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For all that she was the business brains behind the blooming of Chatsworth – particularly the farm shop, one of the most successful in Britain – Debo Mitford’s passion was chickens.
In some ways she was the sanest Mitford sister. And the only one who loved them all, so long as they lived.
Now she’s the last to die.
My fondest anecdote is when she came to stay with me at my modest weekend retreat in Berkshire. Her chauffeur carried her overnight bag in. She had come for a funeral of an old friend, and the local gentry had no more space, so I was left to cope.
The chauffeur carried her little attache case up to the master bedroom, which I had vacated and spotlessly cleaned. He unpacked a hot water bottle, a screw-top jar with milk in it, a miniature teasmade – just about everything a duchess would need on a desert island.
When she came downstairs, she asked me who had put the primroses by her bed?
“Staff” I said. She nodded.
The following morning she came down and asked who had made the bed – complete with hospital corners and crisply ironed Egyptian cotton sheets. “Staff” I said.
And who, she asked, had made the porridge? “Staff” I said.
“Oh”, she said, “they are so discreet – I’ve not spotted them once.”
And then she added “So very hard to get these days.”
I never did discover whether she really thought I had a whole below-stairs retinue, or whether in fact she’d played along and knew it was me.
She was a gorgeous hint of a bygone age – aristocratic, yet she appeared not to distinguish between the top and the bottom in society.
In some ways she was happier mucking in in the farm shop than swanning around in a ball gown.
With her passing a certain kind of style and age has passed.
I feel lucky indeed to have known her and her socialist sister Decca (they all had Mitford nicknames) who first introduced me to her.
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