Her words were both prescient and full of pathos; her own death was in the forefront of her mind as she turned 80.
Just four months ago, Veronica, the Dowager Countess of Lucan told me that she did not fear a solitary end.
Bereft of loved ones, her greatest terror, she confided, was becoming reliant on others to care for her.
‘I don’t fear dying alone — not at all,’ she said. ‘But I do fear dependency. I’d find that very depressing. It would be horrible to feel you were a burden.
Lord and Lady Lucan and their daughter Frances in the garden of 46 Lower Belgrave Street
‘Your faculties start to fade when you reach 80, so I’ve been thinking about my death. I’d quite enjoy the rest of my life if I knew it was not going to end in something horrific. I’ve given it some thought, and I support the idea of assisted suicide.’
Lady Lucan did indeed die alone this week in the mews house in Central London that had been her home for 40 years.
It would be premature to suggest that she might have opted to take her life — her son George Bingham, the 8th Earl Lucan, said she had passed away ‘apparently peacefully’ — but I can attest that the idea was certainly in her mind when we spoke.
I spent an afternoon with her in late spring and was the last journalist to interview her.
Lady Lucan, in front of her portrait of her husband, Lord Lucan
Lady Lucan was last seen by neighbours at around 10am on Saturday morning when she answered the door to the postman.
Police — who battered down her door after she had failed for three days in a row to turn up for a daily walk with a friend — are still trying to establish the circumstances of her death, which is not believed to be suspicious.
It was the end she had wished for, and she had not become a burden. But Lady Lucan’s old age was spent in frugal routine and quiet desperation. She remained obdurately alienated from her sister and three adult children.
Yet yesterday they paid warm tribute to her.
‘Although Veronica severed relations with her family in the Eighties, and continued to decline contact with them right up until her death, all of them remember her lovingly and with admiration,’ according to the statement they released.
‘She had a sharp mind, and when she spoke it, she did so eloquently. She was courageous and, at times, outrageous, with a mischievous sense of humour.
‘She was, in her day, beautiful and throughout her life fragile and vulnerable, struggling as she did with mental infirmity. To us she was and is unforgettable.’
Lady Lucan was a woman who was both defined and imprisoned by a past she stubbornly refused to relinquish, even choosing to remain living in the same house she and her late husband, John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, had bought as a guest house (close to the family home), during their ill-fated marriage.
In November 1974, after 11 years together, Lord and Lady Lucan had separated.
Lord Lucan (pictured with his wife Veronica Duncan in 1963) famously disappeared from their home in Belgravia 43 years ago
Lucan, a 39-year-old professional gambler and inveterate drinker, disappeared on the night of November 7, after visiting the five-storey family home in Lower Belgrave Street and bludgeoning to death Sandra Rivett, 29, his children’s nanny, in the mistaken belief that she was his estranged wife.
Lucan then violently assaulted Veronica. His body has never been found and the mystery of his disappearance — one of the most compelling in recent history — has given rise to myth and speculation, and continues to fascinate today.
There seemed a perverseness in Lady Lucan’s decision to remain so enmeshed in this lurid story, eking out a modest state pension with her dwindling savings.
When we met, she described for the first time in such graphic detail the events of the awful night: how she disturbed her husband after he’d killed Mrs Rivett. How she was then set upon herself with a metal pipe before she managed to flee and raise the alarm, while her children slept in their beds.
Lady Lucan (pictured with daughter Frances) was found dead at her home in Belgravia
Portraits of her husband loomed over us as we talked in the home where Lady Lucan imposed reclusiveness on herself. Heavy curtains, closed to deter snoopers, had shut out any vestige of daylight for the preceding four decades.
Tall, elegant and slender, her silver hair tied in a girlish ponytail, she sat ramrod straight in the fusty darkness of her airless home, among memorabilia that had remained preserved in time, like some parody of Dickens’s Miss Havisham, repining a dreadful marriage but determined never to forget it.
