Face to face

Like many others, Jane Grosvenor's mother cautioned her three children against the charmers of this world. ''You should never trust anybody with charm,'' she'd declare, and the laugh of it was that she herself wore charm as lightly as a girl with flowers in her hair. The daughter, too, for that matter, so maybe charm really is inherited, like freckles. Anyway, Janie, the youngest in the family, grew up to become Deb of the Year when debutantes still caused a stir in socially boxed-in Britain. At one time gossip columnists forecast she would be Prince Charles's bride, but in Scotland the Lady turned into a Duchess with marriage to the tenth Duke of Roxburghe. And, against most expectations, Kelso loosened its usual pursed-lip courtesy towards the toffs at Floors to spread the word about the knock-out wattage of the noble newcomer's good nature.

Her divorce in 1990, on the grounds of the duke's adultery with an unnamed woman, didn't diminish her reputation. She reverted to her previous title, but instead of leaving Scotland altogether, she moved into the Cherrytrees estate some miles away at Yetholm. Today, though now domiciled in England, she is a sort of duchess emeritus in Borderers' eyes, still regarded as their champion and friend. Yet there is nothing parochial about such admiration. The other week she was appointed president of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Tomorrow Aberdeen will also demonstrate enduring smittenness when it hosts the country's Beautiful Scotland in Bloom awards with Lady Jane making the presentations.

Remarriage, two years ago to Ned Dawnay, an untitled second cousin, has brought her one more surname and another string of addresses, but, more than anything, she prefers to be called Janie; Jane, she believes, can sound like a short, sharp reprimand, while Janey written down looks, to her, too adamantly feminist. Quite simply, however, she remains the surest thing Scotland has come to know as a star quality aristo. But why was her mother so suspicious of charm? ''Well, her warning was never directed at anyone in particular but it would crop up in general conversation,'' she says, drawing on a cigarette which, she reflects sardonically, makes her the last of the damned. ''I didn't think my mother was necessarily right about it although, of course, there is a charm which is oily and makes you feel sick. But the best charm, isn't it friendliness? Isn't it just being interested in people and

listening to them?''

What she likes about the Borders is that friendship once given is never fickle, no matter how circumstances change. ''Some, I know, believed I shouldn't have stayed on in Scotland after the divorce. They felt a clean break would have been less painful for me and made it easier to start my own life again. But there were also three children to consider. My youngest at the time was only five, so it was important that he wasn't yanked away from school. And I very much wanted the children to retain their Scottish identity. I really hoped they'd feel a kinship with Scotland, and I'm delighted to say that's happened; they do very much consider themselves Borderers.''

English by parentage, Irish and Scottish by inclination, she has thus always been a bit of a borderer herself. Janie grew up on the shores of Lough Erne in Northern Ireland where her father was the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone before unexpectedly becoming the fifth Duke of Westminster around 1967. That early family house, Ely Lodge, converted from a Georgian stable, had belonged to his mother, and in 1953, the year that Janie was born, it still provided a happy, rumbustuous setting for the remnants of the Irish ascendancy. ''We had our rather wobbly hunt, and, yes, it was a privileged upbringing but also a very delightful farming and lakeland childhood, mucking about with the people who helped us run the place. We had a nannie, ponies, and rowing boats, but I suppose my father, an essentially Edwardian figure, was rather remote because he was away so much. And my mother, a gifted amateur

pianist, would lose herself in her music, so my brother, elder sister, and I learned early to be pretty self-sufficient.''

Closest to her brother, Gerald - the present Duke of Westminster and, reputedly, the richest man in Britain - Janie remembers always being the one lumbered with the oars on Lough Erne, one of the loveliest in Ireland, while the others fished from the boat for pike. But by 1968, the stomach-wrenching thud of the Troubles was about to dominate every life. Enniskillen was not far away but many of the surrounding villages also endured their years of gross and senseless bereavement. The fact that in the 1981 by-election her father's old Commons seat was won by Bobby Sands somehow points up the unremitting gruesomeness of the conflict. Sands was already a Republican H-block prisoner when he was elected, an emaciated zealot who died one month later from self-inflicted starvation. ''I've been fortunate enough not to have lived though a war, but I shall never forget the sound of a bomb going off.

