View attachment 36811 ENGLAND - The scene is an elegant flat on the Chelsea embankment, and a pretty girl of 23 dressed in a virginally white dress is looking into a mirror and shaving part of her head.
She puts on a pair of close-fitting dark glasses so that the blood which she knows is about to flow does not run into her eyes, and picks up a dentist’s electric drill. Then, with deadly calm, she begins to drill a hole into her own skull.
Visitors who have seen the private home movie made by the boyfriend of the young woman called Amanda Feilding as she did this talk of their shock as, with the foot-operated drill whirring, they see blood cascading over the glasses.
When she had finished boring the hole she took a bath, wrapped her head in a bandana and went off to a restaurant to have a steak to replace the blood she had lost.
Amanda, now 67, is these days the Countess of Wemyss and March, wife of the landowning 13th Earl, and a friend of the Royal Family.
She has certainly not abandoned her belief in the ancient and bizarre practice of trepanning — drilling a hole in the skull to give the brain more oxygen — or her hope that it will one day be available on the NHS.
But behind the thick walls and three moats of Beckley Hall, her Tudor mansion in Oxfordshire where the walls are hung with tapestries, the Countess has taken up another cause about which we are all entitled to be rather more concerned: drugs.
From her baronial home she runs the Beckley Trust, a charity which is building world-wide links with others who, like her, believe the most efficient way to control the use of drugs is to legalise them.
‘If cannabis were authorised, it could be properly labelled and government controlled, like putting the tar content on a cigarette packet or the percentage of alcohol in wine,’ says the countess.
She describes herself as ‘my own laboratory’ in view of her own huge experience of a variety of illegal substances from psychedelic drugs including LSD to cannabis and mescaline.
‘Let’s forget the hypocrisy of pretending that prohibition does away with drugs,’ she says. ‘Prohibition makes the young want them more. It makes drugs more glamorous.’
So it’s ‘Prohibition’ now is it? Many will be appalled that in its campaign to legalise drugs — which most sensible people oppose — Lady Wemyss’s charity has purloined the emotive word from Twenties America when alcohol was banned in what was known as The Noble Experiment from 1920-33.
All in all, the good countess holds some distinctly controversial, some would even say dangerous, views.
No wonder there was astonishment this week when it emerged that the Government’s new drugs czar, Professor Les Iversen — whose biggest current problem is the growing use of mephedrone, known as M-Cat or Meow Meow — is on the list of official advisers to the controversial charity.
‘He rang me to apologise over all the fuss,’ says Lady Wemyss, who writes about drugs under her maiden name Amanda Feilding and is a cousin of the Marquess of Bath and the Earl of Denbigh.
‘I told him not to worry about it. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. We have top scientific people on board because I run the foundation myself and I like dealing with the very top people.’
On its website the foundation’s aims are stated as ‘to promote the investigation of consciousness and its altered states from the perspective of science, health, politics and history’.
‘We publish proper scientific papers,’ insists Lady Wemyss.
One was written in 2003 by Professor Iverson. In it he endorsed her view that cannabis was less dangerous than alcohol and should be decriminalised. He now says his position has changed, though this week his name was still among the foundation’s list of advisors.
But the countess’s views certainly haven’t changed. On the contrary, she lamented in a recent article on the foundation website that the ‘cognitive enhancing properties of recreational drugs like cannabis have been largely overlooked.’
View attachment 36813 She went on: ‘Musicians and artists alike claim that cannabis aids in the creative process and even scientists have remarked on the link between cannabis and creativity.’
She should know about artists, as she is one herself. But there’s no mention in her essay of the tragic list of creative musicians and artists whose lives have been wrecked by drugs.
But then, running the foundation, she says, is ‘very hard work — I work 12-13 hours a day, seven days a week and at the moment I have a staff of only one. We always need money.’
Most of her backing comes from private sources. One person she can always rely on for support is her husband James who, she says, ‘is very supportive of the foundation. He’s not involved in it but he comes with me to seminars. He is very understanding.'
And why not? For the 13th Earl of Wemyss — who, at 61, is six years younger than his second wife — is her greatest admirer.
