Tributes paid after sudden death of the Duke of Westminster
He was one of the richest men in Britain, owning 190 acres in pricey Belgravia, but for part of the time at least the Duke of Westminster called Lancashire his home.
Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, a close friend of the Royal Family, died on Tuesday afternoon aged 64, having suddenly become ill while walking in the Trough of Bowland.
He was airlifted from his Abbeystead Estate to the Royal Preston Hospital at around 5pm, but died a short time later. It has been reported that he died of a heart attack.
The Grosvenor family’s spokesman said on Tuesday: “It is with the greatest sadness that we can confirm that the Duke of Westminster, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, died this afternoon at Royal Preston Hospital. He was taken there from the Abbeystead Estate in Lancashire where he had suddenly been taken ill.
“His family are all aware and they ask for privacy and understanding at this very difficult time.
“No further comment will be made for the time being but further information will follow in due course.”
A spokeswoman for Lancashire Police said: “He was airlifted to hospital after he had been taken ill whilst walking in the Trough of Bowland. There are no suspicious circumstances and a file will be passed to the coroner.”
The landowner was said to be worth around £8.3bn, according to Forbes, making him the 68th richest billionaire in the world, and third in the UK.
He owned 190 acres in Belgravia, adjacent to Buckingham Palace and one of London’s most expensive areas, as well as thousands of acres in Scotland and Spain.
The 23,500-acre Abbeystead Estate in Lancashire was bought from the Earl of Sefton in 1980 and is set in the Forest of Bowland. The remote beauty spot with rolling hills and more than 600 acres of woodland also includes 22 tenant farms.
It is thought that he used Abbeystead House while grouse shooting and members of the Royal Family were frequent visitors. His family home, Eaton Hall, is set in the The 11,500-acre Eaton Estate just outside Chester.
The Duke had business connections with Preston as chairman of Grosvenor Holdings, the commercial arm of the Grosvenor Estate, which he inherited on the death of his father in 1979.
The company owned Guild Tower in Lords Walk, now belonging to Simon Rigby, and as a philanthropist who supported both rural and inner-city areas with links to his estate, he became involved in the failed Preston Tithebarn development project - a £700m scheme to regenerate Preston city centre in partnership with the Lend Lease Corporation and Preston City Council.
The Duke also supported a number of charities and good causes, including making a £500,000 donation to farmers during the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak.
He also won a legal fight against Westminster City Council in 1990, centred on a number of social housing flats built on the family’s land in Pimlico, London.
When the council wanted to sell the properties below the market value to those working in the borough, the Duke refused.
In court, the authority argued that the working classes no longer existed, but the judge ruled in the Duke’s favour, backing his bid to keep low-cost accommodation.
Of his wealth, the Duke once said: “Given the choice, I would rather not have been born wealthy, but I never think of giving it up. I can’t sell. It doesn’t belong to me.”
In his early 20s, on becoming trustee of the estate, he was forced to abandon his dream of a career in the armed forces, but satisfied his love of all things military by serving in the Territorial Army.
Paying tribute, the Soldiers’ Charity, which the Duke supported, said he had been involved in the “championing of soldiers and veterans” and “will be very fondly remembered”.
In 2000, he spoke for the first time about suffering a nervous breakdown and the cloud of depression which overcame him in 1998 after the pressures of businesses and making 500 public appearances a year overcame him.
His family life was notably private. The Duke married Natalia Phillips in 1978 and they had one son and three daughters.
His wife is a godmother to the Duke of Cambridge and his only son Hugh, is Prince George’s youngest godfather.
He also spoke publicly about wanting to ensure his own children were instilled with a commitment to using their wealth responsibly.
Speaking about his son and heir Hugh in 1993, he said: “He’s been born with the longest silver spoon anyone can have, but he can’t go through life sucking on it.
“He has to put back what he has been given.”
He added: “In Hugh’s case I would be delighted if he took over the responsibilities, because with the responsibilities come many rights and they are indefinable between the two”.
His son Hugh now becomes the seventh Duke of Westminster, aged 25.
He is also survived by his wife, Natalia and their daughters, Lady Tamara, born in 1979, Lady Edwina in 1981 and Lady Viola in 1992.
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall said they were “deeply shocked and greatly saddened” by the sudden death, a Clarence House spokeswoman said.
Their statement added: “Their thoughts are very much with his family.”
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will send a message of condolence to the Grosvenor family.
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that Her Majesty the Queen is aware of the news about the Duke of Westminster.
“A private message of condolence is being sent by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.”
One of the Duke’s four children, his only son Hugh, is Prince George’s youngest godfather, while the Duke’s widow Natalia is godmother to the Duke of Cambridge.
John Barnett, the High Sheriff of Lancashire, said: “I was saddened to hear this news.
“This is a sad loss to the county for the work he did for his community and local area.
“My condolences go out to his family at this difficult time.”