What the Duchess of Argyll was REALLY like: As Claire Foy gets set to play the ‘flamboyantly and promiscuous’ Margaret in A Very British Scandal – those closest to her reveal she was ‘ghoulish’ like ‘Morticia Addams’ but ‘very charming’

  •  Duchess of Argyll was branded a nymphomaniac by her husband Duke of Argyll
  • Their 1963 divorce became the most high-profile media case of the century  
  •  Set to be told in new show A Very British Scandal, which will air Boxing Day
  • But was real life really as scandalous as the series suggests? Here, insiders share their memories of the real-life duchess 

As Claire Foy is set to play Margaret, Duchess of Argyll in a new Boxing Day drama, those who knew the real aristocrat have revealed to society bible Tatler how she was ‘strikingly beautiful’ and had a ‘ghoulish quality like Morticia Addams.   

The Duchess of Argyll, who died in 1993 aged 80, was branded a nymphomaniac by her husband the 11th Duke of Argyll (played by Paul Bettany) in their toxic 1963 divorce hearing, which became the longest and most costly of the 20th century.  

He claimed she had taken on an amazing 88 lovers, including cabinet ministers, Hollywood stars and royals, during their marriage.

The trailer for the series, which stars on Boxing Day on BBC1, hints at the sensational mix of sex, theft, forgery, bribery, addiction and explicit photos that garnered so many column inches at the time.

But was real life really as scandalous as the series suggests? Here, insiders share their memories of the real-life duchess.

As Claire Foy is set to play Margaret, Duchess of Argyll in a new Boxing Day drama, those who knew the real aristocrat have revealed to society bible Tatler how she was ‘strikingly beautiful’ and had a ‘ghoulish quality like Morticia Adams’ 


The programme comes from the team behind the BBC’s A Very English Scandal, which starred Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw as politician Jeremy Thorpe and his lover, Norman Scott – left: the Duchess of Argyll, right: Claire Foy as the Duchess

Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll (1912 – 1993) outside the law courts in the Strand on the second day of her case

LADY COLIN CAMPBELL: ‘She called me her best friend’

 Jamaican- British author Lady Colin Campbell, 72,  was briefly married to Lord Colin Campbell – the son of Ian Campbell, who was married to Margaret. 

Lady Colin, who has since been known for writing books about the royal family, says Margaret referred to her as her ‘daughter-in-law’.  

Jamaican- British author Lady Colin Campbell, 72, was briefly married to Lord Colin Campbell – the son of Ian Campbell, who was married to Margaret

‘I was her best friend. She always called me “sweetie”. This supposed promiscuity – there’s no evidence for it. She was so fastidious that she wouldn’t want her hair mussed up,’ the author told Tatler.

‘I remember [a mutual friend] who said that he’d never known her to be with a man who wouldn’t have recoiled at the sight of a naked female body.  But she did have big romances, such as with the head of Pan Am, Bill Lyons. He’s the one that Margaret told me was in the Polaroid.’

NICHOLAS COLERIDGE: ‘She was like Morticia from the Addams Family’

Nicholas Coleridge, 64,  is the  Chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum and a former president of Condé Nast International – who own Vogue and Tatler.

Speaking to Tatler,  the former journalist said the duchess was ‘terrifying to behold’.

Nicholas Coleridge, 64, is the Chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum and a former president of Condé Nast International – who own Vogue and Tatler

‘Once beautiful, with remarkable cheekbones, imperious and pin-thin, the time I met her she had a ghoulish quality about her, like Morticia from the Addams Family,’.

He added they first met when he was 21 in the late 1970s  – and at the time Tatler was  ‘rehabilitating her reputation by commissioning a social column of unparalleled drivel’ which he helped to edit. 

Nicholas added that she would sit ‘disconcertingly close’ to her on the sofa and would ‘rest her claw like hand on her knee.  

RODDY MARTINE: ‘Everyone was struck dumb by her’

Author and journalist Roddy Martine, 75, said that he once threw a party during Edinburgh festival and when Margaret came in it was like ‘the arrival of the Queen of Sheba’. 

‘All of those present were struck dumb by those dark questioning eyes and that dramatic big hair. She was in her mid-seventies then, but instinctive elegance, style and great beauty are timeless. 

He added that Margaret coolly inhaled her cigarette while she danced with ‘a prominent barrister, a prima ballerina, and The English Gentleman author, Douglas Sutherland’. 

APRIL ASHLEY: ‘She wouldn’t have liked a film about her’

Transgender model April Ashley, 86, knew the Duchess and just like her had a very high profile divorce case. The pair saw each other every weekend at cocktail parties

Transgender model April Ashley, 86, knew the Duchess and just like her had a very high profile divorce case. The pair saw each other every weekend at cocktail parties, 

Speaking to Tatler, April said Margaret was ‘a delightful woman, very charming, very beautiful’.

But she added that you could ‘feel her melancholy and sadness’.   

‘Now they’ve made a film about her; I don’t think she’d have liked that,’ she went on.

ADAM HELLIKER: ‘She motioned I should kneel at her feet’

Former Daily Mail columnist Adam Helliker, 63, at London gentlemen’s club – the St James’ Club. 

‘She was sitting on a sofa and beckoned me to sit – not at her side, but motioned with her hand that I should kneel at her feet.

‘I opened the conversation with: “Well, Your Grace, what’s the worst thing that’s ever been said about you?’”

‘Both of us knowing full well that I was alluding to the “Headless Man”. She expertly batted away my enquiry with the catch-all reply: “Well, some of the tittle-tattle is true, and some is not… let’s talk about something else, shall we?” 

Former Daily Mail columnist Adam Helliker, 63, at London gentlemen’s club – the St James’ Club

Tatler’s January Issue is on stands now 

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