'Mummy was called mad. She committed the cardinal sin of talking about Prince Charles': Lady Kanga Tryon’s daughter on her mother’s obsession
By Alexis Parr for MailOnline
There is something familiar about the piercing eyes of the elegant brunette as she lovingly rearranges the silver-framed photographs in her South Kensington flat. A glance at these pictures explains why.
They are of the late Lady ‘Kanga’ Tryon, ‘close friend’ of the Prince of Wales and at one time an almost permanent fixture on the news and gossip pages of newspapers and magazines.
‘My darling mother – Mum,’ says Victoria Tryon, sadly. Now 31 and a successful jeweller, her socialite mother’s stormy relationship with the Prince has cast a long shadow over her life.
Looking to the future: Jeweller Victoria Tryon, 31, is finally emerging from the shadow of her - and her mother's - past
Kanga went from being the toast of society and a favourite of Charles in the Seventies and Eighties to a somewhat sad figure, and finally, by the time of her death in November 1997 at the age of 49, to a tragic victim of her own delusions.
‘I suppose now she would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but in those days less was understood about such conditions,’ says Victoria, talking for the first time about the way in which the colourful antics of her mother blighted her own unhappy childhood.
‘When I was at school there were never-ending Press reports about Mummy, some of them on the front page, calling her mad and all sorts of scandalous things.
‘I used to try to hide the newspapers in the common room from all the other girls in case they teased me.
‘It was a horrid, horrid time. It was embarrassing and it became even more embarrassing because later I learned that Mum was actually talking to the papers, which is just not the done thing in such circumstances.’
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However, for Victoria the shadow of the past is finally lifting. In a few days her sister-in-law Nina, the wife of her beloved twin brother, Ed, the Honourable Edward, will give birth to their first child and Victoria will become an aunt and her father, Lord Tryon, a grandparent for the first time.
‘We already know the child is a girl and one of her names will be one of Mum’s. This represents a new era and a fresh start for us,’ says Victoria.
‘We are all excited and nervous. Mum never had a chance to be a grandmother. I only wish she could have been here . . .’ she says, her eyes brimming as her voice trails off.
Born Dale Harper in 1948, Kanga was a spirited Australian blonde. The daughter of a wealthy Melbourne printing magnate, she first met Charles in Australia in 1966 when the teenage Prince spent two terms at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria.
Their acquaintance was renewed some years later when she moved to Britain to work as a public relations officer for Australian airline Qantas.
'The only woman who understood me': 'Kanga' with Charles in 1993
Charles was charmed by the vivacious Australian, reportedly finding her lack of deference refreshing. He was said to have described her as ‘the only woman who ever understood me’, although that claim may have originated with Kanga herself.
However, she wasn’t considered suitable marriage material for the heir to the throne and she married the merchant banker Anthony Tryon, one of Charles’s oldest friends, in 1973.
The Tryons had long been in the Royal circle. Anthony was a page boy at the Queen’s coronation and in 1976, on the death of his father, who had been Keeper of the Privy Purse, he became Lord Tryon.
Kanga – so nicknamed by Charles, she claimed – and Lord Tryon had four children: Zoe, Charles (whose godfather was the Prince of Wales), and the twins, Victoria and Edward.
The marriage was to last 26 years, yet Kanga never stopped loving Charles, even after he married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
For a time there were rumours that she was his mistress.
The Prince had, in fact, resumed a romantic relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, but when Kanga started a fashion business in 1983 – called, inevitably, Kanga – she was happy to fuel the speculation surrounding her, recognising that the publicity helped to sell her creations.
As her business flourished, the effervescent Kanga became the life and soul of the London party scene but there was a price to be paid for her hedonism.
While their mother cavorted around the party salons of the capital, the Tryon children, who were being brought up largely by nannies in Wiltshire, saw less and less of her.
When Victoria and her siblings reached the age of seven they were sent to boarding school at Great Durnford Manor, which, bizarrely, had been the Tryon family seat but had been sold and converted into a typically English public school.
The house in which they had spent their childhood until then, Ogbury House, was in the grounds of the 2,000-acre estate.
