News, Culture & Society

Singer Bo Bruce, star of The Voice, in court fight with viscount brother

Amid what has been a turbulent few decades for the aristocratic Brudenell-Bruce family, the 2016 marriage of Lady Catherine was a heart-warming occasion indeed.

Guests at the charming woodland wedding held in the family’s own Savernake Forest recall that there was barely a dry eye among them when the bride, better known to the world as singer-songwriter Bo Bruce, emerged along an aisle of trees, wearing the vintage lace gown worn by her beloved late mother at her own wedding in 1980.

But what really moved those who were there that day was the sight of The Voice star Bo arm in arm with her older brother Tom, Viscount Savernake, as he walked her through the 4,500-acre Wiltshire forest where they played as children to meet her handsome groom.

Given the pair’s estrangement from their 68-year-old father, the Earl of Cardigan, it was a touching moment of sibling unity but, alas, one which was to be painfully short-lived.

Five years on, the pair are now at war over their mother’s will; not to mention the future of the £2 million home, Leigh Hill House, which she left to them both when she died aged 63 of pancreatic cancer in 2012.

The ugly spat spilled out into the open last month as the pair’s legal battle over their inheritance was played out in the High Court in London.

Bo walks arm in arm with her older brother Tom, Viscount Savernake, as he walked her through the 4,500-acre Wiltshire forest where they played as children to meet her handsome groom

‘It’s a sad state of affairs,’ a family friend told the Mail this week. ‘Rosamond doted on her two children and it would have broken her heart to see them rowing like this.

She wanted them to benefit equally from her wealth and made that absolutely clear in her will. I don’t think she could have imagined that there would have been these kind of arguments. It’s just terrible that it’s come to this.’

At the heart of this sorry saga is the question of whether or not to sell six-bedroom Leigh Hill House, which was handed to the siblings’ mother, Rosamond, Countess of Cardigan, as part of her 2009 divorce settlement from Lord Cardigan.

Bo, 36, who is living with her husband, Henry — a musician and producer who performs with the group Zero 7 — and their two young children near Glastonbury in Somerset, wants the house sold so that she can receive her half-share in the property.

Viscount Savernake, who is living alone in the house, however, claims that the sale should not go ahead until they settle a dispute over money loaned to his sister.

The 39-year-old heir to the Savernake estate says that Bo owes £457,536.50. His sister claims the amount she borrowed is ‘significantly less’ (according to the family friend, around an eighth of that sum) and that she will settle the amount from the proceeds of the house sale.

The Mail has now learnt that the tense stand-off between the siblings was further complicated by an extraordinary claim by Viscount Savernake that as well as the money she owes, his sister should pay back thousands spent by her father on her private education and medical expenses stretching back to her childhood.

According to the family friend: ‘The fees were paid by her father out of a 1987 trust fund to which Tom is now a beneficiary.’

Bo Bruce attends Britain Creates 2012 at Old Selfridges Hotel on June 27, 2012

Bo Bruce, Singer arrives at the party in Aqua, London

Bo, 36, who is living with her husband, Henry and their two young children near Glastonbury in Somerset, wants the house sold so that she can receive her half-share in the property

A right old legal merry-go-round then, and one which has seen the siblings lock horns in recent years.

The dire situation, says the family friend, in effect leaves both brother and sister isolated from their blood relatives. Both of them have been estranged from their father since their parents’ divorce.

‘After their mother’s death, they only really had each other left,’ says the family friend. ‘Now they’ve lost that as well.’

The siblings’ father has also spoken to the Mail of their falling-out, saying: ‘I am naturally absolutely appalled at the prospect of my two children squaring up to each other in an eye-wateringly expensive High Court case. My late wife would be viewing this with utter disbelief.’

So how on earth did this sorry state of affairs come to pass? Because when their mother died in July 2012, says the family friend, the pair grieved together at the 19th-century ivy-clad home where the three of them had lived since 2009 following their parents’ divorce.

