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MATRIARCH OF THE GLEN; Tessa defies Tennant family curse to build her own little empire.


SHE is the real-life Monarch of the Glen - but Tessa Tennant's story would be considered too far-fetched for Glenbogle.

Last week, she broke her silence about her life in Scotland's most cursed family and her triumph over tragedy.

Tessa married old Etonian Henry Tennant, heir to a pounds 15million fortune, as a 23-year-old on a paradise island in the Caribbean.

Four years later, he confessed he was gay and moved in with his black actor boyfriend. He later developed Aids and died.

Henry had become heir to the Tennant fortune after his elder brother Charles was disinherited and died from drugs, while the youngest brother Christopher was crippled in a car crash.

After Henry's death, Tessa, now 40, was left with a six-year-old son to bring up on her own and a 5000-acre Borders estate that had to pay its way.

She has worked hard to turn the 22-bedroom Glen House, near Peebles, into an exclusive wedding venue and conference centre. Her son Euan is about to enter Edinburgh University to study bio-chemistry.

And Tessa has become an internationally-recognised environmental campaigner and pioneer of ethical investment.

But she refuses to feel any bitterness about the hand that fate dealt her. She said: "I have huge empathy for the predicament Henry was in. He did not want to let his family down.

"When this happened homosexuality was still very much a closet affair. Henry did not fully realise he was gay until we were married.

"It was only then he realised what he was.

"But I still think of him as a wonderful, gentle human being whom I adored. It was very difficult for him."

Tessa nursed Henry with his friends during the final months of his life and she is still close to his lover, Kelvin O'Mara.

She said: "You don't go through something like that and then just say goodbye. No way. I treasure the relationship I had with Henry.

"The first years after his death were years I would not want to go back to. There was a lot to come to terms with.

"I have had a rollercoaster life, but, I think, a rich one. I never felt that having wealth protected you from tragedy and I have had quite a lot to get over. But I have found my feet now."

She and Euan still live in the basement of Glen House - and Tessa says it was moving to Glen Estate that helped her put her life in perspective.

It is 12 years since Tessa was widowed. Henry, the younger son of Princess Margaret's pal Lord Glenconner, was just 29 when he died.

The couple had separated after he declared he was gay. They married on the island of Mustique, then owned by Lord Glenconner, better known as Colin Tennant.

Among the guests were Princess Margaret and society girl Olivia Channon, daughter of the former Conservative Trade Secretary, Paul, who later died from a drug overdose.

Tessa and Henry had met on a backpacking holiday in Ecuador and love blossomed.

Just a year after the wedding, Euan was born, but, despite the pull of the family, Henry eventually admitted he was gay and told Tessa he was leaving her to live with Kelvin.

He had suspected he was gay since his schooldays at Eton, but had tried to suppress his sexuality. Henry later contracted Aids and died in 1990.

Tessa said: "After Henry died and the responsibilities of Glen loomed it was nonsensical to live in London.

"I never planned to live in Scotland, but I am glad I have. It has helped me get life into perspective." Tessa has even become a carer with Hong Kong-based Society for Aids Carers, as she feels Aids in China is a major issue.

Tessa and Euan, 18, have endured and survived all the personal tragedy.

Euan is currently travelling on a gap year, having finished at a sixth-form college in Oxford last summer.

"He is very philosophical about life and a very happy lad," said Tessa. "He is tall like his father and he has very good feelings about him.

"He knows one day he will inherit Glen. I hope he will view it the same way I do. OK, it is in his name, but it's for something much larger, it's for the family, for the community that lives there.

"The real challenge for him will be how to make the place valuable, not in the money sense of the word, but in the context of the environment, and in terms of people living there, present and future. That's how Henry would have treated it."

Glen employs eight people involved in forestry, farming, shooting and fishing as well as the conference and wedding business. Toby Tennant, the father of supermodel Stella, a cousin of Henry's, has also helped advise on Glen's farm.

"He has been a big help," said Tessa. "The whole place has to pay its way. Life didn't work out the way I planned it - it never does.

"I am not rich enough that I don't need to work."

The environment has been one of the major issues of her new life. Tessa has been a member of the environmental think-tank Green Alliance, an ambassador for World Wildlife Fund and a trustee of the Friends of the Earth, to name but a few.

She is founder and chairman of ASRIA - an organisation involved in developing sustainable and responsible investment in Asia.

"Money does not destroy the environment - greed does," said Tessa. She sold her shares in companies such as Shell and mining giant RTZ and switched them into green funds. Tessa has also given Glen a green makeover - converting a large cattle barn to solar electricity, which powers three cottages on the estate.

Other Scots tenants are also to have their homes greened-up by Tessa. In Glasgow, 12 flats run by Queen's Cross Housing Association and 21 homes run by the Perthshire Housing Association in Bankfoot and Pitlochry will be fitted with solar power by Tessa's company - the first solar electric housing association schemes in Scotland.

The DTI has given the projects to Solar Century, of which Tessa is a director. The company has already completed more solar housing in Britain than any other firm.

"I think Scotland has a lot to offer in renewable energy and that is why we are delighted to be doing the housing schemes in Perthshire and Glasgow," said Tessa.

"But it is only a start - there are millions of square feet of roof space in the country that could be better taken up by solar electric slates. I really applaud the forward thinking of the housing associations in Glasgow and Perthshire.

"Today's ethical investor is tomorrow's prudent man. Unfortunately, I don't think the core drivers of this Government have got green issues at their heart.

"But the world has got to change to a more sustainable way. We are consuming three to five times more resources than the planet has. Things have to change to survive.

"Brothers who fell victim to curse of the Tennants

THE three sons of Princess Margaret's closest friend Lord Glenconner have been struck by tragedy. They were born into a life of wealth and privilege, but all fell victims to the curse of the Tennants.

1978 Glenconner, better know as Colin Tennant, disinherits eldest son Charles, a drug addict, after he is accused of selling pictures of Princess Margaret to newspapers. Second son Henry becomes heir to the pounds 15million family fortune and estates in the Borders, Africa and West Indies.

1983 Henry marries Tessa on his father's Caribbean island of Mustique.

1984 The couple's son Euan is born.

1987 Third son Christopher is crippled in a motorbike accident. He survives after six months in a coma. Henry declares himself gay and leaves Tessa for his actor boyfriend.

1990 Henry dies from Aids. Tessa takes control of the estate, near Peebles, while caring for Euan, now six.

1992 Tessa becomes head of environmental research for ethical investment firm Merlin Jupiter.

1995 She 'sacks' Andrew Gifford as Euan's grandfather over his involvement in the Western Isles superquarry project.

1996 Charles dies after a six-year battle against HIV. He contracted the virus during 13 years of intravenous drug use.
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 20, 2002
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