‘So we were sent to boarding school in what was effectively the ancestral home, and our actual home was just about 80 yards from the front door of the school,’ recalls Victoria.
‘I was boarding within walking distance of my house. I could see it, and yet I couldn’t go home.
‘I can still remember the sludgy brown colour of the school walls. I was a sad little girl, so homesick and miserable. I just kept making excuses about needing to pop home, saying I’d forgotten my violin or my tennis shoes. I think my housemistress might even have suggested that I see some child psychiatrist about it but I never did.’
In 1990, thanks to Kanga’s business acumen, Great Durnford Manor was bought back and once again became the family seat. By then, Victoria was boarding at the exclusive Marlborough College but this did not shield her from the constant gossip about her mother.
‘One of the things that made life hard was that all the scandals seemed to blow up when I was in the middle of my GCSEs,’ she says.
‘I did get ten GCSEs and two A-levels in History of Art and Classical Civilisation but felt I could have got higher grades if I hadn’t had all that stress.
‘Mum didn’t care. She was utterly selfish when she was going through her manic periods.’
And her bragging about her relationship with Charles was humiliating for Lord Tryon.
‘Mum was so horrible to Dad, which hurt me a lot. Although I loved Mum, Dad and I have always been close. He didn’t deserve that.’
'She committed the cardinal sin of talking about the Prince,’ says Victoria. ‘I didn’t want to believe it at the time but as the years have gone on I have learned more, and I can see that this is what happened.
‘There were fights at home behind closed doors between Mum and Dad. There were bitter, awful arguments – things you didn’t want to hear.
‘Mum was so horrible to Dad, which hurt me a lot. Although I loved Mum, Dad and I have always been close. He didn’t deserve that.’
Soon after this Kanga was rocked by a number of serious setbacks to her health.
She had been plagued by illness all her life – since childhood she had suffered from Perthes disease, a degenerative condition of the hip joints.
In 1993 she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and after treatment in 1996 she checked herself into a rehabilitation clinic in Surrey called Farm Place to cure her addiction to painkillers.
‘Dad wouldn’t let us go to see her in the clinic because he thought it would be too disturbing and he tried to protect us from what was going on,’ says Victoria.
While at Farm Place, under circumstances that have never been fully explained, she plunged 25ft from a window. She was paralysed below the waist and left wheelchair-bound.
Her behaviour subsequently became increasingly erratic. Her husband told her he wanted a divorce and at one point she was arrested on the drive at their home and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Despite everything, Kanga never lost her obsession with Prince Charles. As late as July 1997, she was seen at a polo match pursuing Charles in her wheelchair.
She had become an object of gentle mockery but, in truth, she was more tragic than comic.
After a trip to India she fell ill and subsequently contracted septicaemia.
‘She ended up in the King Edward VII Hospital in London in a coma,’ says Victoria. ‘Ed and I went to visit and we were in shock. His bottom lip started quivering and it was all too much.
‘The nurse said, “You can talk to your mother because she might be able to hear you.” But when I saw my normally immaculate mother lying there, bloated from the drugs and with chipped nail polish on her toes, I thought, “That is not Mum any more.” ’
Kanga died on November 15, 1997.
‘The very sad thing is that, although I was there at her death bed, I hadn’t been speaking to her in the months leading up to it,’ says Victoria, who was 17 at the time.
Happy families: Victoria, aged three, with her mother
‘It sounds callous but I had to stop talking to her to save myself from going nuts. It was because of her ghastly behaviour. She wouldn’t listen to us when we tried to look after her ¬following the accident.
‘For example, we wanted her to have practical clothes that wouldn’t get caught in the wheels of her wheelchair but she still wanted to look glamorous in flowing dresses, which would have been dangerous.
'It was as if our roles had been reversed and I was the parent and she was the child. What was infuriating was that she listened to the hangers-on and charlatans that she surrounded herself with. They just wanted her money and were feeding her ego and vanity. It was very disturbing and upsetting to see.
‘She was high maintenance and there was no thanks. I felt rushes of anger and frustration.
'I was exhausted and at rock-bottom when I made the decision to stop -talking with her. I didn’t have the experience of life that I have now. I couldn’t cope.