But the Countess of Cardigan’s death came just months after Bo Bruce had become an overnight star as runner-up in The Voice.

And while her mother made both her children co-executors of her will, Bo had just been signed by Mercury Records and was committed to an arduous recording schedule in London so that she could finish her new album.

She agreed to step aside as co-executor and allow her brother to administer their mother’s estate.

Pictured: The Earl and Countess of Cardigan (centre) with their children, Thomas, Viscount Savernake and Miss Bruce, known formally as Lady Catherine Brudenell-Bruce

Pictured: The Earl and Countess of Cardigan (centre) with their children, Thomas, Viscount Savernake and Miss Bruce, known formally as Lady Catherine Brudenell-Bruce

According to the family friend: ‘She was probably a bit naive doing that but the will was straightforward and she and Tom had always got on and she thought it would all be sorted out smoothly. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case.’

To complicate matters further, the transfer of Leigh Hill House to their mother as part of her divorce settlement was made subject to a right of pre-emption in the event of a future sale, giving the house’s former owner, the Savernake Estate, first refusal on any sale.

At first, the siblings agreed that the house would not be sold and that Viscount Savernake would remain living there. He said later he would buy out his sister’s half-share in the property — minus the debt she owes him. It is their inability to agree on that amount that has brought them to court.

‘Bo has said several times that she is more than happy to pay back what she owes him but she doesn’t recognise at all the amount he says she must now pay,’ says the family friend.

A highly regrettable situation, then, and one which many will find hard to fathom given the warring pair’s hugely privileged upbringing.

Born into a family with an illustrious history stretching back to the Norman Conquest, their father is the 31st Hereditary Warden of Savernake Forest, the only privately owned forest in England, and a direct descendant of Richard Estormit who was given the title in 1083 in recognition of his service at the Battle of Hastings. Their mother was cookery writer Rosamond Winkley.

Both Tom and Bo were privately educated; Tom at Cothill House and then Radley College in Oxfordshire, and Bo at Port Regis prep school in Dorset and Marlborough College in Wiltshire, where she was a couple of years below the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister, Pippa.

Their cousin Florence Brudenell-Bruce is an actress and lingerie model who once dated Prince Harry.

Pictured: Leigh Hill House, the £2m home on the Savernake Estate. Rosamond Winkley left her estate to her two children in equal shares which she received in her divorce from the earl

Pictured: Leigh Hill House, the £2m home on the Savernake Estate. Rosamond Winkley left her estate to her two children in equal shares which she received in her divorce from the earl

But in the past, Bo has dismissed the idea that she grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth or that, if she did, it was ‘rusty’.

She has spoken openly about how her emotionally chaotic childhood drove her to drugs as a teenager and saw her almost die of an overdose.

Growing up on the Savernake estate, which has been in the hands of trustees since 1951, she and Tom didn’t live in the vast Grade I-listed Palladian Tottenham House but spent their early childhood in a more ramshackle property on the edge of the forest with no hot water or central heating, later moving to Leigh Hill House with their mother.

During her time on The Voice, Bo said: ‘I don’t live in Downton Abbey. This is the 21st century. I work in a pub and struggle to pay my electricity bills just like everyone else.’

After the Countess of Cardigan’s death in 2012, Viscount Savernake remained living in Leigh Hill House and Bo, who was pursuing her music career in London, used to visit.

‘That was probably when Tom and Bo were at their closest,’ says the family friend. But by 2015 she decided it was time to settle their mother’s affairs once and for all.

‘I think she felt that it was time for them to separate everything and get on with their lives,’ says the family friend.

‘At the time she was still sleeping on friends’ sofas in London and it was clearly time for her to get a place of her own, given that her mother had left her half of her wealth.

Tom wanted to stay living in the house and said that he would lend her some money so that she could rent somewhere to live. He was talking a lot about buying the house back into the estate.’