She told me why she had never left the area: she liked the familiarity of the place, the predictability of her routines — a stroll in nearby Green Park preceded by a visit to Victoria library. It was around these humdrum activities that her life revolved.
Lady Lucan affected not to care that her children, Frances, 52, George, 50, and Camilla, 47, as well as her sister Christina Shand Kydd — distantly related by marriage to the late Princess Diana — were estranged from her.
She was blithely unconcerned too, that she had never met any of her five grandchildren. Neither did she express regret — nor regard it as odd — that she did not know the identity of her eldest daughter’s husband.
‘Frances didn’t tell me she was married,’ she told me, ‘but she was, recently. I don’t really know to whom, because I have no contact with them at all.’
Was this alarming disregard for all those who should have been dearest to her genuine? Actually, I believe not. I think it was the bravado of a stubborn woman who was not prepared to capitulate.
Officers found her body after forcing entry to the property in Belgravia on Tuesday, but her death is not believed to be suspicious
Her thoughts were very much focused on death and she revealed that she campaigned actively for assisted euthanasia, showing me a placard she had taken on a march, printed with the slogan Give Me A Choice Over My Own Death.
Following publication of the interview in the Mail, we kept up a short correspondence. She wrote to me: ‘I was happy about the article and especially for including my thoughts on death and disability.’
It was a sentiment I am certain was sharpened by the fact there was no close family member she would have been willing to turn to if her health failed.
So why did she never seek a rapprochement with her children? This is yet another of the abiding mysteries about the Lucan affair — especially as she had fought so hard to keep them when they were young.
Living apart from his family and on the brink of divorce, Lord Lucan had lost a ruinously costly and acrimonious battle for custody of his children and was mired in spiralling gambling debts when he tried to kill his wife. Frances was then nine, and George and Camilla respectively seven and three.
A 1975 inquest jury at a coroner’s court named him, in his absence, as Mrs Rivett’s murderer — he was the last person in Britain to be declared a murderer by an inquest jury (the procedure was later outlawed) — although he was never convicted in a criminal court.
Lady Lucan was the last person to see her husband before he disappeared on the night of November 7, 1974, after bludgeoning to death their nanny Sandra Rivett (pictured)
Some have suggested a hired or unknown assailant was the nanny’s killer, and indeed Camilla, a QC, and George, a merchant banker, have always insisted their father should not be assumed guilty of their nanny’s murder.
This enraged Lady Lucan, who regarded it as a betrayal, and it may be one of the reasons she refused to be reconciled with them. Neither did it help that in their teens, the children opted to live in the country with their maternal aunt, rather than their mother.
Extravagant theories as to Lord Lucan’s whereabouts persisted for years: one posited the idea that he had been eaten by a lion in his friend John Aspinall’s zoo; another that he became a hippie in Goa; yet another that he’d disappeared into the Australian Outback. But Lady Lucan made clear to me she believed her husband had committed suicide.
After fleeing the murder scene, he visited friends in Sussex. Then a car he had borrowed from a friend was found — a length of bloodied lead piping in its boot — abandoned in the port of Newhaven.
‘He got on a ferry and jumped off mid-Channel, and was then chopped up by the propeller — which is why his body was never found,’ Lady Lucan told me. She said that as a powerboat racer, he had a detailed knowledge of propellers, and would have known precisely where to jump so his remains were destroyed.
The Earl of Lucan and Veronica Duncan after their marriage on November 28, 1963
Theirs had been a sorry union, a joyless marriage she said, describing her constant anxiety over the vast sums he regularly lost at the gaming tables.
She also recounted how, driven by loneliness — her frequently absent husband was taciturn and remote — she had sought solace in a platonic friendship with another man.
When Lucan found out, the man was warned off and she fell into a profound depression and was prescribed powerful anti-psychotic drugs, the dire side-effects of which convinced her, and her family, that she was losing her mind.
