In the mid 1980s I and my wife stayed at Tony Lambton’s home at Villa Citenale near Siena.
We were given a guest bedroom that he claimed was haunted. It was typical of Tony to try to unnerve his guests while playing the perfect host. The ghosts must have been hibernating when we were there as they never made their presence felt. Any discomfort we experienced was of a less ethereal kind, for the old-fashioned bed had a sinking mattress that made sleep virtually impossible. During the night we were forced to lift it off its base and deposit it on the floor to give it a flat, stable surface on which we tried to get a night’s repose. Tony’s response was to be rather amused when he realized his guests had spent the night on the floor in preference to making the most of an imposing bed that had no doubt been witness to many an indiscretion, perhaps even of an ecclesiastical nature. The villa had been the family home of Fabio Chigi, who became Pope Alexander VII in 1655 and rebuilt the house for his nephew, Cardinal Flavio Chigi.
Tony’s life could have been described as having much the same flavour as that of a dissolute monarch of a bygone age, but in his case his wicked sense of humour redeemed his less orthodox indulgences. There was also a counter-balance in his notorious frugality. Once, when there were several people expected for lunch at Villa Citenale, he suggested we should have as a starter a tomato salad. He then led the way into the gardens where there was a vegetable patch he tended, of which he was very proud. Dozens of tomatoes were flourishing in the Italian sun, but I had only picked a few before he commanded. ‘Don’t pick any more.’ I tried to say there wouldn’t be enough for everyone, but he was adamant: ‘I can’t stand wasting food!’ Another time I took my wife and Lambton’s live-in companion Clair Ward into Florence for a stupendous meal. When we got back. Tony was furious at what he called our wasteful pursuit of gluttony. He had his eccentricities, but was a great friend and, to some, a much feared enemy. His death in December 2006 made our world a duller place.
It is such a pity that his children are now in litigation regarding his estate, which he left to his son in its entirety. Who says that inheritance is a blessing, when it often divides families and sows the seeds of bitter conflict.