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Arabella Churchill – Obituary – The Daily Telegraph

From the Daily Telegraph
Last Updated: 3:12am GMT 22/12/2007

Arabella Churchill, who died on Thursday aged 58, was the unconventional granddaughter of Britain’s wartime prime minister and a founder of the Glastonbury rock festival.

Drawn to the bohemian life, she was regarded as something of a wild child in one of the grandest families in Britain.

Although in the mid-1970s she lived a down-and-out life as a squatter in London, she applied Churchillian energy to helping disadvantaged people, and founded her own charity, Children’s World, providing entertainment for special needs children.

“I’m immensely proud of my grandfather, and I hope he would be proud of me, but… I was no good at being a Churchill,” she said in an interview published in June. “People never saw me for me. It doesn’t do a lot for your confidence.”

She was said to have been Churchill’s favourite granddaughter, frequently visited him at Chartwell and was a regular caller to his London house during his final illness in January 1965.

She remained close to her grandmother, Clementine Churchill, and to her half-brother Winston, for whom she canvassed when he was a prospective Conservative MP.

Having enjoyed a gilded girlhood, she met the Kennedys and Martin Luther King in America. The gossip columns speculated that she might become Queen of Sweden after she dated the then Crown Prince (now King) Carl Gustav in 1970.

One of the most beautiful young women in the Churchill clan, her imposing – some would say haughty – demeanour belied a friendly manner, which would break through the authoritative Churchillian presence.

Arabella was shepherded across the wilder shores of high society in the late 1960s by her glamorous mother, who introduced her to the leading figures of Swinging London, and who bought her a three-storey house on Elgin Crescent in pre-gentrified Notting Hill, where Arabella entertained generously in the basement kitchen.

In 1971 Arabella Churchill was embroiled in controversy when she declined an invitation to represent Britain as Azalea Queen at a Nato festival in the United States. She wrote to the organisers: “My grandfather used the phrase ‘The Iron Curtain’. It seems to be that what is facing us all now is the final curtain. The defence systems of the great powers are mutually infectious.”

Her refusal caused a stir in Britain, and in her family. “My mother was saying: ‘Darling, can’t I just say you’ve had a nervous breakdown?’ My brother rang up, absolutely furious with me,” she declared.

“The whole thing was a nightmare. I felt I had let the family down. I felt I wanted to be a hippy, I felt I was Left-wing, I didn’t feel like the rest of my family.”

Arabella Spencer Churchill was born on October 31 1949, the daughter of Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s son, and his second wife June Osborne. As a child at her parents’ house at East Bergholt, she organised fêtes in the garden to raise money for charity. She became head girl at Fritham House, a private school in the New Forest run by Sir Timothy Eden, Bt, brother of the former prime minister Anthony Eden.

In 1967 she was Deb of the Year. Two years later, in between stints as a secretary at London Weekend Television and working as a trainee public relations girl for the leprosy charity Lepra, she served on the committee of the Biafra Ball, a glittering fundraiser held at Kensington town hall at which April Ashley was one of the models.

Having been conscripted on to many a charity ball committee by her mother, Arabella seized the chance to work for a cause in which she truly believed, and became an exotic ingredient in the social and political mix of the pro-Biafra lobby.

In 1970, aged 21, on her return from a two-week tour of leper colonies in Tanzania and Zambia, she visited Glastonbury. With Michael Eavis she helped to found the Glastonbury festival and remained involved with the event, which often re-creates the deep mud, and some of the glory, of Woodstock.

In 1979 Arabella Churchill established the festival’s children’s area as well as the theatre area, where she ran the circus and cabaret tents.

At different periods of her life she found her Churchillian links to be a mixed blessing. In 1982 she was able to raise money for her modest alternative lifestyle by selling some of her grandfather’s paintings at auction in London and New York.

But in 1999, as middle-age beckoned, her sagging chin and overweight frame were ungallantly compared with the bulldog looks of her famous forebear, causing her to abandon plans for a facelift which was due to be broadcast on the internet.

Arabella Churchill, who had been suffering from pancreatic cancer and was a convert to Buddhism, married, in 1972, James Barton, a Scottish school teacher, with whom she had a son.

The brief marriage was dissolved and she married secondly, in 1988, Ian McLeod, a professional juggler working under the stage name “Haggis”; they had a daughter. He and her children survive her.