A flamboyant dandy known for his Byronic curls and floppy bow-ties in his younger days, he was a close friend of both Amanda and her longtime former partner, London art gallery owner Joey Mellen, with whom she had two sons.
Mellen was a disciple of Dr Bart Hughes, a Dutch savant and founder of the trepanation movement, whom he originally met in Ibiza.
Mellen subsequently wrote a book called Bore Hole, the contents of which are summarised in the opening sentence: ‘This is the story of how I came to drill a hole in my skull to get permanently high.’
He also introduced his then girlfriend Amanda Feilding to trepanning and was the man behind the camera filming her her doing it to herself using a local anaesthetic.
Twice Amanda stood for Parliament in Chelsea as an independent on a manifesto with a singular topic — trepanning. In 1979 she polled 40 votes, and in 1983 she managed 139.
She was still with Mellen when they introduced their friend James — he inherited the earldom on the death of his father 15 months ago — to trepanning. And like the woman who eventually was to become his second wife, he, too, has a hole in his head in order to ‘broaden his awareness.'
Their wedding in 1995 was very much in tune with their unusual approach to life. The ceremony in Egypt was at sunset at an altar at the base of The Shining Pyramid of Dashur, with belly dancers, Bedouins and camels. It was watched by her two children and his two from his dissolved marriage to brewery heiress Catherine Guinness, daughter of Lord Moyne.
Sadly, in the quirky circumstances, so many of his royal friends were unable to be there. No Princess Margaret, no Queen Mother — both of whom, in normal circumstances, might have been expected to be in the congregation for the nuptials of this bohemian descendant of a distinguished Scottish family.
Nor was James’s uncle Martin, the late Lord Charteris, former private secretary to the Queen and Provost of Eton, James’s old school, though he did send good wishes. The family has a long tradition of royal service and James was a Page of Honour to the Queen Mother in his early teens.
‘They liked James because he was very cerebral and amusing company as well as being rather good looking,’ recalls a courtier from that period. ‘I suppose we must be thankful that the whole lot of them also didn’t also end up with holes in their heads.’
In fact, long before he embraced trepanning and allowed a hole to be driven into his own head, the future earl was a brilliant Oxford scholar who later held an academic position at University College and was one of future President Bill Clinton’s tutors.
Although Rhodes Scholar Clinton was a year older than he was, he taught him for international affairs.
Away from work, people like Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall were often to be found at Stanway, his magnificent Jacobean family mansion on its 5,000-acre Gloucestershire acres.
Young women intrigued by his flamboyance were said to fling themselves at him and stories of his house parties were legion.
One London beauty stripped off and lay on a chaise-longue as he played Chopin on the grand piano. Another elegant creature discarded her clothes and spread herself on the green baize as, with a nonchalant air, he took a cue from the rack and played snooker around her.
But it was the convent-educated Amanda Feilding who — against strong opposition from beautiful society hopefuls — became his second wife.
‘He’d known Amanda for some years when she was with Joey Mellen and had always been intrigued by her take on life — it seemed to fit in so well with his own,’ says a longtime family friend. ‘I’m quite sure she continues to fascinate him.’
Long before his aged father’s death James had been given the running of the family estate which includes 40,000 acres in Scotland.
In 1999, when they needed money during a period of agricultural recession, he indicated his willingness to sell the family’s celebrated Botticelli masterpiece The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child. A Texas museum offered £15million.
‘We may be a titled family but we have to make a living like everyone else,’ he said.
But then he did the decent thing and sold it to the nation for a mere £10million. It is now in the National Gallery of Scotland.
So how much financial help does he give his wife towards the running costs of her foundation? — ‘Not much,’ says the countess.
These days the earl lives during the week at Stanway, while his countess stays at nearby Beckley Park, where she was born (and which featured in the film Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets), always at the helm of her foundation. They meet in the evenings and at weekends.
‘It’s a fallacy to think that after a few puffs of cannabis your child will be lost in a psychotic quagmire,’ the countess insists airily.
She exudes a frighteningly unshakable certainty in her cause. So is the countess just an amusing and irrelevant eccentric? Or could she be a real danger to society?
By Geoffrey Levy, The Mail Online