People say I’m bonkers, but I just speak my mind
SIR Nicholas Fairbairn would once have liked 24,000 wives, like a man he heard of in Saudi Arabia. The flamboyant politician is back from his deathbed with a vengeance, firing off letters to the newspapers about our parlous times and talking about sex, his marital infidelities, the deaths of two of his children, and the ghosts in his castle.
While almost everyone welcomes the recovery of the former Solicitor-General for Scotland, it may prove unfortunate for his parliamentary colleagues that Fairbairn is devoting his new-found energies to completing the second volume of his autobiography. ‘There will be lots of descriptions of Members of Parliament,’ he says. ‘Like that stuck-up little prick with pin eyes . . .’
This week he returns to work after a month off with a serious bout of viral hepatitis, for which he was hospitalised for 10 days. He has lost one and a half stone and won’t be able to drink alcohol again.
‘I suppose I’ve had enough in the first part of my life for the whole of it,’ he says, in a frail voice. ‘I have drunk a bottle of whisky or vodka in a day. But I wouldn’t say that was regular manifestation.’
He’s wearing a tartan suit he designed, has mad tufts of hair, looks much older than his 59 years and rolls his eyes and scratches his head when he talks. He is brilliant, provocative, contrived and self-admiring. Sir Nicholas has conquered trauma in his life. Two of his five children died in infancy, one in 1964 and the other just a year later. ‘I was driving to see my mother-in-law with Elizabeth, my first wife,’ he says, clasping his hands tightly and talking heavily. ‘The twins, Charlotte and Micheline, were asleep in their carry cots in the back. They were four months old. ‘Leakage from the exhaust was drawn into the back of the mini van. Maybe there was a draught or the back doors didn’t really fit. Micheline was on the exhaust side and when Elizabeth went to get her, she was dead. She’d died of carbon monoxide poisoning. She’d just been christened the week before.’
Edward, his only son, died the following year of cardiac problems. He was just two days old.
What effect did these deaths have on him? ‘They gave me a fundamental emotional shock and depth and insight into the transience of life,’ replies Sir Nicholas, the son of the famed psychoanalyst William Fairbairn. ‘But I didn’t need bloody counselling! The idea that there is a safety net and 64 nannies to dust you down every time the sun goes behind a cloud is ridiculous. I just drew on reserve strengths to get over it. I also think religion is absolute bunk.’
He’s talking in the magnificent 13th century Fordell Castle in Fife, which he bought as a ruin for £100 in 1960. It has a trick staircase for shooting enemies into the downstairs loo, a chapel, ice house and ghosts. Lady Petrodie, who was hanged as a witch, ‘pulls the bed clothes off any female sleeping in the Rose Room’. The other ghost is a monk whom Sir Nicholas hears walking on the gravel at night. Sam, or Owl, as he calls his wife Suzanne, pops her head round the door.
Sir Nicholas’s favourite topics are women and sex. He married Elizabeth, daughter of the 13th Baron Reay, in 1962.
‘She hated gardens and resented my spending money on the garden or house. So there was constant friction . . . I had innumerable lovers. God knows how many.’ He believes that sexual fidelity is rare and monogamy in marriage a facile rule.
He met his second wife, Suzanne, when she came to him to get a recommendation for a divorce lawyer. ‘A friend said, ‘I have a friend who is in trouble, would you see what you can do?’ And that was it!’ He married her in 1983 in the chapel in his baronial home, wearing oyster-coloured Indian tunics that he’d designed. He describes the marriage as ‘buzzing bliss. We do absolutely everything together. She has blossomed since she came 10 years ago. She gardens, paints, arranges flowers – not that she arranged any of these. I do the flowers’.
Did they choose not to have children? ‘Well I would have made a positive decision not to, but Sam was already snicked. Her fallopian tubes, you know. It’s not death that is the problem in the world but birth.’
And what of his marital indiscretions? ‘That is not a matter that matters, nor a matter I want discussed,’ he says, raising his voice. But he has in the past talked about being unfaithful. ‘I’m not saying that.’ He also denies the story of a former girlfriend who allegedly tried to hang herself from the lamppost outside his London home. ‘It was a complete fabrication by that shit . . .’ he says, naming a past Cabinet minister. ‘I caught him out in a bit of lechery and adultery, double crossing his wife and mistress and offering to marry someone he had no intention of marrying.’
Sir Nicholas first became aware of his incredible sex appeal at seven, lost his virginity at 16 and thinks his sexual energy will burn ‘for ever’. He holds that the release of tension which comes from orgasm and sneezing is essential to sanity. So what makes him sexually attractive to women? ‘I think because I’m interesting.’
What makes him a good lover? ‘Well, I’ve never seen anybody else making love, but it appears that I give ecstatic satisfaction, which is the point of the exercise.’
Sir Nicholas was himself the unwanted result of an unintended conception. His parents were spectacularly ill-matched and his mother, a painter and musician, was lonely and rejected. He was deprived of emotional closeness. ‘My parents were very distant figures. I felt very isolated, but learned independence, developed my own thinking and read a lot.’ He was brought up by his ‘beloved’ nanny. Did he love her more than his mother? ‘Oh yes,’ he says, emphatically.
He was dumped in boarding school at seven and was beaten consistently. Did he feel unlovable? ‘I don’t feel in the least unlovable. I knew I was unloved. Perhaps that was why I unconsciously developed humour, wit and intelligence to get attention.’ (He says his own children are ‘happy little women’. Charlotte, 29, is ‘married to the conductor of the LSO’; Anna-Karina, 27, is ‘a secretary who designs jewellery’; and Francesca, 25, ‘a nomad’.) Sir Nicholas fears the destruction of individuality. But he need not worry. He is expressive, eccentric, creative and convinced of his enormous talent.He loves reading, painting, gardening and writing poetry. His paintings are reasonably accomplished, his limericks hilarious and his poems are of the ‘Oh there is a time in May/When hearts are free/And night is day’ variety.
Is he superior to the run of mankind? ‘I’m different. I’m a one-off and special.’