The Tale of a Baron’s Court
‘Always favour large jewels in big, claw settings. Easier to remove if the peasants revolt”.
No, not Marie Antoinette. Nor was it one of our extravagant Celtic Tiger wives. Actually it was said, with only a shred of irony, in the Eighties by one of the great hostesses of the age. She was Ulli de Breffny, who died in Malta last month, a fascinating woman with a remarkable life, of which the most remarkable aspect was probably her fourth husband, baron Brian de Breffny.
Princess Jyotsna is a slightly insubstantial figure, but Brian’s second wife, Ulli, Lady Sands, was more than vivid, in compensation. Born in Finland, Ulli was magnificent, a kind of super-size Greta Garbo with a quality of inner stillness that was quite mesmerising.
She was the widow of Sir Stafford Lofthouse Sands, former finance minister of the Bahamas and one of the notorious “Bay Street Boys” — the white businessmen-politicians who controlled the Bahamas at the time. He died in 1972, after becoming embroiled in a scandal relating to $1,800,000 paid to him by the operators of two large local casinos. The money arrived in the guise of consultancy and legal fees, and the payments were hardly unusual by the standards of the Bahamas at the time, but it was nevertheless an embarrassment for Sir Stafford, who left for Italy, where he bought the glorious 16th-Century, 37-room Villa Corner Della Regina in the Veneto.
Whatever about his politics, Sir Stafford was devoted to his wife, Ulli, leaving her virtually everything in a curious will that stipulated she be paid a certain fixed income, linked to inflation, even were it to exhaust the estate. He also adopted her four daughters, all by her first marriage to a Finnish lawyer. Stafford Sands was Ulli’s third husband (about husband Number Two very little seems to be known, beyond that the marriage barely lasted a wet weekend). After his death, Ulli, now an immensely rich, glamorous and beautiful widow, seemingly had a number of high-profile affairs, including with Peter Rawlinson, British attorney general 1970-74, and a prime minister of Finland. But it was Brian she married, and with Brian she came to live, in Ireland, in the Seventies.
Excerpt from the artcle in Independent Womancelebrities, history