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The Highland Line: Lord Lucan isn't the only celebrity not to make it north

Around breakfast time the news began to filter through to the Drumossie Hotel just outside Inverness, which was the venue for that year’s Highlands and Islands Press Ball.

Journalists never like being in the wrong place, but here were many of the leading lights of the Fourth Estate in Scotland coming to terms with the fact they had missed one of the biggest stories to break on their patch – Lord Lucan was hiding on Eigg. Those of us who had been frequent visitors to the island thought we would have noticed him.

But later the story that emerged was that police had thought he had gone into hiding there some time after he went on the run, having apparently killed the children's nanny. Sandra Rivett, 29, had been bludgeoned to death in the basement of the family home in November 1974.

At that time there were fewer than 70 people living on Eigg, and a new arrival would have been unlikely to have remained undetected for long, as would a policeman “going under cover” which apparently had been mooted.

Lucan was supposed to be hiding in the ruins of Kildonan monastery on Eigg’s east coast, which is hardly a secret location. The idea that somebody could stay there for any length of time without detection by the islanders going about their daily business, beggars belief.

Maggie Fyffe, the estimable secretary of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, the community-led body which now owns the island, moved there not long after the murder with the first few years spent living near the ruins.  She is sure there was nobody lurking there then, and that the site had offered little or no shelter for centuries.

It is possible that a disguised Lucan – no moustache and a blonde Afro - could have spent a night or so on the island. And it has to be said that that Eigg has been no stranger to controversial characters -  not least those who have owned or sought to own the island down the years.

At the time of the Lucan murder Eigg was owned by the Anglyn Trust, a non profit-making Christian charity formed to educate handicapped children regardless of colour, class or creed. But only a handful ever made it to Eigg.

Heading the trust was a Bernard Farnham-Smith, who was reported to have operated a school at Nuthurst in Surrey where the boys had to parade in mock naval uniforms. But he had an earlier vocation as Brian Wilson, then Labour MP for Cunninghame North, recalled in a parliamentary debate in February 1997 at the fag end of John Major’s government.

He said: “Eigg ended up initially with a terrible man called Farnham-Smith, an imposter who claimed to be a commander. It turned out eventually that he had once been a very junior officer in the London fire brigade, but by then he had scammed public money and visited a terrible blight on Eigg—followed by Schellenberg and Maruma.”

Such was the decay during Farnham Smith’s reign that the old Highlands and Islands Development Board considered trying to launch a compulsory purchase of the island, after a normal bid was turned down.

Instead in 1975 the island was sold by the Anglyn Trust to Keith Schellenberg for £250,000.

It is not impossible that Lucan knew Schellenberg, the former bobsleigh Olympian. They were the sort of chaps who might have rubbed shoulders at some point doing something daring. They both liked to drive speed boats and do risky sorts of things.

A Yorkshire man, Schellenberg was said to be heir to a gelatin fortune, whatever that meant. He had captained Yorkshire at rugby, had competed for the UK  in both 1956 and 1964 Winter Olympics, did a spot of motor racing  and rallying. Oh yes, and he drove a yellow Rolls Royce; well he did until he took it to Eigg where it became the target of arsonists unknown.

It was in 1995 that Schellenberg sold Eigg to the Stuttgart-based artist Marlin Eckhard Maruma for £1.6m. Maruma was to use the island as collateral in an as yet unexplained financial wheeze which involved money lenders in Hong Kong, Liechtenstein, and Germany.

His tenure was to be short-lived. The island duly came back on the market that July at £2m, and the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust launched the appeal the following month that was to lead to the islanders’ historic buyout in 1997.

But before then a body claiming to be The Pavarotti Foundation wanted to buy the island for 3000 musical students which would have increased the island's population by 4615%. The next week it was reduced to 300 students. But the foundation’s interest waned, and the strains of Nessun Dorma were not to be heard from atop the Sgurr of Eigg.

Then there was the Luxembourg company Compagnie de Participations, who wanted it for a holiday project; and a man whose Surrey-based private bank had gone into administration in 1992 owing £10m to 1000 depositors. He wanted to farm on Eigg.

So would Lucan have been noticed amidst this flood tide of human eccentricity which washed Eigg shores for decades if he had dropped in for a night? Possibly not.

But of course he may just be the latest to join the list of people who were supposed to have been about to come to the Highlands and Islands, but didn’t.

Ever since her wedding at Skibo Castle in December 2000, Madonna’s name has been associated with every second estate that has come on the market. But she has managed to resist them all.

One had been the £4.5m Amhuinnsuidhe Castle and Estate on Harris. But it was not only Madge who was going to buy it. It had also apparently caught Michael Jackson’s eye and that of  golfer Nick Faldo. But none of them did anything further.
Sir Paul McCartney was supposed to be about to marry Heather Mills at Skibo, but didn’t.

Which brings us to the nine bedroom Dippin Lodge on Arran, the Duke of Hamilton's former hunting. It was put up for sale a few years back. Its owner Ron, not Rod, Stewart was concerned that some A- listers’ lifestyles could alter the island’s atmosphere.

So he advertised in Private Eye, and under the heading “Country House Estate Up For Grabs” he said: "Would suit privacy seeking celebrity with impeccable taste - so that's Halliwell, Posh, Cilla, Rod, Hucknell & Cowell out for starters."

In case there was any doubt a second advert in the same issue of the satirical magazine made clear "Heather Mills McCartney can bugger off too". It worked.

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