wilson saved the Queen embarrassment by putting the question to the Cabinet. The Cabinet agreed and with the Queen’s consent it was announced that she had acted, as a constitutional monarch had to, on the advice of the Government.

The scandal forced Harewood to resign as Chancellor of York University, and it resulted in his being ostracised by his family for long afterwards. He was not invited to the wedding in the early Seventies of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips. Neither was he able to attend the funeral of his uncle, the Duke of Windsor. The latter snub particularly pained him.

But the rift was healed by the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee visit to Leeds in 1977 when the Harewoods were invited to a civic reception attended by the Queen.

Ten years had passed since the marriage in Connecticut of Harewood and Patricia Tuckwell. It was to prove a marriage whose longevity was only rivalled by its happiness.

• LEEDS United chairman Ken Bates said the club lost a “great friend” in Lord Harewood.

He was a lifelong Leeds United fan and the club had planned a special celebration this September 4 to mark his 50th year as club president.

The club was planning to invite fans to sit alongside former managers and players at the event.

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