Pictured: their father Lord Cardigan

Pictured: their father Lord Cardigan

Lord Cardigan told the Mail this week: ‘My son is the sole executor of my late wife’s will and its absolutely key provision, rightly or wrongly, was that her house be shared equally between them.

‘My daughter Catherine is married and lives down in Somerset, so naturally a half-share in a Wiltshire house is of no great use to her, and so of course, she wants her share in cash.

‘And my son is refusing to let her have that because of a number of sums of money he says she owes him, some claims stretching back to the last century.’

In April this year, Bo issued a claim in the High Court for her brother to be removed as executor of their mother’s estate and replaced with three of her friends.

Her lawyers stated at the time: ‘There is and has been delay in the administration of the estate, the vast majority of which remains unadministered.

‘The delay is due to the defendant’s having promoted and allowed his personal interests to prevail over and in conflict with the interest of the estate as a whole.

‘The future administration of the estate is unlikely to be carried out in any proper or timely manner unless the defendant is removed and replaced by a competent neutral executor.’

According to documents filed at the High Court, Viscount Savernake wishes to remain in the house and does not want to sell it to a third party.

Since 2015, he has been paying his sister £20,000 a year in rent for occupying her share of the house.

The documents also reveal that the initial amount being claimed by Viscount Savernake was in excess of £600,000; according to the family friend, that sum originally included the cost of Bo’s school fees and private medical care stretching back into her childhood, which was paid out of a 1987 trust now controlled by Viscount Savernake, as Lord Cardigan’s first-born son.

It is understood that he has now dropped the claim for the school fees but is still pursuing his claim for her medical fees.

In a statement issued via his lawyers, Viscount Savernake said that he ‘very much regrets that his sister has chosen to issue proceedings against him in what is a private family matter over their mother’s estate and in relation to repayment of monies owed to him from his sister.

‘He will not therefore be adding any further comment particularly as the proceedings are ongoing.’ Ms Bruce also declined to comment on the case.

Their father, Lord Cardigan, said he hoped that the pair would sort out the problem via mediation. He added: ‘Even now, I hope that Thomas sees sense.’

It is the latest in a long line of domestic, legal and financial dramas which have plagued the family. Lord Cardigan, son of the 8th Marquess of Ailesbury, has fought on-and-off battles with the trustees who control his estate.

In 2012 he launched an unsuccessful High Court action against them to prevent the sale of dozen of portraits of his ancestors.

The judge found in favour of the trustees who told the court that the estate was in ‘severe financial difficulties’.

The following year, he revealed he was claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, living in an unheated house and travelling to Marlborough Leisure Centre to use the showers and blamed the estate trustees for cutting off his income.

In 2012, when she was appearing on The Voice, Bo was granted a non-molestation order against her father after he threatened to speak to a newspaper about her, telling her: ‘Should I invent some tasty dirt about you?’

Eton-educated Lord Cardigan said this week that their relationship has improved and that they have been in ‘frequent touch’ since Bo began researching the family history.

Today, he lives in Savernake Lodge on the Wiltshire estate with his American second wife, Joanne, and their seven-year-old daughter Lady Sophie.

Given all this familial acrimony, and the fact that Viscount Savernake and Bo first fell out in 2015, the wonder is that he agreed to walk his sister down the aisle.

According to the family friend: ‘Bo asked him to do it. She’d lost her mother and, given their estrangement from her father and the fact that he wasn’t going to be at the wedding, she really wanted her older brother there at her side. But, sadly, it was a short-lived rapprochement.’

The brother and sister have agreed to mediation to see if the situation can be resolved. If not, their lawyers will return to court early next year.

But those who watched the brother and sister arm in arm at Bo’s wedding five years ago, hope that the temporary truce and brief reconciliation that day offer a glimmer of hope for the future and a sign that, if they put their minds to it, there is still a way back from the brink.