Posted on: April 15, 2016

Great wealth must come with it’s own problems.  You don’t know who to trust, you live in an unreal bubble removed from everyday things, too many people will be out to get you, and having all that money to indulge your every whim can bring it’s own devastating effect on health, both physical and emotional.   So perhaps it’s not too surprising that many powerful families have been linked to having their own curse attached to them.  The Kennedy’s, the Grimaldi royal family, the Getty’s, the Rothschild’s etc etc.  The curse often doesn’t affect the founder of the family too much, as he/she is probably too busy working hard and establishing themselves to go off the rails.  It’s their descendants who grow up living in a strange, unreal world.

Arthur Guinness was born in County Kildare, Ireland, in 1725.  It was at a Dublin brewery in 1759 that he created the iconic black drink which would make the family fortune.  The beer became known as “Uncle Arthur” in Dublin.  It’s success made Arthur the richest man in Ireland.  He married Olivia Whitmore in 1761, and fathered 21 children.  Only ten of the children made it to adulthood, which has led proponents of the Curse to say it started with Arthur, but to be honest, such a high level of child mortality wasn’t unusual in those days, in any level of society.

There was some tragedy associated with Arthur’s grandchildren, with tales of one becoming an alcoholic, and two more ending up in mental institutions.  It wasn’t until the 20th century that rumours of a Curse really began to take hold though.

In 1944 the First Lord Moyne, who was a British government minister for the Middle East, was killed by a Zionist terror group, the Sturn Gang, whilst travelling in his limousine in Cairo.  His son Bryan had married one of the legendary Mitford girls, Diana.  She promptly abandoned him and their children, and ran off with Oswald Mosley, head of the British Union Of Fascists.  It was with Lord Moyne’s assassination that the rumours of a Curse really began to grab the public consciousness.   Over the decades since then there has been a depressing litany of accidents, suicides, alcoholism, and rampant drug abuse.

Cars feature very strongly in the list of Guinness bad luck.  In the 1960s Guinness heir Patrick Browne (known as ‘Tara’) was a bit of a wild child.  He partied with the celebrities of the day, and became good friends with the Beatles.  On 18 December 1966, he was killed when he drove his car through a red light in south Kensington, smashing into a van.  His death was supposed to have inspired John Lennon’s A Day In The Life.

A particularly dark year for the Guinness clan was 1978.  Lady Henrietta Guinness had suffered serious injuries when her lover, Michael Beeby, crashed his Aston Martin whilst driving on the French Riviera.  Trying to find peace in her life, 35-year-old Lady Henrietta fled to Italy, but her problems were all too much, and she jumped off a bridge at Spoleto, Italy.  She had said “if I had been poor, I would have been happy”.

Major Dennys Guinness, aged 44, was found dead at his parent’s house in Hampshire in June 1978.  He was said to have been arrested in a pub car-park after reports of a man brandishing a gun.  He was charged with two firearms offences, and given bail.  He promptly returned home, and was later found dead.  Jonathan Guinness, vice-chairman of the brewing empire, shrugged off the death, and any knowledge of Major Dennys.  “I do not know him or what relation he was to me”, he said “I think he was some relation”.   In August that year John Guinness, an aide to British Prime Minister James Callaghan, was involved in a car accident, which killed one of his sons, and severely injured another.

The life of Lady Caroline Blackwood has an almost gothic feel about it.  She was born in 1931.  Her mother, heiress Maureen Guinness, was an alcoholic.  Maureen was obsessed with being regarded as “the most beautiful girl in the world”.  Whilst she partied in London, she left her children to be raised by nannies at their country house in Ulster.  Lady Caroline’s childhood was a story of chronic neglect.  She was reduced at one stage to begging for scraps of food in the neighbourhood, and her brother had rickets.  In 1952 she eloped to Paris with artist Lucien Freud.   She became something of a muse to him, and featured in his paintings, often looking big-eyed and depressed (although one critic surmised that she was more likely just drunk).  Lady Caroline went on to become a highly-regarded author, and was known for her dark sense of humour.  As she lay on her deathbed in 1996, a friend sprinkled her with holy water, at which Caroline was reported to have said “honestly I might have caught my death!”

Olivia Channon, daughter of Cabinet Minister and Guinness heir Paul Channon, died through a drugs overdose in June 1986.   Olivia had had such an exclusive childhood that her playhouse had been an 8-foot replica of a stately home!  But all was not well with Olivia.  She desperately affected a punk image, and got into drunken “high spirits” at Oxford bars.  [It’s always “high spirits” when the upper-classes do it, “mindless yobbery” or “anti-social behaviour” for those of us lower down the ladder].  There were rumours that she had written a suicide note to a close friend, blaming the break-up of a relationship for her woes.  She had been drinking and taking heroin in the rooms of Count Gottfried von Bismarck, son of Prince Bismarck, and great-great-grandson of Otto von Bismarck, at the prestigious Christ Church College, Oxford.  Her cousin, Sebastian Guinness, was charged with supplying her with the drugs.   There were rumours afterwards of Olivia’s suicide note being publicly torn up, and her diary going missing.  Olivia’s death came as a huge embarrassment to Oxford University, who were trying to bury their Brideshead image of a bunch of spoiled toffs endlessly partying.  An image that is all too prevalent today, with tales of our current Prime Minister and his chums carrying out depraved acts there during their student days in the 1980s.

Count Gottfried’s life would go on to be a miserable mess of drug abuse.  It is said that he was never able to shake off the shadow of Oliva’s death.  Back in Germany he had been accused of bringing disgrace on his family.  He would die in his near-empty London flat in 2007, at the age of 44.  The pathologist at his post-mortem reported that Gofffried’s body contained the highest level of cocaine he had ever seen.

In more recent times Robert Hesketh, aged 48, who was married to Catherine, daughter of Guinness heir, Lord Moyne, died after taking drugs at a party in November 2004.  Clare Irby, described in the press as a Guinness heiress, hit the headlines in 2009 for being drunk and disorderly on a flight from India to Heathrow.  The Guinness clan virtually denied all knowledge of her (shades of Major Dennys).

It’s highly doubtful that there’s any real Curse on the Guinness clan.  It’s more likely a problem of what happens when you’re born into vast wealth, with no real sense of purpose or direction to your life.  Plus a case of the exclusive family genes deteriorating as the decades have gone on.  There also seems to be a high sociopathic aspect to some of them in recent decades, for instance Maureen Guinness being self-obsessed and indifferent to her children, and the shoulder-shrugging when a family black sheep hits the headlines.   The jazz singer Sophie Tucker once said “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, rich is better”.  Ah, but she knew what it was like to be poor, it tends to give you a vital grounding in reality, something that the Poor Little Rich Kids just don’t have.




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