Desmond Guinness (1931-2020) R.I.P.

A recent issue of The Times carries the obituary of Desmond Guinness who died on 20 August at the age of 88. He was the younger son of two of Waugh’s closest friends during the early days of his career:

Desmond Walter Guinness was born in 1931, the younger of two sons of Bryan Guinness, scion of the 18th-century brewing family who became the 2nd Lord Moyne when his own father was assassinated in Cairo in 1944. His mother, Diana, regarded as the most beautiful and controversial of the Mitford sisters, went into labour with Desmond while at the theatre but was so enjoying the play that she stayed until the end. His brother, Jonathan, is the 3rd Lord Moyne.

During the interwar years their parents were among the brightest of the “bright young things”, a group satirised in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies (1930), which he dedicated to Bryan and Diana. A year after her son’s birth Diana began an affair with Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. She and Mosley were married in 1936, in the Berlin home of Joseph Goebbels, with Hitler a guest […]

In 1940 Diana was interned in Holloway prison, where she was visited by her son. Although Guinness acknowledged the postwar hostility towards her and his stepfather, he would not say a bad word against her. “She was very beautiful, very funny,” he said, keeping her portrait by Augustus John on his wall.

Much of the Times’ obituary is given over to Desmond’s dedication to the Irish Georgian Society which was devoted to saving period buildings and furnishings from destruction and in many cases restoring them. He acquired Leixlip Castle and lived in it for many years with his family.

…Guinness, described by friends as an unassuming but mischievous and flirtatious man, played the clavichord and French horn, and hated cats. He continued with his preservation work, championing not only historic buildings but also the arts. In 1970 he helped to organise a chamber music festival at Castletown House in Co Kildare, the first of what became the Great Music in Irish Houses festival, at which a young [Mick] Jagger is said to have helped to set out the chairs. John Williams, the Australian guitarist, played at the inaugural event.

Although the silver-haired Guinness stepped down as chairman of the Irish Georgian Society in 1990, Leixlip Castle and its visitors remained the centre of his life. The writer and historian Ulick O’Connor recalled venturing down one morning to find Jagger having breakfast in his dressing gown while reading Oscar Wilde’s fairytales. “Here, it always seems to be this weekend or the next,” mused Guinness philosophically.

His older brother, Jonathan, seems to have survived him, although that isn’t clearly stated. Jonathan was the recipient of the manuscript of Vile Bodies (given by Waugh to Diana and Bryan to whom, as noted in the obituary, it was also dedicated). Martin Stannard discovered its whereabouts in 1984 when he was researching his biography of Evelyn Waugh. Prof Stannard describes this in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, v. 2: Vile Bodies, pp xli-xliii.

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