A LARGER than life peer who turned his New Forest estate into a major event venue has died at the age of 73.
Tributes have been paid to former cavalry officer Lord Normanton, who raced boats and also loved shooting, skiing and scuba diving.
His family home was the 18th century palatial Somerley Estate, which he managed for nearly four decades before passing it on to his heir.
It is understood he had cancer and passed away peacefully surrounded by his family last week.
Born Shaun James Christian Welbore Ellis Agar, he was educated at Eton and served in the army, becoming a captain in the Blues and Royals. But he was forced to return to run the family’s 7,000-acre Somerley Estate when he was just 23 after his father died at 58.
Initially he found the role a steep learning curve as he faced a massive 88% inheritance tax bill.
Realising he could not afford the upkeep of the house, he commercialised the parkland and, when that was not enough to meet the £1.5m property costs each year, opened it to the public.
He ensured it stayed within the family by allowing it to host a series of events such as festivals, concerts, radio shows and clay pigeon shoots. One prime local event there was the Ellingham Show.
Its chairman, Stephen Thompson, said: “Lord Normanton will be greatly missed by everybody who has ever been involved in our show. He was our president for many, many years and a very familiar face around the showground.
“He made a point of visiting our numerous trade stands and making everybody welcome at Somerley, which he encouraged us to believe was our adoptive home for show week in early August, every year.
“With his old-fashioned charm he personified the gentleness and warmth of a great gentleman. Our thoughts are with Lady Normanton, Lord Somerton and everybody at Somerley at this sad time.”
The house was used as the backdrop to several television programmes, including the soap Howard’s Way and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mystery The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.
It also featured in a behind-the-scenes eight-episode BBC documentary called Country House, which was broadcast in 2004 and depicted Lord Normanton’s day-to-day duties.
While the house – which has numerous priceless Old Masters’ paintings and a legendary porcelain collection that rivalled George IV’s – was decorated in opulence, the programme revealed its struggles to become and remain a viable business concern.
The cameras showed the earl’s hands-on nature and his tireless work to maximise Somerley’s full potential. In 2007 he handed it to his son, Viscount Somerton.
Lord Normanton was married three times. He met first wife Vicki at Cowes and the pair married in 1970 in the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks, London. They had three children, Portia, Marisa and James, but divorced in 2000.
His second wife was Rosalind Nott, a Daily Telegraph sports reporter and women’s world water speed record holder. They married in 2009 after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she later died aged 56. Most recently he married Diana de Uphaugh, the pair getting engaged in 2016.
He began racing powerboats in the late 1960s but his exuberance on the water almost cost him his life in 1970 when he suffered a crash in a circuit boat during the Paris six-hour race.
The severe injuries Lord Normanton suffered left him paralysed for two months, but he fought back, returning to racing in Alto Volante, a 40ft Levi, and competed in the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes event during the early 1970s, completing a total of seven C-T-C races.
During his racing career, Lord Normanton was often helming the revolutionary-designed Cougar catamarans, designed by the late James Beard and built on the Hamble.
Although he retired he became the first chairman of the British Powerboat Racing Club (BPRC) after its inception in 2001 and two years later was tempted back into racing with the Allenby brothers aboard the Cougar ‘Premier Crew’. He also raced cars.
On Wednesday a BPRC spokeswoman said he was a “great man”.
“BPRC are saddened by the news that Shaun Normanton the 6th Earl of Normanton passed away,” she said.
The Earl hit the headlines in 2012 when Southampton magistrates spared him a driving ban after he was clocked doing 106mph in his Porsche 911 on the M27. The decision to give him six points was condemned by speed campaigners and driving groups, including Brake.
In 2016 Viscount Somerton’s marriage to Lucy Alexander was held at Somerley, which was designed by Samuel Wyatt in 1750.
It has been in the family for five generations since being bought by the 2nd Earl in 1825. It has 14 bedrooms, two libraries and 22 fireplaces.