Duke of Richmond - The man beneath the Panama

Rabbits scatter. A pheasant flees. The rolling fields are dotted with sheep.

A very English scene, and one that unfolds delightfully on the road to the handsome flint home of a very English gentleman.

A warm welcome awaits at Molecomb, tucked away on the edges of the sweeping grounds of Goodwood House.

There is homely grandeur in the bright sitting room and the 10th Duke of Richmond - Charles Henry Gordon Lennox - enters with a smile, a steadfast gaze and a firm handshake.

He has the comfortable look of a country gent, with his clothes classic natural fibre rather than dapper.

He leaves all that to his son, the Earl of March, he says, with a twinkle in his eye, settles himself into an easy chair and is grateful to be offered a china cup of morning tea with a slice of lemon.

It has been a particularly good year for the Duke who was granted the honorary Freedom of the City of Chichester in April - his name added to the likes of William Pitt, Earl Grey and the Prince Regent - won the Observer's Lifetime Achievement trophy at our inaugeral Business Awards at Goodwood Racecourse in February, and has enjoyed the success once again of Glorious Goodwood, the Festival of Speed and the Revival.

He turned 79 in September and rather than resting on his laurels, after being at Goodwood's helm for 40 years, and being chairman, patron, president and director of numerous local companies, societies and charities - having a real hands-on role in shaping our region - he is still very active and involved in his beloved estate and community.

But he is in reflective mood too and more than happy to reveal more of the man beneath the trademark Panama hat.

The Duke has lived an extraordinary life - from playing after-dinner games with the young Queen Elizabeth at Goodwood and lunching with Winston Churchill at Glorious, to being a father of five and adopting two daughters from African families.

But anyone who has met the Duke will testify to the fact that he is extremely adept at putting people at ease, and having the common touch is important to him, he says.

"My father was really the first Duke of Richmond to have a job. He worked at Bentley in the 1920s in the motor industry. He was a very modern man.

"He said to me 'what do you think you are going to do? You are very good at maths. I think you ought to consider going into chartered accountancy, and I did six years of work in a chartered accountants in London. Later on, I worked in a large industry company in the Midlands where I lived for 13 years.

"There are some people whose families are so wealthy and they can be living in an ivory tower. But I have always been interested in people and society generally.

"What I admire in a person is service to others, especially the community. I am always impressed with people who achieve that. I also admire people who tell you how it is. I like that in a person because if you are a Duke people don't always tell you the real truth or they are over-awed. It comes between you and another person. It can be difficult to make a bond with people. But what has helped me is the fact I have worked and had experience of life.

"Most people will think that a Duke's life is something they will never experience, and he is sitting there with his cravat on having grouse for lunch and port for dinner. Many people will really think that. But my job is about stewardship, It is about taking on a place and looking after it. It is about being able to hand over to your son something that is in pretty good shape."

The Duke is most proud of completely rebuilding Goodwood's historic racecourse. He feels the privilege of his position, but his everyday life, he maintains, is simple and routine.

So what, if not a daily dose of grouse and port in the ivory tower, is the daily diary of a modern Duke?

"I get up around 8am and have breakfast on the kitchen table. I don't have a big English breakfast, just muesli and cereal, then a piece of fruit and fruit juice. I read The Times.

"After breakfast, around 9.30am or so, I start to read the post. I do my correspondence which is very varied and can be about anything from the relationship between the anglican and the methodist church to a letter from the horse racing levy board.

"Later in the morning I will probably have a couple of appointments about a range of things. Every day is different to the one before. Then I have lunch. My wife and I usually have our cooked meal at lunchtime and we are into natural food so it would be vegetables, rice, fish and a simple pud, but I am trying to keep my weight under control a bit.

"I go upstairs afterwards and get between the sheets to sleep. I have about an hour-and-a-half and then I try to get some exercise. Recently I have been swimming at the hotel or I walk with my wife with the dogs. I then deal with letters and we have a light supper at 7.30pm.

