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Samantha changed gender three times and is ‘happier than ever’

Days after picking up the keys to her very own ‘fairy-tale’ castle, barrister and property tycoon Samantha Kane is already throwing herself into country life.

Greeting me at the vast entrance doors to her historic, turreted, 42,000 sq ft, 19-bedroom hilltop country mansion, she is all tartan, tweeds and sensible shoes.

Though London has been her home for the past 40 years, interrupted by spells jet-setting around Monaco and Cannes in designer heels, she seems very much at peace in this remote, rural idyll.

As she leads the way into the hallway with grand fireplace, musicians’ gallery and stately staircase, winding past stained glass windows, her face is a picture of delight.

‘The minute I saw this place, I fell in love with it,’ says Samantha, 62, who today can be revealed as the surprise new owner of historic Carbisdale Castle in the Scottish Highlands. ‘I always wanted to be lady of the castle, a princess in my own fairy tale, and to live somewhere romantic and feminine. I felt this place — designed and built for a duchess — was really me.’

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Samantha Kane has undergone a number of transformations during her lifetime, which she admits is best described as ‘colourful’.

This new ‘Lady of the Manor’ version, you could say, is just the latest chapter in an extraordinary and tumultuous voyage of self-discovery, via multiple re-inventions. Until now, Samantha was probably best known for being the only person in the UK — possibly the world — believed to have to changed gender three times.

Her journey began as Sam Hashimi, who arrived in Britain from Iraq as a student and later made a fortune here as investment head of a Saudi-owned company.

Famous for launching in 1989 an unsuccessful takeover bid for Sheffield United FC, in 1997 the divorced father-of-two shocked family and business associates by undergoing private gender reassignment surgery to remove male organs and construct female genitalia. Reinventing herself as glamorous interior designer Samantha Kane, the multi-millionaire business tycoon spent £100,000 on cosmetic operations, breast implants and tooth veneers to create what she described, back then in interviews, as the ‘ultimate male fantasy’.

Briefly engaged to a wealthy landowner, her happiness was short-lived. She found her new existence ‘shallow’, sex disappointing and was shocked by the lack of respect — which she’d taken for granted as a man — women received. So, in 2004, after seven years of living as Samantha, she made the tortured decision — after much soul-searching — to spend a further £25,000 on surgery to transition back into a man.

That was when we first met, and she told me she hoped her new incarnation as Charles Kane would mend bridges with her traditional family and estranged adult children. Convinced, back then, that her transition into Samantha had been the result of a mental breakdown triggered by divorce, she had her breast implants removed and replaced oestrogen patches with testosterone. Though her original sex change surgery was irreversible, surgeons attempted to fashion new male genital organs, which she says now were no more than an ‘approximation’ and non-functioning.

Striking a pose: Samantha sitting for a photoshoot aged 38

Striking a pose: Samantha sitting for a photoshoot aged 38

Admitting that her return to ‘Mars from Venus’ was a disaster, she later told me she felt trapped in a hybrid limbo, a pale imitation of the man she’d once been.

The last time we met in 2017, Samantha — a successful, articulate professional with a sensitive, intelligent persona — had reverted back to womanhood, forging ahead with her career as a barrister. She says she underwent her final round of surgery abroad to remove the male appendage, and went back on female HRT to revive the physical feminisation process.

Today, she says, she is finally comfortable in her own skin, as she plans ahead — as a mature woman — for retirement in her grand Scottish castle, said to be haunted by a ghost nicknamed ‘Betty’.

If nothing else, you have to admire her sheer chutzpah. Most people usually downsize at this stage in their life but Samantha isn’t like most people. She describes this purchase as ‘a statement’. She wants to be taken seriously — not just as a woman but as a lady. She is already looking into whether ownership of the castle confers a real title.

‘I’m happier now than I have ever been. There are no issues in my head about who I am or my gender. I am a woman,’ she says.

‘Now, I just want a peaceful, dignified existence. I don’t want to be remembered solely for my transgender life because I’m so much more than that. I want to be remembered for restoring this beautiful castle to its former glory. It’s a lady’s castle and, well, there’s a new lady in the house now.’

Constructed between 1906 and 1917 for Mary Caroline, Duchess of Sutherland, the second wife of George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 3rd Duke of Sutherland, Samantha reveals the purchase was, well, a bit of an ‘impulse buy’. Spotting an article about the sale of Carbisdale Castle for offers over £1.2 million, she phoned the agent, hopped on a plane to Inverness, drove 42 miles north to view it and made a cash offer the same day.

Suited: As a lawyer aged 44

Suited: As a lawyer aged 44

Bought in 2016 by a London investment firm, before that it had operated for 60 years as a youth hostel until the cost of repairs and maintenance became untenable. Between 2012 and 2014, £2 million was spent on structural repairs.

Partially renovated, it sounds like a bargain compared with the bijou shoebox that kind of money might afford you elsewhere. Until, that is, you factor in the estimated £10 million renovation costs and the eye-watering (and rising) energy and maintenance bills. The term ‘money-pit’ springs to mind.

Samantha intends to fund the renovation from the sale of part of her multi-million-pound London property portfolio.

‘Apparently, a few potential investors, who flew in by helicopter from far and wide, took one look and said ‘no’ because of the scale of the task in hand,’ says Samantha.

