Baroness ‘Thrift’ on Johnny Depp, the Queen Mother and leaving her Norfolk home
PUBLISHED: 08:23 17 August 2019
The politician dubbed ‘Baroness Thrift’ is preparing to downsize from her Norfolk home of 30 years. Caroline Culot spoke exclusively to Baroness Patricia Rawlings about politics, Hollywood stars and the Queen Mother
Baroness Rawlings might be in the midst of a stressful house move but she is dressed impeccably.
In smart jeans with a fitted green jacket, a neck scarf, pearls and a trilby hat she makes us a "proper" coffee while she contemplates her imminent departure from the 13-bedroom Westgate Hall, in Burnham Market, to a smaller property nearby.
"You've got to move forwards," she said. "I am thinking about the next project. It's one-fifth the size of Westgate Hall, with a smaller garden but I am looking forward to it, it just needs a little painting. I decided five years ago, I had to go. I saw an advert in the EDP for a house and went to see it and fell in love with it.
"Here it's the maintenance, it's very expensive. It's thanks to the EDP I found my new house, it's a very good paper, full of news and I am a newspaper junkie, I don't throw a newspaper away ever until I have read it."
There has been speculation about a legal battle involving the Baroness and her former partner over Westgate Hall but she does not want to talk about that.
Instead, it's enough to know she is moving out and auctioning many of her belongings. The mansion was finished in 1785 and designed by famous architect Sir John Soane.
Fittingly, the mansion's first inhabitant was MP Thomas Pitt; Baroness Rawlings herslf has spent her entire career in politics, as a Conservative former Member of the European Parliament.
Even now at the age of 80 she is embarking on a new role on the international relations select committee in the House of Lords working in London three days a week.
On the chaotic state of current politics, she said: "I am totally confused, I agree with Ken Clarke when he tells you 'if anyone knows what is happening, they are lying'. I really admired John Major, he was sensible and tough but he had a difficult time. As for Boris ... the jury is out, we shall see."
Westgate Hall, which boasts 15,870 sqft of living space in 38 acres, was a care home for the elderly until 1990. Baroness Rawlings put it up for sale in 2011 for £7m but took it off the market.
Around that time there were rumours Hollywood movie star Johnny Depp was set to buy the Georgian mansion. But Baroness Rawlings pours scorn on that: "He never came near it, it was total fiction."
She says she first fell in love with the house from afar: "I'd always known the hall from driving past on the road, but had always been told 'you won't be able to buy it'. It smelt and was in a terrible state when I did.
"My idea was to make it a home and not an institution, the rooms aren't that big, the kitchen is the biggest room, I just decorated throughout. Architecturally, it has a wonderful staircase - when the Queen Mother came here, she didn't want to go up in the lift, but to use the stairs because they were so beautiful. She was nearly 100.
"She wanted to see every room, every cupboard, she was incredible. I used to hold lots of charitable events here, we had some beautiful concerts, we used to dress up and come down the staircase. Everything was always made by our group of friends, we didn't get caterers in, there were no costs - that's the way I was brought up."
Indeed, she became known as 'Baroness Thrift' for her money-saving tips.
"The world is made up of hoarders and chuckers, the blessed and the damned. I am a hoarder, I find it very difficult to throw things away, I don't mind selling or giving them away. No one is greener than I am, I recycle everything and keep everything right down to an elastic band from the post office."
Her life recently changed when her 104-year-old mother passed away. "I looked after her in London for the past 10 years. I had wonderful carers but I was hands-on. It's a different world with my mother and this house gone. But I've been lucky, there have been hiccups you have to get over. The most important thing is you need energy, sleep and water - and a little whisky. I love the sky in Norfolk, the space, the pace of life and the characters. But I'll miss the view and watching the sunset and my orchard and the flowers in the garden."
The auction of Baroness Rawlings' items on September 10-11 is by Sworders.
Who is Baroness Rawlings?
Baroness Patricia Rawlings is a former frontbencher in the House of Lords and was a Member of the European Parliament from 1989-1994. She was chairwoman of King's College, London from 1998-2007 and president of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations from 2002-2007. She trained as a nurse and was a mature student, studying for a postgraduate diploma in international relations. In 1989 she was elected as the MEP for Essex South West and created a life peer with the title Baroness Rawlings of Burnham Westgate in Norfolk in 1994.
She served as an opposition whip, a spokeswoman on culture, media and sport and for foreign and commonwealth affairs and international development.
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