Her voice is resolute and self-assured, her memory seemingly pinpoint sharp, as if the events she’s describing had happened only a few days earlier. But, of course, the incident Lady Lucan is recalling in such vivid, and in parts intimate, detail occurred four decades ago – a story so extraordinary that it still has the power to shock, and whose postscript is still tearing apart her controversial family.
For an hour, in a major new documentary interview, 79-year-old Lady Lucan describes life with her late husband (he was officially declared dead in 1999): their first sexual encounter, the holidays – illustrated with private home-movie footage – the marriage breakdown, the murder of the family nanny Sandra Rivett and his consequent attack on her, and then the estrangement from her own family.
She has not spoken to her three, now grown-up, children for 35 years.
Was she a good mother to her children, programme director Michael Waldman asks? “I could have been better. I did stay in bed rather too often.” Did she miss them when she and her husband holidayed in Monte Carlo, and they in the Kent resort of Westgate-on-Sea? “No, because I knew they were perfectly safe with Nanny.”
Waldman suggests her answers imply coldness. She pauses. “All my relationships were cold.”
And then to the fate of her husband. What, asks Waldman, does she think happened to Lord Lucan after the murder of Mrs Rivett in November 1974? “I would say he got on the ferry and jumped off in the middle of the Channel in the way of the propellers so that his remains wouldn’t be found – I think quite brave.”
“Quite brave”. An odd turn of phrase, you might think, to describe the actions of a man who not very many hours earlier had tried to kill her.
John Richard Bingham, Earl of Lucan, and Veronica Duncan after their marriage in 1963
She offers other, what can only be described as generous, assessments of his behaviour. She reveals that when she became depressed during the breakdown of their marriage he would cane her bottom to beat, as he put it, “the mad ideas out of your head”. But then she adds by way of qualification: “He could have hit harder. They were measured blows. He must have got pleasure out of it because he had intercourse [with me] afterwards.”
So why tell her story now? In fact, why tell it at all? Waldman interviewed Lady Lucan over three days in her Belgravia mews home and at a local hotel. “I get the sense that she is, to use the language of psychotherapy, in a better place and is feeling that she has a story to tell,” he says.
“She feels that she does have an extraordinarily clear recollection of facts and feelings, and some things have been said that haven’t always been her view of what the truth is.
“Of course, all truths have different perspectives. People’s memories will favour their own view of themselves, but that is true of all of us. But she has given her truth unabashedly.”
Waldman has had to tread carefully around the reasons why Lady Lucan has not spoken to her three children for more than three decades. She says in the programme that she’s blameless: “It is not my fault that I lost my family… it will always be a mystery to me.” To which Waldman told us: “She is, I think, genuinely perplexed as to how it all went wrong, but equally she is not bitter and twisted about it and is getting on with her life. You can take the view that she is selfish, or self-preserving.”
The children, Frances (52), Camilla (46) and George (49, now the eighth Lord Lucan after his father’s death certificate was finally issued last year) have remained silent throughout the estrangement. But author Laura Thompson, who spoke to family members for her 2014 book A Different Class of Murder, was told by Lady Lucan’s sister, Christina Shand Kydd, that the children were always loyal and protective of their mother.
It was Mrs Shand Kydd (and her late husband Bill) who had care of the children during their mother’s mental ill-health. Eventually, after Lady Lucan’s seven-month stay at Banstead Hospital in 1983, the Shand Kydds won formal custody. “The transfer of custody became more or less inevitable,” says Thompson, “although obviously it was problematic for Lady Lucan that the children went to live with her sister.”
In 1999 Lady Lucan told The Sunday Telegraph: “I don’t trust [my children]. I feel ashamed to be their mother… I have no feelings of wanting to see them.” Thompson suggests that the children have, in all probability, become “inured” to their mother’s claims, but this new interview is nonetheless bound to trouble the survivors of this notorious case. “It is a private tragedy, in the end. Mostly for Sandra Rivett’s family, of course – but the Lucan family has also been riven by it. I was struck by how raw it still seemed.”
Lady Lucan – or, to address her by her formal title, Veronica, Dowager Countess of Lucan – is asked in the programme about regrets. “I am deeply sad that my marriage caused Mrs Sandra Rivett to die. I am very sorry about that. But I cannot alter it, except not to forget about her – and I don’t forget about her.”
Lord Lucan: My Husband, the Truth Monday 9.00pm ITV