Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Royal Profile: Raine Spencer

Headline-maker, society beauty, recording artist, television personality, politician, force of nature. Raine Spencer is all of these things. And it all started in the womb.

Raine McCorquodale was born on September 9, 1926 weighing 7lbs 10 3/4 oz. in London. She was the daughter of the famous romance novelist Barbara Cartland and her first husband, Alexander George McCorquodale an Army officer and heir to a printing fortune. Raine was destined for success from the moment she was born. 'When I was carrying my daughter, I was determined she should be beautiful and I not only looked at Beauty but thought it'. Barbara Cartland revealed. Her mother chose the Gaelic name Raine because she thought it sounded romantic. She was christened at St Margaret's Westminster. Schooled from birth on the importance of being socially acceptable, she was a society baby breathlessly written about in Vogue magazine, Glasgow Evening News, and The Daily News. At six months old she was diagnosed with a enlarged thymus gland. Her treatment was £15,000-worth of radium strapped to her chest while she slept.

Her parents divorced in 1936 and in the same year her mother remarried her former husband's cousin, Hugh McCorquodale, and they had two sons, Ian and Glen. Educated by a governess at home. During World War 2 she was briefly sent to Canada. When she returned, she became a weekly boarder at the fashionable Owlstone Croft School. Intelligent and at the top of her class she was known for paying a lot of attention to her appearance.

She came out as a debutante in 1947 at the Queen Charlotte Ball and she was voted 1947 Debutante of the year. She met Gerald Humphrey Legge, heir presumptive to the Earldom of Dartmouth (9th Earl of Dartmouth) when she was sixteen. They were married on July 21, 1948 at St Margaret's Westminster and honeymooned in France. Fifteen months after her marriage, Raine gave birth to her first child, a son William. She would have three more children, Rupert born in 1951, Charlotte in 1963 and Henry in 1968.

In 1954 she made headlines in a situation that would become known as 'the storm in a filthy teapcup' when in the lounge of London airport she noticed tables covered with dirty coffee cups and cigarette ash. After politely asking for the tables to be cleaned but having been given the run-around, she lost her temper. Her outburst made the headlines the following day. Her fifteen minutes of fame continued and she received innumerable invitations to judge appear at and open events. In March 1955 she made her television debut as a story-teller in a programme called Snapshot. She also made a record on the HMV label called 'I'm in Love' written by her mother Barbara Cartland with the proceeds going to charity.

Her television career continued in 1957 when she appeared with her mother and grandmother on an ITV programme called Success Story. In 1958 her husband became Viscount Lewisham and Raine became Lady Lewisham. In October 1962 Gerald and Raine became the Earl and Countess of Dartmouth. She continued to appear regularly on television shows and radio and in the press she was referred to as 'Lady D'.

Active in numerous organizations and Councils as well as holding positions in local politics, it was through her work on the Greater London Council book called What is our Heritage? that she would meet Johnnie Spencer. Edward "Johnnie" the 8th Earl Spencer, first husband of Frances Shand-Kydd and the father of Diana, Princess of Wales found he had much in common with Raine. Coincidently, during their schooldays at Eton, Johnnie Spencer and the Earl of Dartmouth had been good friends. In 1976 she divorced from Gerald, and two months after her divorce, on July 14th of the same year, Raine and Johnnie married in London's Caxton Hall. The marriage was not a popular one with his children, who knew nothing about it until after it happened. The would go on to famously nickname her 'Acid Raine'. She would eventually run further afoul of them when she sold treasures and art work that had belonged to the Spencer family for generations.

In 1978 Johnnie Spencer collapsed with a near fatal brain haemorrahage. He had a stroke and the prognosis was not good. But Raine refused to give up and she contacted everyone she knew with medical connections to find the best place for him to be treated. He remained in a coma for two months and remained in the hospital for two months longer. He eventually recovered well enough to walk his daughter down the aisle at her 1981 wedding.

After her husband's death in 1992, she married French aristocrat, Count Jean-Franois Pineton de Chambrun in 1993 after a 33 day courtship. They were divorced in January 1995.

Along with the aforementioned What is Our Heritage? She has written Do You Care About Historic Buildings? Are Historic Buildings Really Necessary? Japan and the East, Althorp - A Short History of Althorp and the Spencer Family in 1982 and The Spencers on Spas in 1983

She is a member of the board of directors of Harrods - the department store owned by Mohammed Al Fayed, the father of Dodi Al Fayed, who was killed in a car crash with Diana, Princess of Wales.

© Marilyn Braun 2008

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