The unconventional family background of Prince Harry's new girl: Cressida Bonas's mother is a notorious party girl with a string of ex-lovers who once posed for a very racy photo
08:45 GMT, 23 July 2012
At this time of year, the female ranks of London’s jeunesse dore are imbued with an added frisson of excitement as Prince Harry makes his way once again into their gilded orbit.
The helicopter pilot Prince is on leave and on the lookout for the sort of impeccably well-bred, clear-skinned blondes to which he is almost exclusively partial.
And in the ritzier nightclubs of West London, there is no shortage of this very type. Step forward, for example, Cressida Bonas — a 23-year-old model and would-be actress with an unimpeachably noble lineage.
Harry was seen kissing and cuddling the willowy girl-about-town in the early hours at Mayfair club Le Salon last week after they had spent the earlier part of the evening noisily chatting their way through the premiere of the new Batman film.
Highborn singleton: Cressida Bonas is rumoured to be the new lady in Prince Harry's life
Blue-blood: Cressida with her mother Lady Mary-Gaye at the Macmillan Cancer Relief Dog Day held at the Royal Hospital Chelsea South Grounds in July 2003.
Stowe-educated Miss Bonas, who is herself the daughter of renowned Sixties It girl Lady Mary-Gaye Curzon, is presumably just the sort of highborn singleton that Harry had in mind when he asked his sister-in-law Kate to hook him up with a likely female earlier this year.
In this particular case, however, it is unlikely that Kate will be rushing to give her approval to Harry’s prospective match with the otherwise perfect girlfriend material, Miss Bonas.
The lovely Cressida is, after all, the half-sister of the even more beautiful actress Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe — a name that is even now capable of sending a shiver of anxiety down the spine of the Duchess of Cambridge.
Prince William had a massive — if unrequited — crush on Bella, as she is known to friends, to such an extent that when he spent a rapt evening hanging on her every word at a black-tie party in 2005, Kate stormed out in a huff. Today Bella is engaged to Richard Branson’s son Sam.
That said, Cressida — who was
actually fixed up with Harry by his cousin Princess Eugenie — certainly
fits the profile of the leggy identikit blondes to which Harry is drawn.
also comes from a family with more than their fair share of the sort of
scandals, affairs, multiple marriages, messy court cases and, of
course, profligate spending that is seen as a badge of honour in the
aristocratic circles in which both she and 27-year-old Harry move.
former model mother Lady Mary-Gaye, a scion of the vastly rich Curzon
banking family, has five children by three of her four husbands, all of
whom she divorced.
Cressida’s father, Old Harrovian Jeffrey Bonas, was once accused of
being ‘unreliable’ by a judge in a court case over the 1.2 million he
paid his first wife in the divorce brought on by his adulterous affair
with Cressida’s mother.
Even so, 68-year-old former Oxford
boxing blue Bonas is, like most of the rest of Cressida’s extended clan,
utterly charming, personable and congenitally unruffled.
weekend, for example, he was not getting over-excited by his daughter’s
nascent relationship with the Prince, which he only found out about
from reading the papers.
fathers are, of course, always the last to know,’ he sighed
good-naturedly to me before getting back to watching The Open golf on
television at his imposing Norfolk home.
New couple Prince Harry was seen kissing and cuddling Cressida Bonas at Mayfair club Le Salon last week
Likewise, those who know her well are united in proclaiming Cressida as a thoroughly good egg.
Like Harry’s ex Chelsy Davy, she went to study at Leeds University after boarding at 30,000-a-year Stowe School in Buckingham.
While at university she garnered rave reviews for her role as Desdemona in Othello which, her father proudly father tells me, later transferred to the Edinburgh Festival.
And there is something vaguely Shakespearean about the highly complicated romantic machinations of Cressida’s parents who have six marriages between them.
She is the only child of their
five-year union which ended in divorce in 1994. Prior to that Lady
Mary-Gaye, who is known simply as MG in her social circle, was married
marriage, in 1971, was to the late Esmond Cooper-Key, son of the then
Tory MP for Hastings. They had a daughter, Pandora, now 38.
than a year after their divorce in 1976, she wed wealthy property
magnate John Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, with whom she had three
children: Georgiana, now 33, Isabella, 32, and polo-playing son Jacobi,
29, who is a close friend of Prince William.
then began an affair with Cressida’s entrepreneur father while he was
still married to first wife Elspeth. During the subsequent costly
divorce, Bonas became embroiled in a legal battle with his solicitors
over a 350,000 loan he took to help pay Elspeth off.
in the 2003 court case that followed, the judge questioned his
integrity and accused Bonas of hiding his wealth in offshore Isle of Man
Following her own divorce from Bonas,
Lady MG, who is the daughter of the late motor-racing aristocrat Earl
Howe, then took up with financier Christopher Shaw, moving in with him
while still officially married to Cressida’s father.
like the rest of Mary-Gaye’s children has had to become used to their
mother’s bohemian love life that has, on occasion, involved just the
sort of louche behaviour that would be frowned upon in any social
grouping other than that of the seriously rich and well-bred.
a time, the young Cressida was given the run of Hinton Ampner, the
National Trust-owned stately home in Hampshire of which her mother was
chatelaine following her fourth marriage in 1996 to multi-millionaire
Shaw, who owned the lease on the sprawling country pile with views over
the South Downs.
a decidedly mismatched union, however, the gracefully beautiful Lady
Mary-Gaye and the bespectacled Shaw, an aging Old Etonian and former
Grenadier Guards officer, who bore an uncanny likeness to Dad’s Army
actor Arthur Lowe.
