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Duke of Westminster in his own words on Desert Island Discs

The young Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor wanted to 'run away' on realising his future was mapped out for him

The Duke of Westminster pictured walking on his estate

The late Duke of Westminster admitted being a reluctant heir to the Grosvenor empire when he gave a candid interview to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 1995.

And yet Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, who died in August aged 64, said he would be ‘delighted’ if his son Hugh took over those same duties while stressing he would ‘force nothing on anybody, let alone my children’.

He said: “It’s the way that I feel it should happen. But in Hugh’s case, obviously I would be delighted if he took over the responsibilities because with the responsibilities come many rights and they are indefinable between the two.”

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Father and son, the late Duke and the new Duke of Westminster

The Duke talked with fondness of his idyllic childhood in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, growing up on an island in Lough Erne and the alternative path he might have taken had things been different.

“I had a wonderful childhood in Northern Ireland,” said the Duke. “I was quite happy and content to have lived there all my life. I knew what I wanted to be – I wanted to farm and take it all rather gently, I thought.

“And then because my uncle had no children – sadly his eldest son did die at a very early age – it was rather forced upon me.”

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He continued: “I was brought up in Ulster where you were treated purely on your own merits. You were treated because of who you are and I was called Gerald all my life.

“There was no question of ‘your grace this’ and ‘your grace that’ and ‘Lord this and Lord that’,” which he sometimes found ‘very embarrassing’ in later life.

The late Duke of Westminster (Image: Ian Cooper)

But the Duke remembered being wrenched from this idyll when he was sent away to Sunningdale preparatory school in Berkshire where he dumped his Irish accent after being ‘teased mercilessly’.

He didn’t fare much better at Harrow where he gained just two O levels, albeit both grade 1 classifications, in English language and history.

He wasn’t happy and he wasn’t motivated – the reverse of his later experiences with the Territorial Army where he passed five Army examinations and excelled on his own merits rising to the rank of Major General.

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Gerald’s early educational experiences no doubt influenced he and his wife Tally, the Duchess of Westminster’s decision not to send their children away to boarding school.

All four went to the local Eccleston state primary school and then day-only private secondary schools near home.

One of the biggest moments in the Duke’s young life was when his father Robert, the fifth Duke of Westminster, took him to one side to explain that one day the empire would be his.

“I will never forget it,” he told presenter Sue Lawley.

Sue Lawley when she attended a memorial service for the late Sir Terry Wogan at Westminster Abbey in September. Photo: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

“It was shortly after my uncle died and I remember him sitting me down and really the dawning of the realisation of what was ahead of one, almost made me run for the door, slam it and keep on running.

“I was 15-years-old.”

There was reference in the programme to the family seat of Eaton Hall, near Chester, because the Victorian hall was demolished in the 1960s and then rebuilt for his father in the early 1970s, leading to much criticism including from the sixth Duke’s close friend, the Prince of Wales, who called it the ‘Inn on the Park’.

The Duke said it had even been referred to as the ‘Führer Bunker’ and he changed it again in the 1990s, to make it look more like a French château.

The Eaton Hall estate of the Duke of Westminster during an open day. Picture by Alan Minshall(Image: Alan Minshall)

“I didn’t like it. We have now rebuilt it again. It seems to be a family tradition!” he said.

“I think it’s a piece of architectural history – like it or not – that I can leave behind me. I like it very much.”

In terms of preparing Hugh as his successor, as the seventh Duke of Westminster, the late Duke explained how he had tried to steer him away from the dangers that go with great wealth.

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“I have always said that one of my great aims in life is to get that silver spoon out of his mouth.

“It can seduce you. Wealth on any scale can seduce you into a world where you don’t really think that anybody else exists in it except yourself.

“You become very self-centred, you become very isolated from reality.”

The 7th Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor, arriving for a memorial service to celebrate the life of his father, the sixth Duke of Westminster at Chester Cathedral. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

The Duke said he had never succumbed to the vices that often accompanied great wealth, such as drugs or idleness, but did confide one of his greatest luxuries was a private plane which he found handy for hopping from Cheshire to his office in London.

Talking about the Grosvenor inheritance, the Duke was once quoted as saying ‘I never think of giving it up. I can’t sell it. It doesn’t belong to me’.

Explaining his thinking, he said: “It belongs to my family, it’s part of my heritage as anything else is part of one’s heritage whether it be a building or whether it be green fields. In the context of eternity, if I’m lucky I might live to be on this earth for 70 years – that estate is three, four, five, six hundred years old so I’m only a mere flicker in the process of time and in the process of history.

“It is what I do with it, rather than what I am worth, that I believe is more important.”

Sadly, the Duke never made it to 70.

The fell above Abbeystead where the Duke of Westminster is believed to have been out walking with a gamekeeper when he suffered a heart attack

Interestingly, the idea of being all alone and ship-wrecked, put to him by the presenter, clearly appealed to the Duke.

Maybe it took him back to his childhood on the banks of Lough Erne and the days before his life changed forever, mapped out by a sense of duty.

“I would be very happy on my island. I would look forward to it in fact,” said the Duke, whose favourite chosen track was Albatross by Fleetwood Mac and his luxury item was a telescope.

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