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August 23 2014

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Postcard From Cape Town: A One-On-One With The One And Only Pat Cavendish O’Neil

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I had a feast in Africa. No ordinary feast, mind you—I was the luncheon guest of Pat Cavendish O’Neil, heiress and author of A Lion in the Bedroom, a charmingly written and juicy chronicle of the lavish life she led as daughter of one of Britain’s most famous beauties, Enid Lindeman. Pat’s half brother was equally famous—Roderick (Rory) Cameron authored a number of books and designed the iconic mansion of the Côte d’Azur, La Fiorentina (later owned by Harding and Mary Wells Lawrence). So artistic was Rory that the interior walls of La Fiorentina had to perfectly match the color of the back side of the olive leaf. Pat called him “the most wonderful brother”—she clearly adored him. Other guests included Geoff Calmeyer, co-owner of the prestigious bespoke tour company Roar Africa, as well as former neighbors of Pat and three young volunteers working at an AIDS orphanage. Some 15 dogs trotted up the long, tree-lined drive to greet us.

At 84, Pat is still young, still interested in everything, and still a beauty in her own right—no one has such wide-set pale blue eyes. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” she said, ushering us to the shaded pool-side terrace. Thirty years ago Pat and her mother moved from Kenya’s Happy Valley to Broadlands, a stud farm outside of Cape Town, for her mother’s health and at the behest of Beryl Markham, aviatrix, horse trainer, and a reputed lover of Denys Finch Hatton—yes, Karen Blixen’s Finch Hatton. Beryl told Pat: “Broadlands has a wonderful paddock and horses, white fencing, and trees everywhere.” Like Beryl, Pat and her mother raised champion thoroughbreds and eventually Pat fell in love with South Africa. And why not? Cape Town is one of the most beautiful and welcoming cities in the world. Though there is still disparity between blacks and whites, it’s changing and you can feel the thaw. Here, hospitality has been raised to a fine art at such fabulous venues as the Steenberg Hotel, the Constantia Guest House, and the Delaire Graff Estate, the new über-luxurious hotel, winery, and restaurant conceived by diamond king Laurence Graff and designed by the brilliant David Collins.

After a surfeit of lunch, we toured the grounds of Broadlands to see Pat’s menagerie (and I don’t mean the glass kind)—four baboons, assorted goats, donkeys, pigs, cattle, 14 cats, 60 vervet monkeys, and another 20-odd canines. Pat rescued every last animal except for one magnificent dog, Cash, so named because it’s the only creature she paid money for. The walls of the drawing room are hung to the rafters with oils and watercolors surrounding a portrait of Pat and Tana, her beloved pet lioness who, she said, “taught me the beauty of Africa.” There are photographs of Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and many other family friends. There are paintings of her mother and paintings by her mother, of whom she said, “Men just adored her. Once they fell, they fell for the rest of their lives. She was also a brilliant painter.”


Best of all, Pat told us she’s writing a sequel to A Lion in the Bedroom. (If you haven’t read part one of her autobiography, beg, borrow, or steal to get your hands on a copy of the hard-to-find book.) I can’t wait to find out what happened next in her exciting, extraordinary, and eccentric life.

Photo: Peggy Healy Parker

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  1. Feather_001 says:

    A lovely piece Peggy! Oh, how you must have enjoyed your stay. I want to hear all about it from you.

  2. georgeb says:

    You express the same feel as I had when I lunched and had tea with Pat in April. She was very gracious.

  3. Barbaralynn says:

    I was so inspired by this wonderful memoir that I have donated a book to be read for “tape aids for the blind” from my mother also a Pat, age 88, in memory of her two late husbands. I am also busy with a painting in which I hope to capture the likeness of Tana.

Dept. of Culture