"I am not into technology. If I want to send an email I write it out for my secretary Jane and she send it off. I have a mobile in my car to tell people if I am going to be late but I am not a great one for using it. When I grew up at Goodwood there was one phone with the number Lavant 12, and there was one line coming into the house. Now there are 60 something telephones."

The Duke, who moved to the six-bedroomed Molecomb from the main Goodwood House where he lived for 25 years before handing it over to his son the Earl of March and his young family, often has an evening event to attend, particularly at the time of the Chichester Festivities, which he founded.

"I wouldn't consider myself highbrow and yet I wouldn't consider myself into popular culture. Somewhere in between the two, I suppose. I like a Schubert quintet, for example, which is something most people may consider highbrow," he says. "I very much enjoy opera, and mostly Mozart, although not exclusively, and not Wagner as it is too heavy. We have been members of Glyndbourne for a long time and go two or three times a year."

He is also, though, quite content to stay in.

"If I sit and listen to the radio, it is Classic FM or Radio 4, and I usually listen to the Today programme. I listen to the BBC news and cricket. I am not a great reader, although I like biographies which are mostly about well-known political figures. I don't like novels. I was at school with Lord Hurd, so I have read his boigraphy.

"I don't like those reality TV shows. They are so boring to me. I am not into the celebrity culture, I'm afraid. I do like some of the comedies though - the Vicar of Dibley, Only Fools and Horses and 'Allo 'Allo. I am a very good speaker of Franglaise!"

For the host of the Festival of Speed and the Revival, which are the top events for cars and fashion, the Duke has little interest in either, preferring comfort and reliability.

"I am not really interested in clothes. I just put on the nearest thing in the wardrobe, unlike my son who knows when something looks right or not. I am just not aware. My wife is very good at buying clothes for me. She knows very well what I like and don't like and what will suit me.

"As for cars, I drive an Audi 6 series estate, blue, but I am not as interested in cars as my son. I like BMWs too for their driveability and comfort.

"They are just very good cars which don't take a lot of maintenance. We don't have a full-time driver. We are at the age now when we would rather not drive to London and back again, so we would probably take on a local driver to take us there. But in Sussex I always drive myself."

And it is Sussex which still enchants him.

"Sussex is very important to me for historical reasons. The first Duke came here in 1697 and we have been here ever since, for over 300 years. But more than that - it is a very, very beautiful county. It has the seaside, it is not overbuilt, except along the coast in my view, and I have helped preserve many parts of it. Many areas have to be preserved and need to go on being preserved."

The Duke's ideal village is his neighbouring Lavant. And, a religious man, he attends services at the church there, and at Tangmere, and Boxgrove, and occasionally the cathedral.

"I have spent a great deal of my life involved with the Church of England. You have to remember that the genes were operating. My mother's father was a clergyman.

"The relevance of religion to life is something we have to work out. If you start from the premise that you do believe in God and you become a church member, then you start asking yourself questions about what that means in terms of what you do in life.

One of the reasons I went to study theology when I was 27 years of age was looking at what I believed in and trying to develop it more clearly. Doubt is an element of belief. I was trying to make up my mind.

"I do think about death because I am 79 now and the average age for death is 85, so I have not got an awful lot of time to go. It is inevitable, but in our society we do try and pretend it doesn't exist, when I think it is very important to face up to the fact of death and make proper preparations. It doesn't particularly worry me but when it comes to the crunch...

"What have I learned from life? I would say that what means most in life is people and how you relate to them. Much of life is about relationships."

Breaking new ground

It was a radical decision, and one that caused unease and upset in the family and headlines in the papers.

Trans-racial adoption was rare in the 1960s, and practically unheard of amid the upper classes.

But for the Duke and Duchess of Richmond it was never an issue. For them adopting two half-African daughters - Maria and Naomi - seemed the natural thing to do.

A dangerous condition during two natural pregancies meant serious health concerns for the Duchess, and, a compassionate couple, she and the Duke wanted to give a good home to children who were often overlooked when it came to adoption then; non-whites.

And it is in typical straight-forward fashion that the Duke explains how such a progressive step came about.

"The motivation to adopt was very simple. After my wife had two children she had toxema on both occasions and she was told she could have no more children.

