British aristocrat Lad Idina Sackville (1893 – 1955) lived most of her life in Kenya. In her lifetime she scandalized upper class society with her deviant behaviour and promiscuous lifestyle. The story of her life reads like sensationalist fiction.
She was the eldest child of lord de la warr, her mother was a member of one of the richest families in Victorian Britain. Her cousin was the writer Vita Sackville-West.
She married and divorced five times:
1] 1913-19 Captain Euan Wallace
2] 1919-1923 Captain Charles Gordon
3] 1923-1930 Josslyn “Joss” Hay, later 22nd Earl of Erroll
4] 1930-1938 a white hunter called Donald Carmichael Haldeman
5] 1939-1946 Flight Lieutenant William Vincent Soltau, an RAF pilot based in Mombasa
She had three children from her first two marriages. When she separated from Wallace he took custody of their sons. In 1924 Idina moved to Kenya where she became the leading light in the so-called “Happy Valley” social set, which enthusiastically took part in orgies, binge-drinking, wife-swapping and drug taking at Idinas mountain home, Clouds. She was renowned for greeting visitors as she emerged dripping from her immense green onyx bath. When she divorced her second husband in 1930, their daughter was sent home to England to be raised by her aunt in Wiltshire.
The notorious Happy Valley set was depicted in White Mischief, a film dramatising the events surrounding the murder of Lady Idina’s third husband. He was shot dead at the wheel of his Buick at a crossroads in the middle of the night. Convention has it that the killer was Sir Henry “Jock” Delves Broughton. The motiv was jealousy over Erroll’s affair with his young wife, Diana. He was acquitted of the murder in 1941 but later committed suicide, which was considered tantamount to an admission of guilt.
In the 1920s, the writer Michael Arlen wrote a book The Green Hat where the heroine Iris Storm is based on a portrait of Lady Idina Sackville. This book was turned into a movie A Woman of Affairs starring Greta Garbo.
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh is also based on Lady Idina’s character and lifestyle.
Cecil Beaton’s portrait of Lady Idina for Vogue Magazine
Idina is seen here on the cover of Tatler in 1923 with the man who became her third husband – Josslyn Hay, eventually 22nd Earl of Erroll.