When you were on Lough Erne, the first thing you knew was that all the birds would rise up, and the dogs would start to bark. Then you'd hear this sickening whoomph-whoomph as the water carried the noise.''

She was 24 when she married Guy Innes-Ker, the headstrong Duke of Roxburghe, aged 22, and by the late eighties the signs were evident that the marriage was shaky. A trial separation was followed by a brave reconciliation on her part but by the start of the nineties she had moved out of Floors Castle, where she and her husband had accommodated Prince Andrew's love tryst with Sarah Ferguson.

By then, too, her mother had been killed in a Northern Ireland car crash, and her elder sister, Leonora, had divorced the Queen's other photographer relative, the Earl of Lichfield. ''Divorce is a dreadful experience,'' she said of her own at the time, ''and nobody fought harder to save a marriage than I did.'' In fact, she fought so hard and lost so painfully that when Roxburghe married Virginia Wynn-Williams two years later, his former wife mused that she doubted she would ever embark on the institution again.

Yet here she is, sitting in her London pad in Eaton Square, having recently celebrated her second wedding anniversary with cousin Ned, a few years her senior and someone she has known forever. That morning a portrait of him, commissioned by her from the artist Henry Mee, had just arrived. She had been anxious about forcing Ned into something like that because he, too, is a shy person ''but full of immense good humour''. However, he'd been delighted by the result, depicting him as a rather burly, benign figure, a country gentleman with the vividest blue eyes and no trace of the pinstripe uniform of his non-executive directorships. The painting will hang not in Eaton Square but at Ned's seat in Norfolk where the couple are building a 1700s period-style mansion. Since this week, and next, will be spent in Sutherland where her family have had an estate from the 1820s, just where is home? ''EasyJet,''

she laughs. ''I couldn't say this flat is home, although we love it when we're here, going to movies and the theatre. But we're not social animals. I'm a countrywoman at heart, and emphatically not a Hello! person. We all know what happens when you get into that.''

When it came to it, did she have any apprehension about re-

marriage? ''Well, I'd never had anything against marriage and I was never embittered about seeing other people happy. But I didn't want any more unpleasant shocks for the children.'' Also she was learning to cope on her own, beginning to enjoy being in control after wretched months of desolation. ''I thought: 'Well, this is okay now.' But as the children got older they were increasingly in the South, and if I was in London seeing them, Ned would call and say: 'Come and have supper.' Our friendship had always been there but the there, if you like, was just getting closer. So, marriage became like some lovely, inevitable conclusion to lifelong affection.'' And as Ned was a bachelor he wasn't weighted down with emotional baggage. ''He got that with me and three teenagers. If there was any nervousness on my part, it was for Ned taking on a ready-made family. But he said that made no difference

at all because he'd known the children since they were born, and he's been absolutely the most marvellous step-father.''

So, a story with a happy ending after the small contorting sorrows that enter every life. At 45, Janie Dawnay still has the statuesque height, good looks, and merry azure eyes which must have made her such a stunning deb. Today, though, her life is probably very different from what seemed promised then. She's involved in a small video conference business, and is not hostile to House of Lords reform. ''If people want to stand up there and make speeches, then they must earn the right to do so. The fact that they've been born into a certain position doesn't give them the divine right to run the country.''

More resigned than irritated, she reflects that the view prevails that aristocrats are all still half-witted and chinless, and swan around at society weddings, drinking champagne, eating lobster tails and caviar, and shouting out that marvellous word flunky. ''All of this just ignores the hard core of very good people who put in lots of untold, unseen, and unpraised work.''

As for those who want the monarchy abolished, well, look out across the Atlantic, and ask: are presidents really any better?