‘The person I was negotiating with told me, ‘Samantha, I admire your courage’ to which I replied, ‘Are you trying to put me off?’ But I felt an affinity with Lady Mary, which tilted the balance for me,’ says Samantha, who sealed the deal for an ‘undisclosed amount’ following a bidding war.

As Samantha stands next to a portrait of Lady Mary, the similarities between the two women are striking. Both are statuesque with a commanding presence and delicately handsome features.

She can even relate to Lady Mary’s rather ‘scandalous’ reputation, which led to the duchess being shunned by polite Victorian society for daring to flout convention and live life on her own terms.

Samantha certainly knows what that feels like, but the obvious parallels end there and one can only hope the new lady of the manor is more popular with her neighbours than the last one.

Lady Mary was exposed as an adulteress and the long-term mistress of the 3rd Duke of Sutherland after her first husband — an army officer — died in a shooting accident, rumoured to be either suicide or murder.

She was further branded a villainess after marrying the wealthy duke — with indecent haste — just four months after his first wife died, when the mourning period was a year, even after a personal written appeal from Queen Victoria for decorum.

The three-year marriage ended in 1892 with the death of the duke who — to his family’s great distress — left the bulk of his estate to Lady Mary.

The will was challenged by his heir and son from his first marriage, the 4th Duke of Sutherland, and the resulting court case further scandalised Victorian society. Lady Mary was jailed for six weeks for burning documents relating to the will, but when the affair was finally settled, she is said to have walked away with an inheritance of £500,000 — more than £60 million in today’s money. Banished from the estate, she built a mansion — later nicknamed the ‘Castle of Spite’ — on a hilltop overlooking the 4th duke’s domain.

Happy ever after: Samantha, 62, at Carbisdale Castle, above

Happy ever after: Samantha, 62, at Carbisdale Castle, above

Legend has it that Lady Mary designed the clock tower to have three faces instead of four, with the side facing the new Duke of Sutherland left blank because she ‘would not give him the time of day.’ The duchess died before construction was completed.

‘I quite liked the idea of owning the ‘Castle of Spite’,’ says Samantha. It feels an appropriate response to those who have shunned or discriminated against me over the years.’

The previous owners had obtained planning consent to transform the listed building into a ‘world-class private residence’ complete with cinema room and luxury spa pool.

As part of the deal, they left behind rolls of hand-made wallpaper — golden stag-heads — and tartan carpets, plus marble tiles for the bathrooms. Samantha’s vision is to create rich interiors in the Scottish baronial style — something Lady Mary might have liked.

Even so, there’s an awful lot to do — not that Samantha seems too concerned. As she points out the stunning, uninterrupted views from triple-aspect windows, anyone else would be totting up the cost of cleaning them and fretting about the state of the wooden frames.

In the unrenovated sections of the castle, there’s no mistaking the whiff of decades-old damp and the worrying blooms of black mould on the ceilings. But perhaps Samantha Kane is just the woman to make it all work.

Brimming with ideas, she’s even thinking of establishing her own distillery, making Scotch whisky under the ‘Lady’ brand. She is dedicated to protecting the forests she now owns and its wildlife.

She also hopes to create local employment, become involved in charity work and really be part of the fabric here.

‘You know, one thing I have learned about being a woman is that you have to be tough,’ says Samantha, who has so far received a warm welcome in her new adopted homeland.

‘For me, being a woman is not a triumph, but a curse.

‘Frankly, being a man is so much easier on every level, but I have no choice because this is who I am.

‘I don’t regret becoming a woman, and if I could go back now I would still do the same. My mistake was trying to go back to being a man. I should have just stayed a woman.

‘I tried and tried again to be a man, but failed. It’s like trying to push a beach ball under the water, but it keeps forcing its way to the surface.

‘I don’t know if I was born this way or it’s biological, but it just cannot be ignored.’

Samantha says she feels hurt when she is rejected as a ‘real woman’, yet despairs of the aggressive antics of the trans-activist lobby who try to stifle free speech, hounding some high-profile feminists out of their jobs.

She is vehemently opposed to the medical treatment of children, who believe themselves to be trans, saying ‘they do not have the maturity to make decisions about life-changing, irreversible treatment’.

‘For people who genuinely suffer from gender dysphoria, this is not a lifestyle choice, a trend, a political movement or an ideology. Our lives are being spoiled by those who regard it as such,’ she says, adding that people like herself just want to be accepted and quietly get on with their lives.

‘I agree that it’s a complete nonsense for some guy to wake up and think, ‘Oh I’m a woman and you must call me a woman and respect me as a woman’ because it just doesn’t work that way. I was a successful lawyer and respected businessman, someone who moved in traditional circles. My work was based on trust and all that went when I transitioned.

‘Now tell me, why would I sacrifice everything, lose my children and my business, when it would have been so much easier to stay a man if I were not a woman?’

Right now, all she wants to concentrate on is turning her new castle home into something fit for a duchess.

‘I don’t know what Lady Mary would have made of me,’ says Samantha, excited rather than daunted by the task ahead. ‘From what I have read, she sounded like a modern woman — ahead of her time — who knew what she wanted and let nothing stand in her way.

‘So I hope she would approve of me, the new lady of the house.’