MAIL ON SUNDAY 14th February, 2010
I'm so proud Dad stood up for himself, says Earl Spencer's daughter Kitty
By SHARON FEINSTEIN
In her first full interview, Earl Spencer’s daughter Kitty
remembers her father’s notorious speech, the divorce battle
-- and the crash that nearly killed the Spencer family
Kitty Spencer, Princess Diana's niece, has grown up in South Africa and is refreshingly down-to-earth and unspoilt
Ever since the untimely death of Princess Diana, the House of Windsor has, by common agreement, been a little short on glamour. Now all that is about to change.
Lady Kitty Spencer, the 19-year-old niece of the late Princess of Wales, may describe herself as ‘only Royal by marriage’ – but she has the blonde cover-girl looks that made her aunt one of the most photographed women in history.
Kitty, of course, has been brought up in South Africa, where her father Earl Spencer took his young family to escape the unforgiving glare of public attention.
And although her parents – her mother is the former model Victoria Lockwood – divorced when she was still a child, she has been carefully shielded.
Last year, though, Kitty turned 18 and the shields came down. She marked her coming of age by posing for the cover of Tatler – the society magazine that previously named her as Britain’s most eligible young woman – and by taking part in the impossibly glamorous Crillon debutantes’ ball in Paris.
Her ballgown was by Bruce Oldfield, appropriately one of Diana’s favourite designers. Her diamonds, according to Vanity Fair, were ‘to die for’.
Now she has been named the most stylish woman in her adopted homeland by the South African Style Awards.
And to celebrate, Kitty has given her first newspaper interview exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, in which she talks of her mixed feelings about being considered a member of the Royal family; why she, the oldest child of Earl Spencer, will never be mistress of the Althorp estate; and how she – and her father – were nearly killed on a chartered plane that caught fire en route to Mozambique four years ago.
It is to her immense credit that Kitty is currently in the middle of her second year of university in Cape Town, studying psychology, politics and English literature.
She has not, perhaps, had the easiest of upbringings. Although the oldest of four children – her twin sisters Eliza and Amelia will be 18 in July, her brother Louis is 15 – their parents’ marriage was fiery and short-lived.
Support: Kitty with her father when he was going through his second divorce last year
Her aunt Princess Diana died when she was just six years old and her parents divorced a few months later amid allegations of adultery and betrayal on Earl Spencer’s part.
Both parents have since had children by second partners. Both are now divorced for a second time.
Kitty could be grand, aloof, aristocratic and expensively coutured. Instead she is refreshingly normal. ‘I do enjoy shopping, fashion and getting dressed up, but at the moment, I’m hard at work studying, so I spend a lot of time in jeans and a T-shirt,’ she says.
‘Of course, people sometimes ask about Diana, but I don’t really want to be compared to anyone. I hope that I have my own individual style that is down to me, rather than anyone else.
'Besides, I’ve grown up in South Africa, which has a completely different sense of style to anything in England or Europe.’
Kitty is also at pains to point out that she hasn’t been given a huge clothing budget or access to designer labels. ‘I’ve always loved fashion and you could say that I have an impressive wardrobe.’ she adds.
‘But it’s not filled with expensive clothes, it’s just filled with quirky things and cool pieces I’ve found at markets or sales. Otherwise, all my clothes are from Topshop or H&M.’
For all the criticism of Earl Spencer, now 45 – and he has been roundly vilified for the way he treats the women in his life – he appears to be a devoted father to his six children, and his oldest daughter clearly adores him.
‘My father is strict about the money he gives us,’ Kitty says. ‘It’s all worked out so we can buy petrol, pay for our car insurance, books, accommodation and that sort of thing. I’ve also got a set amount of spending money and if I go over, then that’s it.
‘He says it’s good for us to learn the value of money when we’re young. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t want to be a brat, I don’t want my children to be brats. Sometimes I think people are surprised that I and my brothers and sisters are not how they expect us to be.
‘They’re pleasantly surprised that we’re not spoilt and that’s because of the way my dad has brought us up. He has taught me a lot: good manners, to be polite, how to stand up for myself and to do what I think is right.’
It must be pointed out, of course, that Earl Spencer has spent the majority of Kitty’s life in England while she has grown up in South Africa.
But she insists he’s been a hands-on father, as befits a man who famously set such a strong moral tone during his moving eulogy to his sister at Princess Diana’s funeral.
‘He’s always back and forth between England and South Africa,’ says Kitty. ‘He spent the last month or so here, he’s back in England now and he’s coming back down next week – so it’s never really been an issue for us. It’s always felt like he’s only a phone call away.’
And she admits she is proud of her father for that stirring speech at Westminster Abbey in 1997. She says: ‘I’m proud of anyone who says what they think and stands up for what they believe in – anyone in the world who does that is admirable.’
Kitty insists she never feels any pressure about being related to the Royal Family when she returns to Britain: ‘I just go home and see my family and it’s all very relaxed. I suppose because I’ve grown up with my mum in Cape Town, I don’t feel part of that.’
Kitty with her father Earl Spencer, Princess Diana and her grandmother Frances Shand Kydd
She, does, however, see her first cousins William and Harry although, as yet, has not met either Kate Middleton or Chelsy Davy. ‘I don’t feel like it’s my place to talk about them,’ she adds.
‘I’m not really part of the Royal Family – that’s their family. I’m not actually married into the family. I feel very disconnected. It’s impossible not to if you’ve been brought up in Cape Town.
‘I’ve been here since I was five, I’ve gone to school barefoot and I’m at university here. I’ve had the most relaxed life – and I’m very grateful for that.
