Rated Reads

Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle

by Anthony Russell

Rated: Moderate

Ever wondered what it would be like to live at a castle? Have titled parents and/or grandparents? Vacation in the Bahamas, the south of France, Italy? If so, Anthony Russell’s memoir can provide a peek into that life.

Russell’s paternal grandmother owned a small castle in Ireland and employed just one person to help her. But his maternal grandmother purchased and restored Leeds Castle, living there for about half a century until her death, when (thanks to the enormous amount of taxes England would have exacted from the estate) it was turned over to a foundation and opened to the public. The restoration, decorating, upkeep and staffing required an enormous amount of money, the likes of which most normal people would never even be able to wrap their minds around, I’m thinking. Luckily, Lady Baillie had plenty, and she used it with taste and flair.

“Granny B,” as Russell called her, always had a circle of friends and family around her at home at the castle or when she traveled to her homes in the Bahamas or the south of France. She truly reigned; everyone enjoyed their time with her and in the sumptuous surroundings, but it was always understood that they were to do as she asked or expected: be ready to be a fourth at cards, for example.

Russell himself, along with his two older brothers and younger sister, was tended by his Nanny, with brief appearances at his grandmother’s meals or other events. He observed but didn’t participate very much. He simply knew his place, as did everyone else. He did appreciate the opportunity: “I never cease to marvel at my good fortune to have spent so much of my childhood within the confines of its warm embrace, wandering, exploring, bicycling and go-carting up and down the castle’s mile-and-a-half-long front drive and three-quarter-mile-long park and back drives.”

At the same time, he knows the “castle way” didn’t necessarily do him any favors. “Growing up with Leeds as my second home, the other being my parents’ well-staffed five-storey house on Egerton Terrace, in Knightsbridge, London, had the less than desirable effect of effortlessly rendering me more spoiled than a Buckingham Palace corgi before I understood the meaning of the word.” And when it came time to become an adult and take his place in the “real world,” he was ill prepared. Luckily, he still had a trust fund and inheritances to stay well afloat at least financially.

Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle is an interesting look at a lifestyle very few ever get to know, and one that’s disappearing or has disappeared from Great Britain. Russell mostly relates details of people, incidents, and a way of life he remembers and explains a little how it affected him long-term. While young, he enjoyed and appreciated it but in a way couldn’t really know how good he had it; later, he came to understand how good it was but also how detrimental for teaching him about real life. It’s entertaining and enlightening. Particularly memorable is the crazy story about his father’s “virgin birth,” a scandal that made headlines in the 1920s. Believe me, you’ll just have to read it.

Rated: Moderate, for two uses of strong language and a few uses of milder language. There is one sex scene (involving a prostitute) that’s moderately detailed and there are some brief mild details about sex relating to his father’s conception.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 15 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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Outrageous fortune
  • Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle
  • by Anthony Russell
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: