Retro Heaven

Alice Ormsby-Gore

Tragic life of Alice Ormsby-Gore….

img-thingHaving read of the recent death of  Lord Harlech, a man beset with a lifetime of struggles I was reminded of the tragedy that was his older sister, Alice Ormsby-Gore. Theirs was a story of socialite meets working class, a naivety which saw them turn their backs on the institution in favour of a hippy lifestyle, a  story symptomatic of the hangover from the carefree, drug-fuelled days of 1960s England, and Alice in particular, never recovered from them.

They were son and daughter to Lord Harlech, who, as British Ambassador to the United States in Washington was a confidant of President Kennedy and along with his wife, Sylvia were popular socialites in the Washington political and cultural scene. Their children enjoyed an enviable upbringing between America and the family estate in Shropshire but by 1967 a catalogue of family tragedies would determine the fortunes of both of the children until their early deaths.

It all began with the death of their mother in a car crash in 1967, seven years later Alice found her brother Julien dead in his apartment from self-inflicted gunshot wounds and in 1985 their father died in a car crash whilst avoiding a stray dog on the road. Following the death of her mother, Alice became a young socialite more interested in music and partying than playing the role of daughter to a landowner and powerful political father. As she mourned her mother’s death her father proposed marriage to Jackie Kennedy in Cambodia, a proposal accepted but later rejected and, as Kennedy later admitted, regretted.

By 1968  a seventeen year old Alice had met Eric Clapton who had spent some time attempting to recover from drug addiction on her father’s farm. Clapton had turned to heroin in an attempt to overcome his feelings for Pattie Boyd and by the following year they had become engaged, with Alice joining Clapton in using heroin. The engagement made the headlines, her father was supportive of the engagement and despite Clapton insisting he never loved her they remained together for five years with Lord Harlech doing much to help Clapton beat his addiction to heroin.

Whilst Clapton recovered and enjoyed flings with other women, Alice battled with the addiction Clapton had dragged her into, he later admitted that at the time of their meeting he could not see the wrong in bringing her into ‘his nightmare’. But he did, and as he continued with his rock star status and wealthy lifestyle Alice would end her days dead from a massive overdose in a Bournemouth bedsit in 1995. She was let down badly by Clapton in particular, her brother struggled to cope with the mess their father left him with and like Alice, he struggled to find any sense of normality in a life which began in luxury but swiftly descended into chaos and hardship.

Much has been made of Clapton and his ilk to their addictions to drugs and alcohol but very little to those less famous, less talented and fortunate who joined the party but never went home. One cannot help but wonder how many other ‘Alice’s’ fell by the wayside in an era which, upon closer inspection might not have been as romantic as we, the fans might wish to imagine it.



7 replies »

  1. I have heard this story before, it is one of the saddest in rock music. First, Eric is my favorite guitarist going back to when I was a teenager and discovered the electric guitar. I’m 48 now, so a lot of years have passed since then. One book in particular made an impact on me, still does, with Eric it’s called the Guitar Handbook. I recommend it for anyone interested in the guitar. In those days all my friends had no idea who Eric Clapton really was, these were the days of Eddie Van Halen and countless bands who adopted his style. So when I first heard a song on the radio, I think it was a live version of Politician from the group Cream, I didn’t know who I was hearing playing lead guitar but it grabbed and mesmerized me. Until then basically all I knew of Eric was Lay Down Sally. What I heard that day was entirely different, to say the least. After discovering it was Eric on guitar, I was put on a path, a singular path at the time, an underground path of discovery that changed my life. Through Eric, and the Guitar Handbook which I found at the local library I discovered the blues…Freddie King, BB King, and especially Robert Johnson. This is only the tip of a journey I’ve been on for over 30 years. I bought The Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton album, a seminal album and moved more into Cream. The live version of Crossroads compared with Robert Johnson’s original galvanized me, Cream really was a band like no other, especially to a high school teenager. There are more bands, more songs with Eric than I will go into here…just do your own homework you won’t be disappointed as doors begin to open for you. I say all this so you know I’m fully aware what this man can do on a guitar and he inspired me with his fashion sense, and chemealion like appearance changes. But when I learned of his heroin period in the early to mid seventies, this period is almost to painful to read about. It began over a failed romance with George Harrison’s wife. Eric made it out, but his live in girl friend who obviously loved him deeply did not. The more you learn of this period the sadder it becomes, even scary. She basically became a footnote in the life of a guitar legend. Read Eric’s autobiography and you will get more of a perspective on Alice. It’s heartbreaking…it has no happy ending for her. One wonders what her fate might have been if drugs had not entered her life. I don’t want to get into moral judgments, but the underbelly of our heroes life’s can be disturbing.


    • Scott,
      Welcome to the site and thank you for a wonderful comment. I confess to a wry smile as we share both the same age and a love of The Guitar Handbook! He was a pioneer of the British blues movement and for the likes of Hendrix, Santana and McLaughlin to praise him so highly tells you a great deal. I went to a lecture by Patti Boyd’s sister recently and can recommend her book on rock stars and addiction- Clapton, unsurprisingly features a great deal. It was an awful period and there were many casualties from that decade, it also included his racist rant in Birmingham, England during a drunken concert which has stuck with him for more than forty years. I agree with your sentiments, we easily forget they are human beings but at the same time they must shoulder some responsibility for those in their ‘circle’ who fall by the wayside and do not have the funds to recover. The 70s was a hangover for many and I am sure Eric has his regrets. I simply felt that Alice and those like her should be remembered from time to time. Thank you once again, God I loved that book when I was growing up!


      • Was the lecture you attended given by Patties sister who was married to Mick Fleetwood? I will definitely check into the book she wrote. Alice and others like her need and should be remembered, and I agree with you that people in their ‘circle’ should be looked after. Even other musicians such as bassist Carl Radle needed help with drug addiction before they died.


      • Scott,
        Yes, it’s Jenny Boyd and she was given remarkable access to a number of musicians discussing their addictions. The book is called ‘It’s not only rock ‘n’ roll. Worth a read.


  2. It’s funny how a drunken rant, 45 years ago is viewed today. When you consider how much Clapton did in helping the blues. He also saw to it personally that artists like Skip James, received their royalties. Do I throw out my Leadbelly cds, because he allegedly murdered someone? Do I throw out my copy of sketches of Spain, because Miles Davies allegedly beat his girlfriend’s or wives? Do I ditch my recordings of Elvis Costello, for allegedly calling Ray Charles a blind,dumb, ignorant, and then used the N word? I do believe Elvis was something to do with the startup of Rock against racism! Strange how time seems to have selected memory for some of these events. I bought all of my varied music over the years, because of the great musicianship, and writing skills, not because I viewed them as role models. Far from it!


  3. Mike, Welcome to the site. You make some valid points and I agree with your final sentiments. There is a selective attitude towards celebrities, John Lennon springs immediately to mind. I think it is, like anything else in life, a question of balanced appraisal. I very much admire Clapton for his contribution to music, far less for some of his actions as a man and if we are to view figures of cultural and historical importance with a sense of reverence then I believe it should be a fair playing field. His drunken rant has become wider knowledge in recent times, his treatment of Alice less so. I felt hers was a life experience worth revisiting, people can and should make up their own minds. Thanks again for a great contribution.


  4. you have to be satisfied with what you get… (and that drug they talk about … the one where the guy said ” if god made anything better… he kept it to himself …) and what we got was music fueled by that drug…
    i light the candle at both ends
    it will not last the night
    but lawdy lawdy lawdy lawd
    it casts such a wondrous light


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