The Bolter: Idina Sackville – the woman who scandalised 1920’s society and became White Mischief’s infamous seductress.
On Friday 25th May, 1934, a forty-one-year-old woman walked into the lobby of Claridge’s Hotel in London’s Mayfair to meet the nineteen-year-old son whose face she did not know. Just over fifteen years earlier, as the First World War ended, Idina Sackville had shocked high society by leaving his multimillionaire father at Victoria Station to run off to Africa with a near penniless man. Now, three more husbands later, she was back to help the son whom she had been banned from seeing . . .
Inspiration for Nancy Mitford's character The Bolter, painted by William Orpen, a muse for the fashion designer Molyneux and photographed by Cecil Beaton, Sackville went on to divorce a total of five times, yet died with a photograph of her first love by her bed. Her struggle to reinvent her life with each new marriage left one husband murdered and branded her the ‘high priestess’ of White Mischief’s bed-hopping Happy Valley in Kenya. She became renowned for her powers as a seductress and was rumoured to have had ‘lovers without number’.
And at the age of thirteen, I opened the newspaper one morning to discover that Idina was my mother’s grandmother. Since then I have been fascinated by what drove her to leave a man and children she still loved, how her life then spiralled into marital mayhem, and what happened when she returned to the children she had left behind. Four years ago I opened a tin chest containing the diaries of that first husband, my great grandfather, the single surviving diary of the nineteen year-old son that Idina came back to see, who was my grandfather, and two bulging battered briefcases of family letters, legal documents and photographs...