Western Daily Press
“CHURCHILL FAVOURITE ARABELLA DIES AT 58”
08:00 – 21 December 2007, Western Daily Press
Arabella Spencer Churchill, granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, and founder of the Children’s World charity, has died peacefully at her home in Glastonbury just a few weeks after being told she had cancer.
She died early yesterday, from pancreatic cancer, diagnosed seven weeks ago, with her family and close friends by her side.
Her death, at the age of 58, will come as an enormous shock to the thousands of children and teachers who have benefited from charities she founded to bring educational, creative and social help to all children, but particularly to those with special needs.
She was also a major force in the organisation of Glastonbury Festival, running the theatre and circus area.
She and her husband, juggler Haggis McCleod extended the work of Children’s World overseas, entertaining children in Sri Lanka and Thailand whose lives were devastated by the tsunami.
At home Children’s World, which Arabella founded in 1981, worked across the West to enrich children’s lives and help them attain their potential through drama, dance and play.
Day by day she saw her work in mainstream and special schools help to build children’s self-esteem. Every year Children’s World also runs two popular children’s festivals, in Glastonbury and Bristol.
Michael Eavis, founder of Glastonbury Festival, and a friend for more than 36 years, paid a moving tribute last night.
He said: “Arabella Churchill died at 3am today. It is with a great weight of grief and sadness to have to pass this message on to so many of you who have known her and worked with her for many years.
“She has been a stalwart and one of the most valuable members of our team for the last 37 years. Her energy, vitality, and great sense of morality and social responsibility have given her a place in our festival history second to none.”
Arabella and Mr McCleod had been married for 19 years. They have a daughter Jessica, 19.
Mr McCleod said: “We were on holiday in France when Arabella was taken ill, in September. She spent a month in hospital there before we came back to England. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“With the diagnosis that she had terminal cancer she chose not to have chemotherapy but to spend time to decide what was going to happen to the charity. It and the international charity will continue.
“Five days ago she was working nine hours a day. She was busy because she really wanted to arrange the hand-over of the charity.”
The family has asked for their privacy to be respected. A private service will be held for family and friends at Yeovil Crematorium at 10am on Monday and a memorial service is being planned for some time in the New Year.The family said: “Arabella wished there to be no flowers but that donations will be made to either Children’s World charity or Children’s World International.
“Churchill’s granddaughter who spurned privilege to embrace hippy culture and charity work”
The grand-daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, Arabella Churchill was a glamorous debutante who very publicly dropped out of high society to run the first Glastonbury festival.
In 1971 she was invited to represent Britain at the Norfolk International Azalea Festival in Virginia, established in 1953 after Nato’s Allied command was established there. Each year a Nato country is honoured, and invited to send an “Azalea” queen as its ambassador. Churchill refused to go, instead writing a letter to Rolling Stone magazine, explaining that she believed in peace and love and was horrified by the war in Vietnam. When the magazine published Churchill’s letter, it caused a sensation.
The paparazzi pursued Churchill through London; her family berated her: “My brother rang up absolutely furious with me,” she recalled. “My mother was saying ‘Darling, can’t I just say you’ve had a nervous breakdown?’ The whole thing was a nightmare. I felt I had let the family down. I felt I wanted to be a hippy. I felt I was left wing. I felt I didn’t want to be like the rest of my family.”
Tiring of the attention, Churchill fled to Glastonbury where her friend Andrew Kerr had decided to put on a “free event” in the Vale of Avalon to mark the Solstice. Kerr, a hippy enamoured of the Arthurian legends connected with the area, had rented Worthy Farm near Pilton in Somerset.
The first official festival was utter chaos. Churchill, who had led a sheltered life, was initially shocked by the sight of couples “being free” with their bodies and drugs. She returned to London where in the mid-1970s she ran a restaurant for squatters in a house in Little Venice.
