Former owner of Isle of Eigg

Born: March 13, 1929;

Died: October 28, 2019

KEITH Schellenberg, who has died aged 90, was best known in Scotland as the colourful, flamboyant but highly-controversial former owner of the Hebridean Isle of Eigg.

Purchasing the run-down island in the mid-1970s for £270,000, the “new money” Yorkshireman promised to build golf courses and pull in tourists from around the world. But the 39 local islanders, initially impressed, eventually got turned off by his swanning around in a vintage 1920s Rolls Royce – often wearing Mr Toad-type goggles – his motorboat races, his lawn croquet parties or his “champers and hampers” beach romps for wealthy and often aristocratic visitors from down south or beyond.

Angry locals, still living in basic island conditions – Schellenberg once told them he wanted to “keep the island’s style slightly run-down” – burnt his beloved Great Gatsby-style Rolls to a frazz in its garage, giving Scottish newspaper headline writers a field day with “Scrambled Eigg” and “Burnt Rolls.” Due to the locals own version of the Italian mafia’s omerta, or code of silence, the police never found the culprits. The owner of the Roller and the island blamed “hippies and dropouts … rotten, dangerous and barmy revolutionaries … more interested in smoking pot than growing crops.”

In 1991, pro-Eigg activists appealed for funds to purchase the island – including his home “The Big Hoose” – on behalf of its residents. A year later, it went up for auction but Mr Schellenberg outbid the activists, re-bought the island for £1million but finally had to sell it in 1995 to a German self-styled artist known as Maruma. It turned out the latter was in debt and so the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust managed finally to buy it for £1.5million in 1997.

Mr Schellenberg had departed the island by boat in 1995, when a large crowd gathered at the pier to see him off. They did not sing “Haste ye back.” From the boat, Mr Schellenberg reportedly shouted: "You never understood me. I always wanted to be one of you."

To be fair to him, to his memory, and his family, that was probably true. Like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, he sought to be popular, to be loved. But he failed to understand the Scots, and particularly the Highlanders.

Also to be fair, during his earlier years, he was a daring adventurer, a powerboat racer, a licensed pilot, a vintage car rally driver, a cricketer for Yorkshire, and twice an unsuccessful candidate for the Liberal Party in Richmond, North Yorkshire, held by his good friend the Tory Tim Kitson.

According to some, Mr Schellenberg was also the inventor of ice cricket, first launched in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and now popular among winter sportsmen who compete in championships in Estonia. He is said to have taught such cricket to other competitors at the Winter Olympics in which he competed as a young man.

In the 1956 Winter Olympics at Cortina Ampezzo, Italy, as captain of the Great Britain team, he came 11th in the two-man bobsleigh and 12th in the four-man event. In 1964, in the winter games in Innsbruck, Austria, the year the supine luge was inaugurated, he came 25th in the solo event, an event marked by the death of his British team-mate Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski during a training run. Mr Kay-Skrzypeski, Polish-born, had been a volunteer pilot for the RAF during the Second World War and his death badly affected his team-mate Mr Schellenberg.

Clifford Keith Wain Schellenberg was born in Middlesbrough on March 13, 1929, to successful businessman Clifford Robertshaw Schellenberg who ran Cleveland Products, manufacturers of glue and other products and headquartered next to Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium ground. The Schellenbergs had emigrated from Württemberg, Germany, in the 19th century, at first as butchers in Bradford, but had become proudly British. Indeed, Keith once won £100 damages from a local newspaper for describing him as German.

He was four times married. Firstly, to Jan Hagenbach. Secondly, to Margaret de Hauteville-Hamilton, daughter of the Scottish soldier and peer Robert Hamilton-Udny, the 11th Lord Belhaven and Stenton. Thirdly, to garden designer Susan “Suki” Minette Urquhart, who attended Laurel Bank School in Glasgow and was daughter of Major General Robert Urquhart, commander of Britain’s 1st Airborne Division at the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. Suki’s sister Elspeth later married (Sir) Menzies “Ming” Campbell MP. And fourthly, to Jilly Miller.

After Eigg, Mr Schellenberg ran the 2,400-acre Killean Estate on the Mull of Kintyre. In 2001, he and his wife Jilly settled in Richmond, North Yorkshire, in a 16th century house where she lovingly restored the gardens. According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Schellenberg was at peace there: "I'd done 40 years on the north-west frontier, trying to tame the Scots," he said.

Keith Schellenberg died at home aged 90. He is survived by Jilly, five children from two earlier marriages and 10 grandchildren.