‘She was horrible to Dad yet he visited her every day in hospital, bringing all her favourite dishes.
‘In a way, it is only now that I realise the magnitude of what happened and I am finally dealing with it by concentrating on the good side of Mum, because it wasn’t all her fault. She was unwell, both mentally and physically.’
On the day of the funeral, Victoria recalls, there were police vans parked by the side of the road all the way from the Tryons’ house to the church.
‘I was completely traumatised by it and it all went by in a blur,’ she says.
‘There were people there who claimed to be mother’s best friend but who I felt really did not know her that well, such as the actress Sarah Miles.
Dr Mosaraf Ali, the -natural-health guru to whose clinic Mum had donated lots of money, was also there and I remember thinking, “Who ARE all these people?” Really, you want to just be a family at times like that.
‘Afterwards, half of Mum’s remains were scattered in the River Avonat the bottom of the garden and the other half back in her Australian homeland.’
After the funeral, Victoria coped in that most traditionally British of ways – by cultivating a stiff upper lip and consciously trying to forget her childhood.
‘It would have been easy for me to numb the pain with narcotics,’ she says.
‘So many of my privileged friends with family problems have done that but it never tempted me. I knew if I went that route it would be a slippery slope which could lead me up the same path as my mother, who had to take drugs for some of her ailments.
‘She also mixed her medication with copious amounts of champagne, which exacerbated her mood swings.
‘So I have essentially spent years blocking everything out as a coping mechanism. That meant that when I reached adulthood I had very few relationships and I never let a man get close to me.
‘The pain of that time didn’t go away for us as a family just because Mum had passed away and Charles had married Camilla Parker Bowles. It might seem a long-forgotten scandal, but for us, the Tryon family, we are still having to live with its effects.’
Kanga's behaviour subsequently became increasingly erratic. Her husband told her he wanted a divorce and at one point she was arrested on the drive at their home and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
In fact, the scandal is far from forgotten. More than a decade after Kanga’s death there was still sufficient interest in the topic for Channel 4 to broadcast a documentary – Prince Charles’ Other Mistress – on the subject in 2008. Victoria did not take part.
Now she has a thriving jewellery business and frequently travels to the Middle East. This, she says, has helped her come out of her shell. ‘Sheikhs don’t really understand my title “the Honourable” so they assume I am a princess,’ she smiles.
‘They like to do business in a very leisurely fashion over mint tea and they ask lots of personal questions about your family and your upbringing. It is so different from the strict protocol governing the social interactions of the English aristocracy – I find it very refreshing.’
And now Victoria has fallen in love, with a handsome financier called Karim from North Africa. They share an airy London flat.
‘Karim says I have a lot of emotional baggage but the thing I like about him is that he knew nothing about me when we met and didn’t judge me because of what happened years ago between Mum and Prince Charles.’
Victoria herself has few memories of Charles. ‘He came round to stay at the house in Wiltshire a few times when I was a child and I never thought too much of it,’ she says.
'I know my father is still friendly with him and sees him at shoots and other social events several times a year and there are certainly no hard feelings.
‘My father never stopped loving Mum. It was us children who persuaded him to divorce her because we couldn’t stand all the rows any more.
‘He was painted as an ogre by her but the funny thing is, he stepped up to the mark brilliantly after she died. He lost that aristocratic coldness instilled in him as a child.
'If it hadn’t have been for the terrible way Mum died, that never would have happened and the Tryons wouldn’t have been as close as we are.’
Victoria accepts that her mother was obsessed with Charles and that they had a ‘close’ friendship but she refuses to be drawn on whether she believes it was ever a physical relationship.
‘I don’t and won’t search for a specific word or term to define that relationship, even though my mother has been described as an “adulteress” and a “mistress”,’ she says. ‘Out of loyalty to my father and the family, I don’t think it’s up to me to say. Besides, in a way, I choose not to believe she was those things.’
Although no longer haunted by the past, Victoria says that it is still with her.
'Sometimes, when I am strolling through Knightsbridge, I might pass someone wearing the same Clinique fragrance that my mother used to wear and catch a whiff of it,’ she says.
‘The memories come crashing back so violently that I can feel myself almost physically choking.’