Bee Gee's boss flees inferno

Last updated at 21:24 25 October 2007

No one has been

watching the Californian


in which hundreds

of homes have been

destroyed, with

more sympathy than music

mogul Robert Stigwood.

For the former manager of the

Bee Gees and mentor to Lord

Lloyd-Webber and Sir Tim Rice

has, I can disclose, just had an

astonishing escape from a raging

inferno that tore through his

seven-bedroom Ascot mansion.

During the terrifying ordeal,

the 73-year-old Australian-born

tycoon narrowly missed being

hit by a bolt of electricity which

shot out of a fuse box.

Fortunately, Stigwood and his

beloved dogs, golden retriever

Marmaduke and mongrel Milly,

were saved by the timely intervention

of his butler Khalid.

The eagle-eyed servant had

raised the alarm after spotting

smoke billowing from the fuse

box shortly before it caught fire.

Now recovering at the nearby

mansion of his Bee Gee friend

Barry Gibb, Stigwood tells me: "I

couldn't believe what I was seeing.

There were electrical bolts

leaping from the fuse box to a

metal sink many feet away.

"The stairs were about to go up.

There was smoke everywhere. It

was terrifying. Two more feet or

a couple of seconds later and my

butler and I would not be here."

Stigwood, who is worth

£200 million, had moved into

the Edwardian mansion only

last year, after spending a fortune

on refurbishments.

The house, called Clavering,

boasted an indoor pool, gym and

even a party annexe — an essential

for an impresario famed for

his star-studded parties.

"I'm afraid we did lose quite a

few things," says Stigwood. "But

the fire brigade was brilliant and

saved the house. I don't have a

clue about the cost at this stage,

but we are insured."

Stigwood, a close friend of the

Duke and Duchess of York, is

now ensconced happily in

Gibb's 20-room home in

Beaconsfield — which he rented

from the singer before moving

to Clavering.

One of Gibb's other

homes, a lakeside villa

in Tennessee once

owned by the late country

singer Johnny Cash,

was destroyed by fire in April.

"Fortunately the property was

available and Barry has been

very good to me. Obviously he

has had his own problems with

fire recently, so it is all very

poignant," Stigwood tells me.

"He has 40 acres here, so my

dogs have plenty of room to run

around in. I couldn't be in a

better place."

A scoop to Bragg about

Writer Lady Bragg — who prefers to

use her maiden name Cate Haste —

has unearthed a historical gem in her

newly published biography of

Clarissa Eden, widow of the doomed

Prime Minister Anthony.

Cate, wife of bouffant-haired

polymath Lord (Melvyn) Bragg,

edited the memoirs of 87-year-old

Clarissa and discovered novelist

Evelyn Waugh was in love with her

when she married Eden in 1952.

Clarissa's decision to wed divorcee

Eden destroyed her friendship with

fellow Roman Catholic Waugh — who

was married with six children — and

he wrote a passionate letter to her

about his unrequited love.

"Did you never think you were

contributing to the loneliness of

Calvary by your desertion?" he asked.

"I fell in love with you and so kept

away. I think you had a conception of

the Church as being a sort of club,

from which one can resign at any moment if the cooking deteriorates."

Says Cate: "The clue to this letter is

the circumstances in which it was

written. Waugh was at White's Club —

and he admitted his mind was not at

its brightest when he penned it."

Why Rosie is a busy girl

She may only be 23, but author Sir

John Mortimer's youngest

daughter Rosie already has two

careers behind her — and now

wants to embark on a third by

entering her father's trade.

Posing at the launch of 84-year-old

Sir John's latest Rumpole

novel, the winsome model and

art dealer tells me she

is hoping to start writing.

"It's something I've been thinking

about for a while," she says.

"I haven't started putting anything

together yet, as I've just moved to a

new flat. There's so much to do and I

never seem to have enough time."

Rosie, whose mother Penny is Sir

John's second wife, was 17 when she

signed to top model agency Select.

By 21 she had set up an internet

company selling affordable art.


despite her grown-up credentials,

fresh-faced Rosie struggles to look

her age: "Getting served at bars is a

pain. I always get asked for ID — no

one believes me when I say I'm 23."

Duchy escape

There is bad news for Prince

Charles as his organic grocery

business Duchy Originals prepares

itself for the frantic Christmas season.

For the company's chief executive

Belinda Gooding has mysteriously

quit her job with no full-time position

to go to. Instead, she is working for

rural affairs satellite channel Horse &

Country TV in an advisory role.

Managers at the station, which

boasts Jonathan Dimbleby as a

presenter, are delighted with their

latest recruit, who has taken up a

three-month posting.

"She brings

great experience," chairman Sir

Stuart Hampson tells me.

Investor Barbara Cassani, the former

London Olympic bid leader, adds: "It

was beyond our dreams to get her."

He may be an emissary of the

Almighty but it seems the

Archbishop of Canterbury is subject to

the same problems as the rest of us.

After an audience with the Pope this

week, Dr Rowan Williams had been

due to board a British Airways flight

from Naples to Gatwick — only to find

it was cancelled due to a strike.

But the cleric's prayers were answered

in the form of budget airline easyJet,

whose staff helpfully shoehorned him

onto their last flight to Stansted.

"He took it all in his stride and seemed

content for the airport staff to sort it

all out," I am told.

PS As one of the

country's most


businessmen, Sir Alan

Sugar may not be best

pleased when he

learns his acerbic

charms have made

him the inspiration for

a fictional but grumpy

estate agent.

Little Britain star

Anthony Head says

the Apprentice host

was the perfect model

for the humourless

Mr Colubrine, who

he plays in the

forthcoming drama

Sold on ITV.

"Sir Alan doesn't seem

to have a sense of

humour," says 53-year-old


"My character is a

wide boy made good. He started as a bailiff

then, when interest

rates hit 15 per cent, he

repossessed houses

and made a lot of


"He's not moved

by much. I modelled

that intransigence on

Sir Alan."

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