She was a force to be reckoned with on I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, and now Lady Colin Campbell is a warm and entertaining host as she welcomed HELLO! at her grade I-listed home, Castle Goring in West Sussex. "The fee helped pay for the roof," she said of her famously blunt-speaking turn on the blockbuster ITV reality show in 2015. "Up until I went into the jungle, I had had a rough ride in terms of how I was presented in the public eye. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that viewers liked me. They respected me and realised that I am a down-to-earth, genuine person."
Heading downstairs to her cosy boudoir, the 69-year-old Jamaica-born socialite and writer, who was married to Lord Colin Campbell, the younger brother of the 11th Duke of Argyle and cousin to the Queen, is in her element as she changes into a seemingly never-ending parade of glamorous gowns for our exclusive shoot. "I am in love with myself," she revealed during the interview in December 2018.
Lady Colin Campbell spoke about her predictions for I'm A Celebrity
Lady Colin bought her castle in a dilapidated state five years ago. It was built in about 1797 for romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, though he drowned before he could move in. Helping to finance repairs at the stately pile with its Gothic and Palladian frontages is partly why her adopted sons, Dima and Misha, are starring in a "royality" show on MTV. Called The Royal World, the series sees a group of people with aristocratic connections - including the Duchess of Sussex's nephew Tyler Dooley - thrown together Big Brother-style in a mansion.
Dima, 25, the slightly older and "more serious" of the boys, came to the attention of the show's producers when he defended his mother on I'm a Celebrity… She had fallen out spectacularly with campmates, including Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley and Dragons' Den star Duncan Bannatyne, and Dima had to sit with their families. "I could tell they were getting annoyed but I just had to zip it," said Dima, who along with Misha, also 25, was adopted as a baby from a Russian orphanage in the 1990s. "There are fireworks from time to time - but it is not such a bad thing. We get it all out and then we move on," he shared.
"She’s my mother, my business partner and I suppose my boss too. But I don’t let her order me around. In fact, I am tougher on the business side of things, having been to business school, whereas she is more emotionally led and wants to give discounts to people she likes. I don’t allow that." Misha - just two months younger than his brother - prefers to work outside of the castle business; he is currently a supervisor in hospitality. "I will help out in the future," he said. "I have lived with my mum most of my life and I just got to a point where I needed to move on."
Lady Colin, born Georgia Ziadie, was unable to have children herself due to a genital malformation – which led to her being brought up as a boy. She was forced to have male hormone treatment after expressing a desire to grow up female, but underwent corrective surgery aged 21 in New York, where she had been modelling. She married Lord Colin Campbell in 1974, having known him for less than a week, but the marriage ended within a year. Her estranged husband sold their story to the press.
"Mum has always been transparent about her past and her story so we have never been shocked. There have never been any surprises. We are used to it," revealed Misha. Both boys are staunchly protective of their mother and have not felt the need to contact their birth mothers. They have also avoided going back to Russia as they could be conscripted to do military service. "I don’t have a need or yearning to find my birth mother because life was tough in Russia back in the 1990s and she must have given me up for a good reason," said Misha. "Mum has been my mother and Dima my brother since I was a baby. It’s all I’ve ever known." For Lady Colin, adopting her "charming" boys was the best thing she has ever done. "I love them and they mean everything to me," she shared. "I couldn’t have a child myself so I decided to adopt and they have brought greater meaning to my life.” She denies, however, that she rushed into marriage with Lord Colin to reaffirm her femininity.
"I didn’t need to prove anything," she said. "That had been reaffirmed many times by some of the most gorgeous men on earth. I had some wonderful boyfriends – and in fact I dumped David Koch, who was one of the richest men in the world, to marry Colin. "I don’t feel bitter about all that now. It is such a long time ago and another country to me. I was very angry with my father when I was in my 20s, but even more so with my mother, who I discovered later had trained me up in order to control me. She didn’t want me to have my own life. She was a deeply disturbed woman. I wrote a book about it called Daughter of Narcissus."
Although famous for her plain speaking, it is the author’s royal books that have attracted most criticism. Her first, Diana in Private – published in 1992 before Andrew Morton’s book – was attacked for claiming the Princess of Wales had been suffering from an eating disorder and an unhappy marriage. “I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about,” she added. “Didn’t they all have to eat crow."
Her fifth royal biography, The Queen’s Marriage, has been similarly dismissed, yet Lady Colin insists she has enormous admiration for Her Majesty and her husband of 71 years. On her wall she points out a sketch, bought at auction, of the Duke of Edinburgh for the Coronation state portrait. Another picture of him hangs in the adjacent room – the Queen Victoria boudoir – and she has met the Duke on several occasions.
“Prince Philip is divine," she confessed. "I have met him more than once, usually at private parties. He is so attractive and very witty.” She insisted she is not impressed by titles and is no snob. “I keep my title because it is my legal name, but that is as far as it goes. It doesn’t mean anything to my sons because I have brought them up to treat people the same, irrespective of their background or position in life – as I was. Let’s not forget that I was born into a very ancient family with a household name and far more money than the family I married into – so it is not as if I started out without a name. It is neither here nor there in terms of making you a better or worse person. It is just what it is. I can’t bear people who have a sense of entitlement. Unless," she added with a mischievous smile, "there is a nice billionaire out there who would like to indulge the castle with a renovation fund as a Christmas present."
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