7th Marquess of Bristol (1985-1999)
Born 1954 Died 1999
The Hervey family has long been noted for its ability to produce eccentric individuals, none more so perhaps than John Augustus Hervey, the 'Marquess of Excess' and the 7th of his line, in whom the family trait for decadence reached its apotheosis.
Born on the 15th September 1954, he was the son of Victor Frederick Hervey, 6th Marquess of Bristol and his wife first Pauline Mary Bolton. Educated at Harrow School and Neuchâtel University in Switzerland, he is said to have suffered something of an emotionally-deprived childhood; his parents were divorced in 1959 whilst his father once described as a "handsome sociopath" remarried and went into tax exile in Monaco.
Although formally christened Frederick William John Augustus Hervey,
he shared his first two forenames with both of his half brothers, and is thus known simply as 'John Augustus', although as the heir apparent to the to the marquessate he adopted the courtesy title of Earl Jermyn and was more commonly known to his friends and acquaintances as 'John Jermyn'.
At the age of twenty-one he inherited four million in cash, 160,000 acres in three counties, four oil wells in Louisiana, and a sheep station in Australia and was reputedly worth £21 million in total. He soon followed his father into tax exile in Monaco, but found it rather boring and so moved to Paris. (Although he sent his manservant down to Monte Carlo from time to time to give the impression that he was still resident there.) At Paris he acquired a flat in the Rue de Bellechase and began his long dalliance with drugs and sex. Initially his tastes did not extend beyond alcohol, but then he heard the siren call of New York in the Studio 54 era. Once in Manhattan John Jermyn became an established member of the 'Brit pack', famed for his small get-togethers which featured such people as Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol and having mingled with the Big Apple crown soon moved into cocaine and heroine.
It was in New York that he also experienced his first brush with the law, when he was arrested on the 19th May 1983 on drug trafficking charges. It reputedly cost him a million (dollars or pounds are not specified) to hire Thomas Puccio to get the charge reduced to a misdemeanour, but although he escaped prison it rendered him persona-non-grata in Monaco.
After escaping the grip of the American judical system he returned to Europe. It was rumoured that Christina Onassis became keen on marrying him, but the affection was not mutual and in September 1984 John married Francesca Fisher, the daughter of Douglas Fisher, a London property developer. To his new wife's disappointment, John spent his wedding night freebasing, but despite this unaspicious beginning the marriage appears to have been relatively amicable until John left for the United States to deal with the sale of his New York house and went on a prolonged drug fueled binge. Such behaviour persuaded Francesca to leave him for the safer hands of an art dealer named Robert Shorto. John and Francesca were later divorced in 1987.
Despite his marriage it must be said that that the 7th Marquess's sexual tastes were somewhat broader than coventional heterosexuality, in fact his preference was for "fresh-faced all-American boys in chinos" and he later claimed (circa 1986) that he had gone through 2,000 of them. It is said that whilst he was in New York he was once rather taken by one actor he had just seen perform on video, that he phoned the production company and had the young man flown in from California for his entertainment. In this manner the Marquess amused himself, procuring rent-boys and indulging himself with narcotics. Inevitably his lifestyle brought him into conflict with the authroities. In 1988 he was arrested at St Helier on Jersey when 13 grams of cocaine were found in his helicopter and he served seven months at La Moye prison on the island. In 1991 he was deported from Australia for failing to disclose this to the immigration authorities and in December 1992 was again arrested for possession of heroine and cocaine, this time in the United Kingdom, and served a further five months in Downside Open Prison.
Although the 6th Marquess had transferred ownership of the family home at Ickworth House to the National Trust the family had retained a lease on the east wing, and the Trust had now become alarmed at the tales of the wild parties, the midnight rabbit hunts in the grounds and the unmistakable sound of gunfire when the Marquess chose to amuse himself by blasting away at the internal doors. The National Trust began legal proceedings in order to evict him, but in the end they offered, and John Jermyn accepted, £100,000 to surrender the lease. (Which was later sold and became the Ickworth Hotel.) He subsequently left Ickworth in June 1996 and moved into the smaller Little Horringer Hall, taking the opportunity to dispose of much of the now surplus contents at auction which raised an estimated £2.5m.
Thereafter it appears that John made a number of attempts to beat his drug addiction and even considered moving to Barbados at one time, but in the end his past caught up with him. He died in his sleep on 10th January 1999, no cause of death was given at the time, although it was said that John Jermyn had been suffering from a flu-like bug. The official cause of death was later given as multiple organ failure arising as a result of years of chronic drug abuse. Although at the inquest the coroner stated that there was nothing in the report to suggest that he had Aids, it has since been acknowledged that he had indeed contracted that disease in 1986. In fact given the scale of his drug taking and promiscuity during the later seventies and early eighties it would be very surprising if he had failed to contract that particular disease.
Although he bequeathed the bulk of his estate to James Whitby, who had been his companion for the past eleven years, there was only £5,000 left at the time of his death, which was all swallowed up by expenses. All those millions had been dissipated in a mere twenty-three years, leaving nothing but the title to pass to his half-brother.
- Anthony Haden-Guest, The End of the Peer, The Observer Magazine 22 January 2006
- Richard Savill, Marquess was killed by years of drug abuse Saturday 13 February 1999 See www.telegraph.co.uk/
- Audrey Woods, Marquess who blew fortune auctions estate
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com