Elisa Segrave

Peregrine Worsthorne: 1923-2020

Peregrine Worsthorne: 1923-2020
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Peregrine Worsthorne died peacefully at home on 4 October 2020. Two weeks earlier I had visited him with my son Nicholas, at his home in Buckinghamshire where he lived with wife Lucinda Lambton and devoted young Croatian carer Luca. It was a beautiful day and we arrived for lunch after a long drive. Perry was brought into the garden, with its animal topiary, and we sat with him in the sun. By the French windows, Lucy picked orange baby tomatoes. My son then fed them, one by one, to Perry, who opened his mouth like a baby bird while Lucy brought out lemonade. Perry seemed pleased to see us.

I first met him in the 1990s. I had recently divorced and Perry had just met Lucy, at a party of Cynthia Kee’s. The two then made a couple of attempts to matchmake me with Peter Vansittart. They were also friends with my ex-husband Andrew Barrow and his future wife Annabel Freyberg and my son first encountered the colourful pair with his dad and stepmother, reporting: ‘Lucy wants her head pickled in a jar’. (Lucy was investigating cryogenics).

Perry became a beautiful old man with white hair, white beard and a saintly look. However, much of his life he was a contrarian who, besides huge loyalty and love for friends, could also have intense almost irrational dislikes. He couldn’t forgive the good-natured popular John Julius Norwich for being ‘bland’. Another bête noire was former publisher turned writer Diana Athill, for extolling the pleasures of old age. Perry thought this bad form and dishonest; old age was awful, he claimed, as so many friends died or got ill. He was not averse to confrontation and when someone said at a local dinner that his friend Noel Annan was the fifth man, Perry stood up, demanding that the accuser apologise or he would leave.

At his lunch table two weeks ago, his eyes a vivid blue, he tried to speak, but couldn’t summon the right words. A year earlier, we’d spent three hours together at Lucy’s request and I’d introduced names of friends and colleagues and asked questions. (When I’d mentioned the actress Moyra Fraser, an ex-girlfriend, he’d murmured: ‘She was very special’.)

On that three-hour visit, I’d asked if he could still read, as the Times was on his knee. ‘Just about,’ he replied.

My Asperger’s son became difficult in his early teens and Perry often asked us to lunch. Despite Nicholas being sometimes aggressive, Perry wasn’t intimidated and good-naturedly gifted him his own exotic bathing trunks. Nicholas, now 37, says: ‘There was a gentleness about him, but he wasn’t a frightened man. He was powerful, special, popular, intellectual. He wasn’t expecting anything back for his kindness. He was unconditionally kind.’

I also loved his curiosity. Within minutes of meeting my then lodger, he had found out all about her father, head of a big school in Yorkshire and how the school was run. And his genuine good manners — when a guest I hardly knew arrived at my flat, Perry rose and crossed the room, to make the stranger feel welcome.

I enjoyed his sense of humour. At a Hampstead dinner, I’d met the American literary critic Elaine Showalter. I told Perry she’d talked a lot and rather dominated the small gathering. Perry, who’d never met her, then dubbed her ‘Elaine Show-off’.

Lucy sent us two on a group holiday to Venice where we drank prosecco and were shown palazzo gardens by stylish male twins, one blond, one dark. Perry modestly didn’t seem to notice that one of our party, a judge’s widow, was making a play for him.

I’ve travelled with Perry to Ireland (twice) and with him and Lucy to Ireland and Scotland — they had huge amounts of old-fashioned luggage and wore elegant hats. I enjoyed all these trips except the drive with Perry in 2006 to Lucy’s just deceased father’s house, Cetinale, where Perry didn’t know the way despite having been there 13 times. I eventually braked outside the gates of Siena saying I couldn’t drive any further.

But it is his many kindnesses and gallantry that I shall remember most. He looked so sorry when I was on crutches at one of Lucy’s birthday parties and, after he’d given me dinner at the Garrick Club, he put me in a taxi and told the driver: ‘Look after her!’

Well, Perry was beautifully looked after in old age by Lucy, Luca and Claire his secretary. And my dog Perry, named after him, is still alive at 15 — though, oddly, the day before Perry the man died I thought my dog had had it.