"She is very, very good with children and so we decided we would foster and then adopt. And later we adopted two. Maria's father was Ghanaian and Nimmy's father was South African. They were both born in this country.

"It was a deliberate thing that we decided that if we were going to adopt they would be children who would not otherwise be fostered or adopted. I knew certain parts of Africa quite well so it seemed sensible to go for African children.

"Not everyone in the family was completely happy with that, but after a year or so they all came round."

It is with quiet pride that the Duke talks about his family of five children - the Duchess went on to have another naturally after the two adoptions - and 13 grandchildren.

Family affair

And, as the 10th Duke of Richmond, he is acutely aware of his role, not only as father and grandfather, but also of son - how the 9th Duke, his father, Freddie had an impression on him - and his place in the historic family line.

And it has been his lifetime - the Duke is now in his 80th year - that has seen changes in the way life is lived in the aristocracy.

"My brother and I had a very typical aristocratic upbringing in the 1930s. We had a nanny and nursery maid," he recalls.

"We would be taken down to see our parents at 5pm and taken up again at 6pm. We knew our nanny better than we knew our mother. And then I was sent to boarding prep school at nine years old.

"Nine is a very young age to go boarding. We then lived in Washington with mother and father, who was in the RAF, and we got to know them better.

"Mother was a very motherly and sympathetic person and my father was pretty good. He was a bit distant, but he did things for us. He was a great engineer.

"He presented us with a Francis-Barnett motorbike once and said 'you need to learn about the internal combustion engineer. Take this to bits and put it together again'."

He reflects, with some regrets it seems, on how he has tried to be a good, more hands-on father, to Ellinor (born 1952), Charles (born 1955), Maria, (1959), Naomi (1962) and Louisa (1976).

"I have done quite a lot of things with my children, but there has always been an underlying conflict between my work and my activities in the community, and my family. I think you would call it the work/life balance.

"I used to take them to school every day and quite often fetch them from school too. But we would be playing cricket in the garden and I would often say 'I have a meeting at 6.30pm, I have to go...'."

There is a family continuity though, and one you get the impression the Duke is content with, at Goodwood.

"I always recognised that there would come a day when I would come back to Goodwood and take on from my father, which I did after going out to work for many years. And my son always recognised that he would return too. We both have been away from Goodwood for 15 years or so and I am very pleased we each did that.

"I sent my son on a privately-arranged gap year to Kenya and he worked with an entirely African hospital unit for nine months or so. A photographer, he's very creative.

"He is really into design and attention to detail. You need all those things if you are a photographer. And he is good at handling a wide range of people. We have seven or eight businesses here and they are all quite different, from forestry to teaching people to fly. He's very good at handling all that."

The Earl of March lives at Goodwood House with his family. He has a daughter, Lady Alexandra, by his first marriage, and is married to Janet, the Countess of March. They have four children - Charlie, William, and twins Freddie and Eloise.

Lady Ellinor, who was a ballet dancer, lives at Alton; and Lady Louisa in Wales with her husband who restores vintage cars and their four children under seven.

Lady Nimmy has a home in Lewes with her husband and three children and Lady Maria lives locally. She has been married twice and has one child.

Wife and dutchess

It is with pride too that the Duke talks about his elegant wife of 57 years, his duchess. When he met Susan Monica Grenville-Grey he was smitten. And his marriage has given him great contentment and support.

"I found the right person. I knew my wife when she was 16 and I was 18. We met through my now brother-in-law who was in my house at school. I went to stay with him during the holidays and there was his sister.

"We feel marriage is important and can bring a high degree of contentment. We always, even when the children were little, used to have a two-week holiday to ourselves.

"We have a lot in common and we talk about our shared experiences and so on, although I am very unhorsey and my wife is!"

Looking back to the past

As his ancestors go, the Duke's family favourite is the 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox.

The maverick Charles Lennox was one of the most progressive politicians of the 18th century, a firm supporter of the US colonies, heading up debates that led to the War of American Independence, and a radical parliamentary reformer.

A colonel in the British army and an ambassador in Paris, he then joined the cabinet of William Pitt.