‘Cape Town is a wonderful place to grow up. It’s priceless to be so near nature – the forests, beaches and mountains – it’s such a healthy way of life. Obviously the crime can be a worry and there are many political problems but the people are so warm and lovely.’
Kitty splits her time between being with her mother and her father – whose house is five minutes away – when he’s in town.
I ask if her parents are now on good terms after their sometimes bitter divorce. ‘Yes, they’re on good terms and can chat about issues concerning us four children and they respect each other. That’s all you can ask really.
'They’ve always made an effort to be polite to each other in front of us no matter what’s been going on. Now they’ve reached the point where it was all 15 years ago. I think time has made things better.’
Last year, when Earl Spencer divorced his second wife, Caroline, Kitty was there to support him.
‘I was in London when my dad was going to court, so I met him for lunch afterwards,’ says Kitty. ‘Obviously I support both my parents in whatever their decisions are but I really wasn’t meaning to make a statement, it was just lunch with him and his girlfriend.’
She was quoted at the time as saying her stepmother – mother of Earl Spencer’s fifth and sixth children – was an ‘awful woman’. But she says: ‘I don’t know when I said that. I would never say that to anyone, especially not to someone who was going to write about it.’
Note that there is no withdrawal of the remark and no apology. Although she says she is less outspoken than her sometimes abrasive father, there is clearly a family resemblance.
Despite Spencer’s track record of bitter divorces, Kitty and her siblings seem to cope rather well.
‘It is complicated,’ admits Kitty. ‘There’s us four and then my mother has a son, Samuel, with her second husband, and my father has a son, Ned, and a daughter, Lara, with his second wife.
‘I know people probably think it looks odd from the outside but it’s great. I couldn’t imagine my life without any one of them. I feel blessed to have so many siblings.
'We oldest four spend one Christmas with my mum and one with my dad, so obviously if we’re with my mum then we’ll be with her little boy, with my dad we’ll be with his little boy and girl. This one that’s just been was my dad. It’s the fairest way.’
Kitty is now focused on completing her degree and will not even consider moving to England until she graduates in summer 2011. There have been various stories linking her to university studies in Bristol and King’s College London but she says she has engaged in no more than internet-based ‘window shopping’ for potential postgraduate courses.
She loves visiting her family home at Althorp in Northamptonshire, but she can’t imagine living there, let alone managing the family estate.
‘I have never even thought about it...
'I would never have to. It will go to the oldest son, my brother Louis, and if Louis doesn’t have children then to our other brother Ned, so my chances are slim,’ she laughs.
‘But I’m quite happy. We go there at least four times a year – for a month in June, two weeks in September, sometimes for the whole summer holiday – our summer holiday is in December. Althorp is very beautiful and very relaxing and I don’t have to stress about looking after it.’
There’s one traditional Althorp pastime that Kitty no longer takes part in. She does not ride since being nearly paralysed by a fall when she was 13.
She says: ‘I was trying to show my father how good I was and I went straight over the horse’s head and landed on my head. My whole body was in spasm. I’ve never wanted to get on a horse since then.’
It is an anecdote that leads us on to other brushes with injury and worse. And perhaps explains this young woman’s extraordinary niceness and zest for life.
‘I feel like I used up one of my nine lives,’ she says. ‘I must have used up most of them by now. Our house was struck by lightning and burned down, I missed the London Tube bombings by seconds, but the worst was when our charter plane caught fire on the way to Mozambique.
'My father, my brother Louis and sisters Eliza and Amelia were all taken to hospital after an emergency landing.
‘We had trauma counselling for a while afterwards. I think everyone thought we were going to die. The investigators afterwards said that we had a less than five per cent chance of surviving.
‘The funny thing was that we’d all been joking when we got on the plane that it looked like something from The Flintstones – that the doors must have to be tied on before take-off and that the plane was older than my father.
'We’d been in the air about ten minutes when I heard a beeping noise. I turned round and black smoke was coming into the plane.
‘The oxygen masks didn’t work. Louis’s one wasn’t even attached to anything, it just dropped into his lap. We were coughing and it was just horrible. I kept thinking why did it have to be all of us, the entire family.’
She adds: ‘To this day, my dad says, “I absolutely thought we were going to die.” Luckily, the pilot managed to get back to the airport, where the fire engines were waiting. I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks. I was having nightmares.’
It is not surprising Kitty wants to embrace life, work hard, have fun and be normal. ‘I love pizza, pasta, Pot Noodles and grated cheese,’ she says.
‘I sometimes get criticised about my weight – my chunky thighs or whatever – but I don’t really mind because I don’t think it’s that important. Sometimes I think if I could stick to a diet then that would be cool, but I know I’m not going to, so I don’t bother.’
Kitty recently split from her long-term boyfriend, surfer Jasper Eales, and has just started dating Larry Cohen, a 22-year-old footballer with Johannesberg’s Jomo Cosmos and sometime model.
‘My boyfirend and I see each other about once a week,’ she says. ‘We’ve been together a couple of months, so it’s early days yet. But I’m a 19-year-old student and getting a good degree is the most important thing to me.
‘I’ve always been geeky but I’m determined to get a good degree for my own self-worth and self-respect. Once I’ve got that piece of paper, I won’t care what people say because I know how hard I’ve worked for it.’
For all the fashion, the glamour, the ancient family and connection to Princess Diana – who famously boasted a single O-level in art – Kitty Spencer is resolute.
‘Being seen as a society girl is absolutely the last thing I need,’ she says. ‘Education is a wonderful opportunity and I just want to make the most of it.’