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Fergie, Kate Moss, Mick Jagger, Christine Keeler, Princess Margaret and me

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Sitting crossed-legged on the floor of a dilapidated plantation house, surrounded by her giggling daughters and a group of young male friends, the Duchess of York was in a relaxed holiday mood.

Their host, the artist and raconteur Willy Feilding, was on top form and Fergie was laughing fit to burst, even if the battered and dusty surroundings were not exactly Royal.

The paintwork on the once-distinguished Caribbean mansion was peeling, inside and out, and shafts of sunlight pierced the roof through gaping holes.

It was far from what Beatrice and Eugenie had come to expect in their short lives, but none of this seemed to spoil their appetite as the group tucked into a picnic lunch of delicacies bought from a roadside shack: stuffed crab and spicy jerk chicken.

Yet as they ate and laughed, the merriment was loudly interrupted. A cacophony of barking guard dogs cut the chatter dead. The Jamaican police had decided to drop in.

If Feilding was alarmed by his unexpected visitors, he scarcely seemed to show it - a sang-froid born, perhaps, of the many strange encounters and narrow scrapes that have held his extraordinary life together.

For Feilding, whose unusual surname is due to the fact, he says, that his parents misspelt it on his birth certificate, is not merely a painter and bon viveur.

The bohemian 66-year-old, a cousin of the Earl of Denbigh, has been a friend and companion to some of the world's most colourful celebrities, from the moustachioed madness that was Salvador Dali to that peerless beauty Princess Grace of Monaco.

Feilding's paintings were sought by the Shah of Iran and Hollywood A-listers. He has been close to David Niven and Steve McQueen. He was a regular at Princess Margaret's notorious parties in Mustique.

He once spent the night with Christine Keeler and escaped death at the hands of Charles Manson and his drug-crazed gang, thanks only to the luckiest of breaks.

Even now, Feilding's connections remain star-studded. Living in Jamaica, he boasts a posse of hip new friends including "420420420420420420420 Kate" Moss, the hard-drinking Marianne Faithful and Mick Jagger's designer daughter, Jade.

Even with the passage of time, his life seems no less intoxicating. The painter cultivates a reputation as a connoisseur of marijuana - or ganja, as it is called on the island. He is known as "Willyman" or "Mr Feelings" to his Rastafarian friends and is popular with visitors looking for a "high".

So with the local police at the gate of his ramshackle home, and two bodyguards from the Royal protection squad looking on, the young Princesses were facing a potentially explosive situation.

But, as he recalls, while the Jamaican officers were indeed there on a drugs mission, there was no need for Feilding or his guests to be concerned.

"The two British bodyguards - PC Partridge and PC Plod ) were waiting outside in the yard when the local squad car drove up," he recalls.

"Then a sergeant stepped out carrying this big black bag - so full of ganja that pieces were sticking out of the top. I was looking out the window after hearing the commotion and thought, "Oh bloody hell, that's all I need in the middle of a Royal visit."

"I quickly went down the steps, thanked the officer heartily for the delivery, which was a very generous gift, then I walked straight past the plain-clothed English police. They looked very disapproving.

"I could see they were uncomfortable and probably wondering if they should be doing anything about it. But I just ignored them. I really enjoyed that. It was one of the best experiences of my life, knowing I was openly breaking the law and they could do nothing."

If Feilding was amused by their confusion, what followed next was rather more unsettling.

He continues: "As I walked up the steps back to the veranda, Fergie, who had been looking out the window, asked what the fuss was all about and I told her.

"She smiled and said that I was spinning a yarn. She just couldn't believe that local police would actually bring me drugs, but that's how things are down here.

"So, to prove it was true, I took the huge bag and tossed it down on her lap. She grabbed it, howling with laughter.

"Everyone thought it was a real hoot. I don't think they had ever seen so much ganja in one go."

Few people have. For Feilding, however, this sackful was no more than a month's supply of the weed that he claims is essential for his artistry.

"I'm a regular smoker," he says. "It helps to make me more creative. I probably have one every hour or so. Not that I think it's really a lot. You know, Bob Marley used to get through twice as much in a day."

Many will be dismayed by this cavalier attitude towards illegal substances. More still will be disturbed by Fergie's failure to show any disapproval whatsoever - among them, no doubt, her former husband Prince Andrew, who neither smokes nor drinks.

Indeed, of all the many stories exposing Sarah Ferguson's lack of judgment, none has been more astonishing than The Mail on Sunday's disclosure, earlier this year, that she allowed her children to be surrounded by people smoking cannabis joints and eating hash cakes during another louche Caribbean party.

Now, for the first time, Feilding has decided to speak publicly about his part in this shameful sequence of events in summer 2005, when the Princesses were aged just 15 and 17.

It is barely 10am when we meet on the steps of his house, but already Feilding, diminutive but resplendent in an African-print shirt, is waving a giant spliff.