Eight years later she returned to organise a second festival with Kerr. The tickets cost £5 and the main act was Peter Gabriel. It ended in massive debt. But then the owner of Worthy Farm, Michael Eavis, took on the organisation and it began to run smoothly, a radical counter-cultural event, but thenceforth minus the original chaos.
In 1979 Churchill stayed put, eventually taking charge of the festival’s theatre and circus fields, organising the small army of jugglers, sword-swallowers, contortionists, comedians, actors and dancers who perform each August. She regretted the increasing commercialisation of Glastonbury but said it had retained its charm — though fierce criticism had been sparked by tighter security measures in the 1990s.
Faced with an extra half million gatecrashers, Eavis had employed the Mean Fiddler organisation to tighten up security. In came ticketing systems, security guards and commercialisation, and out, claimed critics, went the hippies, the crusties and the original “spirit of Glastonbury”. A manifesto issued in 1971 defined the festival’s aims as : “the conservation of our natural resources; a respect for nature and life; and a spiritual awakening”. Eavis claimed this original charism had not been lost, saying “We have to fight tooth and nail to hang on to the core values of the thing. Arabella is one of those who are essential to doing that.”
Arabella Churchill was born in 1949, the daughter of Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph, and his second wife, June Osborne. Her grandfather died when she was 15, and he 91, but they had a close bond. She recalled watching a film about his leadership with an elderly Churchill during which he would grip her hand and mutter ferociously “Bloody Nazis” whenever Hitler’s face appeared on the screen.
Though “immensely proud” of her grandfather, Churchill felt she was “no good at being a Churchill”, confessing: “People never saw me for me. It doesn’t do a lot for your confidence.”
In this lay the seeds of her future rebellion, although at first she appeared on track for a conventional debutante future. She was voted “Deb of the Year” in 1967, and after working for London Weekend Television engaged in PR work for Lepra, the British Leprosy Relief Association. She travelled to Zambia and Tanzania for Lepra, giving talks on the experience when she returned.
It seemed only a question of time before marriage to a suitably grand suitor, was on the cards. “My father would say: ‘Damn, there goes the last duke getting engaged!’. It was a joke, but it wasn’t a joke,” Churchill later recalled.
Instead, in 1972, she married John Barton, a teacher. A year later they had a son Nicholas (known as Jake) who has just been sentenced by an Australian court to three years in jail after being convicted of drug offences. They moved to Wales to a sheep farm but by 1975 the marriage was over. Churchill returned to London and charity work before going back in 1979 to Glastonbury.
Strong-willed and with a commanding presence, Churchill took responsibility for overseeing the 1,500 circus and theatre performers. In 1982, encouraged by the delighted expressions she witnessed on the face of children at the festival watching plays and jugglers, Churchill founded the Children’s World Charity to bring performance arts to special needs schools. She raised funds to pay performers to work with special needs children to improve their communication skills and confidence.
Now the charity tours mainstream and special needs schools here and abroad. In January Churchill went to Aceh, to help tsunami survivors, with her second husband, Haggis McLeod, a professional juggler. “I know it sounds silly but just going in and doing things with them, making badges and Haggis juggling, really cheered people up.” she said.
Churchill attributed her passion for work to an inability to come to terms with her family background, explaining “It’s why I have worked so hard . . . Glastonbury is a huge challenge every year. When you think that it’s run by old duffers like Michael and me, the fact that so many people want to be there is very flattering. So actually, you know, I don’t think I have let the family down at all, have I?”
She is survived by her husband, by their daughter and by the son of her first marriage.
Arabella Churchill, festival and charity organiser, was born on October 30, 1949. She died of pancreatic cancer on December 20, 2007, aged 58
Granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill and co-founder of the Glastonbury festival
Frances Howard-Gordon. Saturday December 22, 2007. The Guardian
Arabella Churchill, granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill and a co-founder of the Glastonbury pop festival, who has died aged 58 of pancreatic cancer, meant so much to so many people over the years. A huge, indomitable personality who knew her own mind, she chose a very different path from the dictates of convention and her family background. She ploughed her own furrow and was proud of it.
