A few days ago as I was walking into the Castle from the courtyard, Jason from Highclere’s housekeeping team came towards me with a bag saying “this is little present from me, Lady Carnarvon”. In it was a rose called “Absent Friends”. Knowing how fond I was of my dear friend Kit (Hesketh Harvey) who had recently died, he thought it might help me to look forwards again. At that moment of course, I just burst into tears but I was so very touched by the thought.
In life, Kit was so life enhancing, rooted in the idea of entertaining, so that after an hour in his company every one in the audience felt happier and better about life. Another part of his life, however, revolved around choral music, the concept of pilgrimage, the journey of life, by which wealth is measured NOT with folding notes but with what you do for others and, how therefore to live well. Kit did fill every second of his and our lives and so somehow his sudden death was just such a terrible shock.
He had departed from here after a wonderful weekend and it never crossed my mind that he was about to embark on his own very different pilgrimage entirely alone. I am sure he would have been quite chuffed with all the razzmatazz and heartfelt love at his funeral service last week. It could not have been more exceptional, combining the deeply rooted musical Christian cadences which formed part of his soul with the ingenious lyrics and musical flamboyance which was another part of his life. It was a beautiful and moving tribute from all.
Over so many years, audiences were always full of expectation as, dressed in some version of a dressing gown or exotic coat, Kit stepped on stage to perform a litany of perfectly pitched songs with hilarity and irreverence whilst James Mcconnel was at the piano. Looking around the room, tears of laughter streaming down friends’ faces, it was always uplifting.
Yet he also had a more serious side, writing librettos, books and articles on whatever he was pursuing at the time. He so often had a cause, or as we gathered an ongoing contest with parking fines and appeals with the Mayor of London.
At heart, Kit had a sensitivity, almost a fragility and openness that always entered into and “logged” the momentary traits from those around him and he cared… he cared hugely, in the foremost place for his children Gus and Rollo as well his sisters and his mother.
I had met Kit’s sister Sarah (Sands) just as we were all coming out of Covid when I created a “History” weekend in that October firstly to look back at Highclere Castle’s role in WW2 (a time of evacuee children, restrictions and terrible challenges) and then to look forwards with investment (Sir Nigel Wilson, Legal and General), Life Sciences (Sir John Bell) and farming and green economics. Sarah contributed the inner journey with her book “The Interior of Silence”, a beautiful small publication and it was a wonderful discussion about the search for stillness in this madly frenetic world. It was a book that helped Kit and, me too.
Growing up as a chorister in the cathedral spaces created for both stillness and music Kit had recently spent much of his time thinking about how the small old Norfolk country churches around where he lived could be repurposed and given new life. His idea was to create pilgrim routes to explore and walk and then have somewhere to stay. He thought such walks would promote both better physical and mental health. Like Kit I have always loved the small ancient wind blown chapels of rest found in Cornwall, the winding paths to follow and the sense of granite eternity. Cornwall held a special place in his heart too.
Kit’s own pilgrimage looking for peace and stillness had been through a challenging couple of years. Divorce is too often entirely miserable, and he joined my sisters and I for Christmas, which was full of children and then the creation of a “Love Actually” Instagram reel, for which Kit was the audience for once, and full of laughter at our antics. Just before he died, when he was staying here at Highclere, and he seemed more relaxed and accepting of where he was and with much to look forward to on the near horizon.
Geordie and I saw Kit on a late January Sunday afternoon in Highclere’s Wood of Goodwill, part of the garden we have created to the south of the castle. He had bounced up to say good bye and hug as he was heading back to Norfolk in his Van Blanc. I had fed him as much as he would eat (he was, unlike me, too thin) and he had found the warmth of new friends and old before he cheerily waved goodbye.
So on April 30th, in the late afternoon of what would have been his birthday, we and whoever wishes to come, will raise a toast to a newly planted tree for Kit in the Wood of Goodwill, chosen for its beauty in all seasons and named for a missionary.
In any case ,heaven will now undoubtedly be more entertaining for all of us when we arrive. RIP.