Pedigree: Miss Bonas, left, with mother, sister Isabella and Isabella's father
While Cressida, who was only five when her parents separated, was left in the care of nannies, the high-living Lady Mary-Gaye and Shaw would think nothing of jetting to South Africa for a day to attend the wedding of a friend.
Or Cressida would be expected to tag along to parties at their favourite haunt, Claridge’s, where, in the late Nineties, Shaw threw a lavish Venetian-themed party for MG featuring men on stilts, a performing dwarf and a guest list of 350 that included the Earl of Lichfield.
That marriage broke down, too, in 2000
when the gallivanting Shaw traded Cressida’s mother in for 40-year-old
Eliza Dugdale, the daughter of a former aide-de-camp of the Duke of
IT girl: Cressida at a party to celebrate the launch of Dirty Dancing in 2006
Such marital hiccups did not, however, dampen MG’s joie de vivre. Friends say the young Cressida spent summers in St Tropez where her head-turning mother would regularly be found with a gaggle of her children lunching at the exclusive Club 55.
Elsewhere in the social calendar, she would never let Royal Ascot pass without having her staff pitch a marquee-size tent on Number One car park of the racecourse, fitted with a mobile kitchen from where her cook and butler would serve lunch to guests on tables laid with silver cutlery and decorated with fresh peonies.
In her day Mary-Gaye, 65, so bedazzled London that a blue-coloured cocktail — to match her blue-blooded credentials — called The Curzon was invented at Claridge’s in her honour.
At the height of the Swinging Sixties, she appeared semi-naked and covered in engine oil — a nod to her father’s motor racing past — in the bestselling, if appallingly-titled, coffee table book Birds Of Britain, which also featured the likes of Sarah Miles, Julie Christie and Lulu.
To borrow from the same rather outmoded parlance of the day, it seems the endlessly leggy MG was what might have been described at the time as a bit of a ‘goer’.
‘She was absolutely great fun and loved a party,’ Sixties fashion photographer John D Green told me this weekend from a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean.
‘I mean, there aren’t many girls who would let you smother them in used engine oil, but she was very up for it,’ he added. ‘We shot the pictures in my studio in London and made it look like she was topless and holding her hands up to her face.
‘Mary-Gaye was a celebrity model of the time and an It girl. She was terrific and great to work with, a complete natural.’
For her part, Cressida is, like her
mother before her, said by friends to be extraordinarily nice, if a
little bit on the wild side.
weekend she was due to head off partying to a music festival, though
she has found time, according to pals, to stay in flirty contact with
Harry on her mobile while publicly playing it cool over their budding
As part of Harry’s wider set, she is more than aware that he has a wandering eye when it comes to posh party-girls of her ilk.
has recently been seen in the company of another high society blonde
Lady Melissa ‘Missy’ Percy whom he was photographed chatting up on the
stairwell of a West London nightclub a couple of months ago.
Former love: Prince Harry is apparently still pining for his ex-girlfriend Chelsy Davy
He has also been on dates with socialite Astrid Harbord and last summer had a fling with another Old Stoic, Florence Brudenell-Bruce, yet another interchangeable, fresh-faced blonde with an aristocratic heritage.
They are all members of the so-called BBB Crew — Blue-Bloods And Blonde — that includes actress Gabriella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, known as Bumpy, who is Cressida’s best friend and a member of her extended family. Harry also carries a candle for Bumpy.
But friends of the Prince say all his recent flirtations have been ‘rebound’ flings because he has still not got over his one long-term relationship with 26-year-old Miss Davy who ended their topsy-turvy attachment apparently once and for all last year when she got cold feet about being a royal bride after attending William and Kate’s wedding.
Indeed, Harry was talking specifically about Zimbabwean-born Chelsy when he moaned in an American television interview earlier this year that he was keen to settle down, but girls were put off by his title.
In the meantime, Chelsy has recently been seen in deep conversation with the amiable, if balding, nightclub owner Carlo Carello who has a taste for wearing bright red trousers.
No doubt, by being seen out on the town with the likes of Miss Bonas, Harry — who is taking a break from pre-deployment training as an Apache helicopter pilot and gunner and is hoping to be posted to Afghanistan later this year — will be hoping to catch Chelsy’s eye.
In the meantime, he is clearly up for a good time with the lovely, if predictably blonde, Cressida.