He is one of the last in a line of blue-blooded English playboys dating back to the days of Carnaby Street. He is frank about his many vices and is particularly fond, for example, of Caribbean go-go dancers young enough to be his granddaughters.

In his time he has taken 420420420420420420420, 420420420 and many other drugs, legal and illegal, as his blue, cannabis-hazed eyes make all too clear.

But - he is insistent on this - he denies that he has ever sold drugs to his friends. "If people come to my house and want a joint, then I'll give them one," he says with a feral smile, revealing badly decayed lower teeth. The top set are dentures.

"That's only being hospitable. It would be rude not to. But I certainly didn't give Fergie ganja or anything like that in front of her daughters.

Anyone who says I did had better have photographic evidence to prove it. In any case, I didn,t need to give drugs to anyone in that group. The guys with Fergie already had their own supplier.

"They came by at about noon and spent five hours with me. It was very casual because Fergie doesn't have any airs and graces. She's comfortable in any setting, even my humble home. Actually, she said it was shabbily chic."

This was not the first time they had met. That was many years ago, when the young Sarah Ferguson was working as a chalet girl in Switzerland and started dating Feilding's friend, Paddy McNally, now a sports hospitality tycoon.

Feilding recalls one evening in particular: "Paddy brought her to dinner at my place in Chelsea. I didn't quite catch her name, but she was wearing a spectacularly low-cut dress. So when I was sitting at the table I asked another female guest, 'Who's the owner of the great pair of Bristols?'"

"The woman replied, 'Oh, they're Fergie's.' And I said, "I've never heard them called that before."

This vulgar anecdote is accompanied by raucous laughter, like most others that he tells.

"I don't remember seeing her do any drugs at all on the three occasions that we met while she was in Jamaica," he insists.

"In any case, I'm not a drug dealer and I don't snitch on my friends. What they do in private is their business. These kind of people value my discretion more than anything else."

They also, it seems, value his sense of humour and an inexhaustible supply of racy tales.

This may account for the steady stream of visitors to his home, many of them complete strangers.

He claims they are sent by wealthy old friends - even though the house, grandly named Oristana, has seen better days, much like Feilding himself.

"They come to hear my stories," he says in a peculiar upper-crust accent that tries to blend Oxford English with the native patois. "I've become a sort of tourist attraction because I make people laugh."

Others, however, believe his continued popularity may have something to do with his close friendship with known drug dealers, not to mention "flexible" members of the local police force.

Either way, it is something of a comedown for a man who was once the heir to an Earldom (the birth of a relative put paid to that) and who, by his own estimate, would have been one of Britain's greatest artists but for a crippling lack of ambition.

Feilding was born during the Second World War into a family of privilege but no great wealth.

His father, David, the impoverished second son of the Earl of Denbigh, was an engineer imprisoned by the Germans for most of the war and his mother was a code-breaker at Bletchley in Buckinghamshire.

Somehow they scraped together the money to put him through private education at Downside, the Catholic public school run by Benedictine monks near Bath, Somerset. Despite being the smallest pupil, he excelled in sports, particularly boxing, and went on to become head boy.

He won a scholarship to study history at Oxford, but chose instead to spend three years at Camberwell Art School in South-East London, which was followed by six months training with the great Italian painter Pietro Annigoni in 1962.

Well connected, stylish and blessed with darkly handsome model looks, Feilding was a frequent guest at society house parties and it was at one of these that he met Patrick Lichfield, the aspiring young society photographer and cousin of the Queen. The friendship would turn out to be his entree into an even more dazzling world.

He recalls: "Along with Michael Pearson, now Lord Cowdray, Patrick and I hung out together a great deal. It was the era of free love. We partied hard and were always chasing pretty girls from good families, many of whom were also models.

"Patrick's family had cut him off because of his chosen profession and his lifestyle. I sold my paintings mainly to people I met at the parties we attended. They didn't pay a lot, but it was enough to keep me going."

There is no doubt that Feilding has talent, although his elaborate canvasses and erotic drawings are not to everyone's taste, as he admits. "I did a lot of romantic paintings and surreal murals with elaborate dream scenes," he says.

"People like Annabel Goldsmith bought my ribald erotic paintings, but I remember that her husband Jimmy burned one in their garden because he hated it so much."

Feilding managed two successful shows - one in York in 1964 and another in Geneva in 1975. Both sold out. Throughout this time, wealthy art lovers including David Niven, the Shah of Iran and George Hamilton rushed to commission him. Princess Grace asked him to do a series of drawings of her palace garden, which were then used on plates for her household.

"I met her entire family," recalls Feilding. "The late Prince Rainier made me laugh because he had a habit of falling asleep at the drop of a hat. I think he suffered from narcolepsy.

"In the Sixties, Seventies and even in the Eighties, I knew just about everyone who mattered on both sides of the Atlantic, including movie stars such as Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty."

Even though his friends were rich, Feilding never found financial success.