Always intensely concerned for the underdog, she worked tirelessly at her Glastonbury-based Children’s World charity, founded in 1981 to help children of all abilities but focusing in particular on those with special needs. She pioneered the annual Glastonbury children’s festival, bringing alternative theatre acts to young and old audiences alike. As her friend and next-door neighbour for 20 years, I think I can speak for many in recalling in particular the Natural Magic Theatre Company, Parachute Theatre with their new slant on traditional puppetry – Punk and Judy – and the safe but near the knuckle Happy Sideshow.
Arabella started Children’s World International in 1999, taking play equipment and basic things such as much-needed pens to the children of Kosovo and Albania, and then to post-tsunami Sri Lanka on an old doubledecker London bus. She also worked in Thailand and Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Her contribution included psychosocial work – morale-boosting get-togethers and workshops organised for children and their parents to focus on fun and games rather than the ordeal they had just faced. For such a small charity to survive for 20 years is a considerable achievement, and it is only thanks to her incredible commitment and sacrifice that it continues to exist.
But perhaps most of all Arabella is known for her role as co-founder of the Glastonbury festival in 1970 with Andrew Kerr and the farmer Michael Eavis. While the event is known primarily for its music, a key ingredient for long-time festivalgoers – and an often hidden surprise – is the outstanding array of theatre, cabaret and circus performances. Several fields dedicated to these arts were organised by Arabella herself. She found stunningly eccentric acts over the years, including the Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs, Bill Bailey, the Stephen Frost Impro Allstars, BlackSkyWhite from Moscow, and many others.
The 1971 festival, which featured Hawkwind, Traffic, Melanie, David Bowie, Joan Baez and Fairport Convention, attracted 12,000 people. Revived as a three-day event in 1979, and latterly sponsored by the Guardian, it had grown to 153,000 visitors this year.
Born in London to Churchill’s son Randolph and June Osborne, Arabella went to Fritham school for girls and then Ladymede school, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. She worked at Lepra, the charity for leprosy sufferers, and then briefly at London Weekend Television before heading off to Glastonbury. She was debutante of the year in 1967 but by the mid-1970s, was living as a squatter in London and running a low-cost restaurant for fellow squatters.
“I’m immensely proud of my grandfather, and I hope he would be proud of me, but … I was no good at being a Churchill,” she said in a newspaper interview in June. “People never saw me for me. It doesn’t do a lot for your confidence.”
She continued to be a festival linchpin who, by dint of her enormous experience, developed a nose for entirely new, cutting-edge acts. A dynamic and decisive administrator with great attention to detail (she would always write personally to every single performer), she commanded loyalty and admiration from all who worked with her. She embraced Tibetan Buddhism through the teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
Knowing that she was dying, she wrote to friends: “Not really too worried about the actual dying bit, luckily – and please don’t you be worried or sad either. Better this way for the soul than being run over by a big, red bus in a temper, completely unprepared!”
Her final days were spent at home in Glastonbury in a calm and peaceful atmosphere in harmony with her beliefs, surrounded by close friends and family.
She had been married to Haggis McLeod for 20 years and leaves a daughter, Jessica, aged 19, and a son, Jake Barton, aged 34, from her previous marriage to Jim Barton.
Arabella Spencer Churchill, philanthropist, charity director and festival organiser, born October 30 1949; died December 20 2007
The Daily Telegraph, 3:12am, 22/12/2007
Arabella Churchill, who died on Thursday aged 58, was the unconventional granddaughter of Britain’s wartime prime minister and a founder of the Glastonbury rock festival.
Drawn to the bohemian life, she was regarded as something of a wild child in one of the grandest families in Britain.