But it is his character and spirit as much as his achievements that draw the Duke to this energetic and outspoken family member.

"He had four illegitimate children and certainly lived life to the full," he says.

He opened Goodwood to horse-racing in 1802 and made his mark in Sussex. "He planted thousands of cedar trees, especially on the top of the downs. They all died and he started again with beech. He was that sort of man," he adds.

Where I belonged

Now a famous actress, Naomi March, known as Nimmy, has spoken and written about her experiences as a mixed race child brought up by aristocracy.

But she has had nothing but good to say about her adoptive parents, the Duke and Duchess of Richmond.

They may have been 'vilified' in certain quarters for 'sullying the aristocracy' as she put it, when they took on two half-African daughters as their own in the 1960s, but they always made her feel she belonged.

Mother-of-three Nimmy (46), who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and enjoyed extensive TV work including The Bill, A Touch of Frost, Casualty, Doctors, Holby City and Waking the Dead, has 'warm-hearted nostalgia' for her 'amazing childhood'.

"There was no question of whether I belonged or not. My parents chose me and I was being brought up as their child. I knew nothing else.

"My mother, the Duchess, always taught me that I 'belong' only to myself. She taught me that although history is important, it isn't necessary to know everything about it in order to know yourself.

I thank my lucky stars I was adopted into this family."

Nimmy, who married Gavin at a Buddhist ceremony at Goodwood and went on to have children, Khaya (8), Malachy (7) and Lottie (3), has also said it helped her having adopted Maria by her side during her childhood.

"It was clever of my parents to adopt two mixed race children so that we would each have someone we could particularly relate to close at hand."

The Duke says that Maria did not want to seek out her natural parents, but Nimmy did get to know her father from South Africa, a singer.

Until 2004, adopted children of peers had no right to courtesy titles. But as a result of a Royal Warrant that changed. So on April 30, 2004 Nimmy and Maria could both call themselves Lady.

The Duke on ...

The Queen

"The Queen used to come here over the period from the late 1940s to 1970. She would stay at Goodwood House or Arundel Castle and come to the races. Obviously, that gave the event a certain something. In 1969 or 1970, we had the Queen, Prince Philip, Charles and Anne all staying. We gave a ball for 200 people which was a pretty bold thing to do. I found the Queen very charming. People perhaps wouldn't believe it of her now but I remember her playing games like charades at Goodwood after dinner. She was, of course, quite a young woman then. She thoroughly enjoyed herself."

Bing Crosby

"Bing Crosby came to the races. He was a great race-goer in the US. One of the races was won by a horse owned by a friend of his. The song When Irish Eyes Are Smiling was very popular at the time, in the late 1940s."

Winston Churchill

"Winston Churchill came once and he had a horse in one of the races. He won it actually with Colonist the Second. He came for the day and I had him to lunch. Post-war he watched the races from our box. He was larger than life with his old cigar and hat and everything. He was quite a character, and for someone like me, at the age of 19 or 20, it was fantastic to meet him because I had obviously lived through the war and he had become so famous."

A life well lived: key date and posts the Duke has held

* Born September 1929; educated Eton College 1944-48

* 2nd lieutenant 60th Rifles 1949-50. Lieutenant Queen's Westminster (KRRC) TA 1951-54

* Chartered accountant 1956; financial controller's department, Courthauld Ltd, Coventry 1959-64

* Member of the Church of England General Synod 1960-80s

* Chancellor, University of Sussex 1985-1998

* Succeeded to the Dukedoms of Richmond (England), Lennox

* Gordon (UK) and Aubigny (France) November 1989

* President: British Horse Society, Chichester Festivities, South East England Tourist Board, Sussex County Cricket Club, African Medical and Research Foundation.

* Chairman: Goodwood Group of Companies, Chichester Cathedral Development Trust, Boxgrove Priory Trust. Rural Housing Advisory Committee

* Lord Lieutenant West Sussex 1990-94

* Initiated the Sussex Community Foundation; formed the South West West Sussex Arts Group, raised a huge amount of money for family church Boxgrove Priory, formed the Bognor Regis Regeneration and Vision Group