"The problem is that I kept selling to friends and so never got the kind of money I should have been paid," he says.

"One person who I painted for was Mohamed Al Fayed, who was living in St Tropez as Moo Moo Fayed at the time.

"I did a painting of his yacht. Then he docked £200 from the agreed £600 fee because he said I hadn't put enough flags on it.

"Money has never been a driving force for me. Had I not been surrounded by comforts, then perhaps I might have been more ambitious and commercially minded.

"As it is, today I have nothing but this house and the land that surrounds it. I haven't been able to pay my maid and driver for several months. Now I want to try to raise my profile so that I can start selling paintings again.

"I think my skills have become better as I have got older. Smoking weed on a daily basis has sharpened my artistic senses."

Feilding was particularly popular with the members of the hippy rock crowd, who loved his flamboyant style.

He recalls how Mick Jagger, now Sir Mick, hired him to paint a mural on canvas for his Manhattan apartment. "Mick actually has quite conventional taste and wanted me to do a tranquil cricket scene.

"I painted some of the players with their hands in their pockets and Mick jokingly observed that they were playing pocket billiards. It's a huge piece and I think he's still got it. I suppose it might be worth something once I'm dead."

Feilding attended several of Princess Margaret's infamous parties on Mustique during the Nineties, accompanying her cousin Lord Lichfield. "She was always very gracious," he says. "She thought that rolling in the seaweed on the beach was therapeutic and once invited me to join her. I did.

"I was always respectful, though, and never approached her unless invited to do so. She could be very cutting if people didn't respect her Royal status."

Dali, who shared his bohemian tastes, was another close friend. "We partied together and once attended an extraordinary orgy at his home in New York," he reveals.

"He was one of the finest people I have ever known. He had a brilliant mind, if sexually deviant in a very inoffensive way.

"We partied at all the hot New York nightclubs at the time, including Studio 54, and were regulars at Elaine's restaurant. Andy Warhol was also someone I occasionally ran around with."

Declaring, grandly, that as a gentleman he would never "kiss and tell", Feilding seems rather proud of his sex-fuelled past and claims that his former girlfriends include the actress Jacqueline Bissett, whom he met in France when she was 18.

"She was the nicest woman I ever dated, the kind who would wash your socks and underpants," he says. "We lived together for several months and we're still good friends."

He also boasts of a relationship with Andy Williams's former wife, the beautiful French singer Claudine Longet.

One woman who managed to avoid his clutches was Christine Keeler, the former party girl at the heart of the Profumo scandal. They were both guests on the yacht of Bond actor George Lazenby, but Feilding was rebuffed when he attempted to bed her. "It was not one of my finest moments," he admits ruefully.

He claims they spent the night in the same room, but got no closer than that.

"I believe she wouldn't sleep with me because I wasn't rich enough," he says a little sourly. "She was the consummate professional."

For all his time amid the bright lights and chandeliers of fame, Feilding's most remarkable story is also his darkest and concerns his friendship with Sharon Tate, the beautiful girlfriend of film director Roman Polanski, who was notoriously killed by mass murderer Charles Manson.

"It was a Wednesday and she was showing me around her lovely old house in Hollywood," recalls Feilding. "She was a very gracious woman. She was bright, funny and articulate, but she complained of going through an uncomfortable time with her pregnancy.

"I told her not to worry because it would all be over soon. She was at quite an advanced stage. But I'll never forget the haunting look on her face as she turned to me and said that she had a feeling something bad was going to happen.

"I left after patting her reassuringly and promising to return that weekend. But I went to Palm Springs instead.

"Imagine my horror when I woke up on the Sunday morning to the terrifying news that Manson and his gang of drugged-up assassins had slaughtered everyone in the house. I felt very lucky to be alive."

Feilding has lived permanently in Jamaica since 1990, when his five-year marriage to Lilian, a former model, ended. Almost broke, he sold his King,s Road studio for £350,000 to pay his alimony.

These days the property is worth more than £3million, a fact that does not best please him. For if he has few regrets in the Caribbean sunshine, his empty bank account is a major irritation.

He is putting his hopes for financial salvation on his illustrations for a new book on the great plantation houses of Jamaica, written by Desmond Guinness, the brother of Lord Moyne.

"It's a history of the island through the buildings," he explains.

"Slavery was a very bad system, but it left behind a number of beautiful Georgian buildings, which are falling down and little known. I've done watercolour drawings of 60 of those that are still standing."

Feilding also believes that the Duchess of York, who he says is fiercely loyal to her friends, may commission him to do the illustrations for her next children's book.

But after his astonishing revelations about her time in Jamaica, that is probably more of a hope than an expectation.


Feilding with the Duchess of York and her friend Alex Clavel

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Source: Daily Mail
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Copyright: 2007 Associated Newspapers Ltd
Website: Fergie, Kate Moss, Mick Jagger, Christine Keeler, Princess Margaret and me
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