There was lacerating honesty, too, in Lady Lucan’s admission that she had taunted her husband about his ineptitude as a lover and in the humiliating confession that he beat her for his own sexual gratification. Her husband, she said, insisted she was both mad and an unfit mother; two suggestions she fervently denied. Twice, she recalled, she was taken by Lucan to psychiatric units against her will and twice she escaped.
The question that touched a nerve most acutely was whether she was a good mother. She wrote to me expressing regret that a newspaper article had suggested she neglected her children and accused her of spending too much time in bed. In fact, she countered, she was a conscientious parent; her children were always well turned-out and advanced in their schooling.
Lady Lucan was photographed with her children Camilla, Frances and George at Christmas in 1974
She resolutely denied, too, that she was ever psychotic, though she conceded: ‘I was pushed to the brink of madness. My husband manipulated me psychologically, so I began to think I was mad.
‘He had a campaign to destroy me. I was a nuisance. He was an imposing character, an earl, and the doctors believed all he told them about me.
‘I, in turn, just accepted what the doctors said. I had injections [of anti-psychotics] and their side-effects were horrible. I had hallucinations, restlessness — I walked for miles and miles — and the drugs induced Parkinson’s disease.’
Lady Lucan, there is little doubt, could be difficult, intransigent and self-serving. Yet there was something profoundly sad about her.
She told me she was fit — she took no medication now, endured no ailments — and neither was she suffering from depression.
Yet her existence, in a house that seemed to be suffocating her, was meagre and joyless. There had, she said, been lovers since her husband disappeared, but there were no more. All her friends from the old days — when there had been money for servants, private hospitals, lavish holidays — were dead.
Lady Lucan survived a 1974 attack by her husband that sparked a decades-long mystery
All that remained were her daily visits to the library, where she used the computer, and those walks in the park.
The coffee she served me was instant, and the chocolate she offered a supermarket’s own budget brand.
She said she regretted proposals to end the winter fuel allowance for all but the poorest pensioners, and I wondered whether she was dreading the impending chill of another lonely winter.
This cannot have been the future she envisaged for herself, when — in part out of expediency — she agreed to marry John, then Lord Bingham, in March 1963.
They had met at a point-to-point — the then Veronica Duncan was there with her sister, Christina, and her husband, businessman Bill Shand-Kydd, whose half-brother, Peter, would later marry Princess Diana’s mother, Frances.
The estranged family of Lady Lucan, whose husband famously vanished more than four decades ago, said she ‘was and is unforgettable’
‘There was John, standing against the rails and laying bets, looking like a caricature of a gentleman: baggy cavalry twills, tweed cap, moustache,’ she said.
He was a professional gambler, and she the daughter of an Army officer who’d won the Military Cross in World War I but died before she was two.
Veronica’s mother had married again, and from the age of 13, Lady Lucan grew up living in a pub in North Waltham, Hampshire, ‘a typical country girl, obsessed with my pony and gymkhanas’.
She conceded that she felt ‘no chemistry’ when John chatted her up, but fearing, aged 26, that time was running out for her to snare a decent catch as a husband, she agreed to marry him.
It was not the most auspicious start to a relationship that descended into acrimony, recrimination and bitterness — and ultimately attempted murder — yet extraordinarily, when I asked Lady Lucan if she regretted it, she replied: ‘I can’t say that I’m sorry I married him because I would not have had three beautiful children, would I?
‘I was never so happy in my life as when George was born.’
George, she told me, had once proposed a meeting in a nearby hotel, but she had declined because she would have preferred a rendezvous at his home.
They did not meet.
Did she regret her obduracy? We will never know.
Yet, Lady Lucan’s family say they will remember her ‘lovingly’ despite the severing of ties. But surely it is part of this family’s abiding tragedy that it was a love never returned while she was still alive.
In January 2016, George Bingham married Anne-Sofie Foghsgaard, but Lady Lucan did not attend the wedding and has had no contact with her children for decades