Julia Langdon meets former Lonrho chief Sir Edward Du Cann, who is

raising storm signals to show that he is still a force to be reckoned


ONCE he was chairman of everything. In his new book the index list of

his chairmanships alone runs for more than three inches. There are even

more in the reference books. He ran the Tory Party. He ran Lonrho. He

occupied a powerful position of influence in the establishment, and he

ran rings around everybody else. Was that only four years ago? An

inquiry to Lonrho for his current telephone number is met by the

response: ''Sorry. How do you spell Du Cann?''

When we do meet, it is at a wine bar near Victoria Station, chosen by

Sir Edward. It is a modest establishment, serving excellent claret with

a light salad lunch at an affordable price -- which is to say, by his

previous standards, cheap. Sir Edward Du Cann is on his uppers.

He is broke, bankrupt and, perhaps worst of all, bereaved. His wife,

Jenifer, died earlier this year. He is facing trial next January in an

action brought against him by the Department of Trade and Industry for

being unfit to be a company director. The proceedings are continuing

despite the independent findings of two medical examinations that he

has, at some point in the recent past, suffered a heart attack, his

health is deteriorating, and he is unfit to stand trial.

Never, he says, wearily recounting what he calls his Job's journey of

the past several years, has he been more miserable in life.

Yet he looks better than ever he did at the peak of his twin careers

in business and politics, and at the time of his great influence when he

was a figure of authority in the corridors of Westminster, when what he

said, went. He is 71 and sprightly, weather-beaten from walking the dog

-- alone now -- in the winds of Alderney. That is where he would rather

be than anywhere, certainly rather than on a yacht in the south of

France, where Tiny Rowland would assuredly make him most welcome if he

wanted to go, which he doesn't.

It might have amused Jeni to go for a few days, but now . . . why

bother? Alderney is the island where he and Jeni -- the love of his

life, as he repeatedly says -- spent their four short years of marriage,

happy despite her ongoing battle against cancer, his against


A fortnight in the sun is, anyway, no answer to anything and he does

not seek help from Rowland, or anyone. The navy blue Rolls-Royce went

back when he resigned the chairmanship of Lonrho, Tiny Rowland's

company. That was when he had learned of the Government's plan to act

against him in 1991 for his role as a non-executive director of

something called the Homes Assured Corporation. It was set up in 1988 to

help council tenants buy their homes and collapsed a year later, #10m

adrift. That was when everything went for him, too.

Although two fellow directors have been found guilty of trading while

insolvent, the chairman of the company has not been proceeded against,

nor has the full-time finance director, nor the man who controlled the


''If I am guilty of something than so is every other -- no, most of

the directors of private companies in the United Kingdom, including all

the clubs in the Football League.''

He protests, brightly, that he was brought up never to complain. ''I

hope you don't think the book is a whinge,'' he says at one point. ''I'm

not belly-aching,'' he says later. But that is not what he means, not at

all. He means, in fact, to complain a great deal about the way in which

he is currently being treated. That is why he has written this book.

That is why we are here, eating ham and salad over, of all things ''The

Chairman's Claret''.

''Do you miss . . .'' I start to ask, ''. . . Yes, I do, dreadfully,''

he interrupts before the question is finished. I was going to ask about

Westminster, but it doesn't really matter, because, in truth, he misses


He thinks he has been singled out as the victim in this affair and the

signs are that he has decided to make a fuss. It looks very much as if,

to use the naval parlance that he would enjoy from his own experience in

the RNVR in the Second World War and as a one-time Admiral of the House

of Commons Yacht Club, he is raising storm signals for the Government's


They realise that he knows where a great many bodies are buried. He is

giving notice that he does not plan to be interred himself without

making life uncomfortable indeed for a lot of those who are still

around. ''I wouldn't ask for favours. I would just ask not to be

discriminated against -- which I have been,'' he says.

And the mystery is, the question that needs to be answered, the point

that makes all this interesting: why? Given all that power and position,

given what we know about the way the establishment works, why is it

throwing the book at Sir Edward Du Cann, of all people, he who was

promised a peerage and has been rewarded instead with penury?

He who ran the 1922 Committee; who ran the Public Accounts Committee;

who ran the committee which picked the membership of other committees;

who ran the committee of the chairmen of all the committees; he who was

the big I-Am; who fixed the leadership for Margaret in 1975; who told

her later that she should go gracefully, at a time rather before she

wanted to hear the news?

He has little doubt about this, or purports to have little. He

believes that because of the row about the acquisition of Harrods and

the House of Fraser by Mohammed Al Fayed -- so strongly contested by

Lonrho -- two senior civil servants in the Department of Trade decided

that it would be ''a good idea to discredit me''.

Sir Edward, as chairman of Lonrho, was obviously a principal player in

the ever-increasingly complicated game that surrounded the ownership of

the House of Fraser. He told me, in all seriousness, that it would be a

great relief to everybody in the establishment if he fell over in the

street in Victoria as we left after our claret. He believes that he is

an embarrassment. And this is a man, let us not forget, who knows about

more conspiracies and knows more about conspiracy theories than most of

us could imagine, let alone conjure up in a dream.

He believes that there was a view that if he, Sir Edward

in-all-his-pomp, was not proceeded against there would be a view that

the Government was prepared to let off a prominent Tory, one of their

own, and that once the proceedings had been started, they dare not halt

them. And he feels very sore about it all.

He also thinks -- and this is very important -- that nobody knows how

the Tory Party (or for that matter Lonrho) ought to be run these days.

Everyone shouts their mouth off among today's vulgarians and yet no-one

knows what they are shouting about. Sir Edward Du Cann's message, and it

is only just a murmur at the moment, is that he has got a great deal to

tell and there is a distinct possibility he may soon raise his voice.

They are being warned.

* Two Lives. The Political and Business Careers of Edward Du Cann.

Images: #17.95.