Although in the mid-1970s she lived a down-and-out life as a squatter in London, she applied Churchillian energy to helping disadvantaged people, and founded her own charity, Children’s World, providing entertainment for special needs children.
“I’m immensely proud of my grandfather, and I hope he would be proud of me, but… I was no good at being a Churchill,” she said in an interview published in June. “People never saw me for me. It doesn’t do a lot for your confidence.”
She was said to have been Churchill’s favourite granddaughter, frequently visited him at Chartwell and was a regular caller to his London house during his final illness in January 1965.
She remained close to her grandmother, Clementine Churchill, and to her half-brother Winston, for whom she canvassed when he was a prospective Conservative MP.
Having enjoyed a gilded girlhood, she met the Kennedys and Martin Luther King in America. The gossip columns speculated that she might become Queen of Sweden after she dated the then Crown Prince (now King) Carl Gustav in 1970.
One of the most beautiful young women in the Churchill clan, her imposing – some would say haughty – demeanour belied a friendly manner, which would break through the authoritative Churchillian presence.
Arabella was shepherded across the wilder shores of high society in the late 1960s by her glamorous mother, who introduced her to the leading figures of Swinging London, and who bought her a three-storey house on Elgin Crescent in pre-gentrified Notting Hill, where Arabella entertained generously in the basement kitchen.
In 1971 Arabella Churchill was embroiled in controversy when she declined an invitation to represent Britain as Azalea Queen at a Nato festival in the United States. She wrote to the organisers: “My grandfather used the phrase ‘The Iron Curtain’. It seems to be that what is facing us all now is the final curtain. The defence systems of the great powers are mutually infectious.”
Her refusal caused a stir in Britain, and in her family. “My mother was saying: ‘Darling, can’t I just say you’ve had a nervous breakdown?’ My brother rang up, absolutely furious with me,” she declared.
“The whole thing was a nightmare. I felt I had let the family down. I felt I wanted to be a hippy, I felt I was Left-wing, I didn’t feel like the rest of my family.”
Arabella Spencer Churchill was born on October 31 1949, the daughter of Randolph Churchill, Winston Churchill’s son, and his second wife June Osborne. As a child at her parents’ house at East Bergholt, she organised fêtes in the garden to raise money for charity. She became head girl at Fritham House, a private school in the New Forest run by Sir Timothy Eden, Bt, brother of the former prime minister Anthony Eden.
In 1967 she was Deb of the Year. Two years later, in between stints as a secretary at London Weekend Television and working as a trainee public relations girl for the leprosy charity Lepra, she served on the committee of the Biafra Ball, a glittering fundraiser held at Kensington town hall at which April Ashley was one of the models.
Having been conscripted on to many a charity ball committee by her mother, Arabella seized the chance to work for a cause in which she truly believed, and became an exotic ingredient in the social and political mix of the pro-Biafra lobby.
In 1970, aged 21, on her return from a two-week tour of leper colonies in Tanzania and Zambia, she visited Glastonbury. With Michael Eavis she helped to found the Glastonbury festival and remained involved with the event, which often re-creates the deep mud, and some of the glory, of Woodstock.
In 1979 Arabella Churchill established the festival’s children’s area as well as the theatre area, where she ran the circus and cabaret tents.
At different periods of her life she found her Churchillian links to be a mixed blessing. In 1982 she was able to raise money for her modest alternative lifestyle by selling some of her grandfather’s paintings at auction in London and New York.
But in 1999, as middle-age beckoned, her sagging chin and overweight frame were ungallantly compared with the bulldog looks of her famous forebear, causing her to abandon plans for a facelift which was due to be broadcast on the internet.
Arabella Churchill, who had been suffering from pancreatic cancer and was a convert to Buddhism, married, in 1972, James Barton, a Scottish school teacher, with whom she had a son.
The brief marriage was dissolved and she married secondly, in 1988, Ian McLeod, a professional juggler working under the stage name “Haggis”; they had a daughter. He and her children survive her.