Fermanagh duke was third richest man in UK

The Duke of Westminster, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor who died aged 64 at Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire
The Duke of Westminster, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor who died aged 64 at Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire

Tributes have been paid to the sixth Duke of Westminster, who grew up in Fermanagh and was the third richest man in the UK.

He was known for taking his responsibilities as one of Britain’s wealthiest men and biggest landowners seriously.

The 64-year-old father of four was said to be worth around £8.3 billion, according to Forbes, making him the 68th richest person in the world, and third in the UK.

A close friend of the Royal Family, he was a philanthropist who supported both rural and inner-city areas with links to his estate.

But he was also a private man who defied expectations and regularly spoke out on controversial issues.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott has expressed his sadness at the news.

“I was shocked to learn of the death of the Duke of Westminster at only 64 years of age,” he said. “Indeed, the Grosvenor family was of great significance to County Fermanagh. The Duke was born in Omagh, and was raised on an island in the middle of Lough Erne. Indeed I received my post primary education at the Duke of Westminster High School in Fermanagh.

“His father, the 5th Duke of Westminster, Lord Robert Grosvenor was elected as MP twice for Fermanagh and South Tyrone before retiring in 1964. His son, Gerald joined the British Army and became a Major General, just one example of his hard work throughout his life.

“He owned vast areas of land across the United Kingdom and was recognised by Forbes Magazine because of this. The Duke of Westminster was a proud Fermanagh man and his loss comes as a great blow to this constituency.

“I would like to pass on my sympathies to his entire family circle at this difficult time.”

Born in 1951, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor was educated at Harrow, where he gained two O-levels, and later went to work on ranches in Australia and Canada.

He then served an informal apprenticeship in property management with a Mayfair estate agent and on the Duke of Buccleuch’s 300,000-acre Dumfriesshire estate.

In 1973, when he was 22, he became trustee of the Grosvenor Estate and was forced to abandon his dream of a career as a professional soldier in his uncle’s regiment, the 9th/12th Lancers.

He instead signed up to the Territorial Army and in 1994 received an OBE for his work as a volunteer soldier.

When his father Robert died in 1979, he became the sixth Duke of Westminster aged just 27.

He succeeded his father to become chairman of Grosvenor Holdings, the commercial arm of the Grosvenor Estate, and dedicated himself to using his wealth responsibly.

The Westminster Foundation, which manages the estate’s charitable giving, has donated to more than 1,500 charitable organisations since 1974, and the Duke was also president of the RNIB for 25 years and president of the St John Ambulance for 10 years.

However, as an outspoken member of the aristocracy, the Duke was also given to acts of non-conformism.

An advocate of change in the Lords, he quit the Conservative Party in 1993 after it proposed the Bill on Leasehold Reform, which would have had a huge effect on his massive London landholdings.

He also paid thousands of pounds to some of his workers to help them meet the poll tax - which he described as “insufferable”.

The Duke once said that his life would have been easier if he had sold his estate to live in the Bahamas, but said that “would not be responsible”, and also insisted that he would “rather not have been born wealthy”.

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 has been notably private. The Duke married Natalia Phillips in 1978 and they have 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 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.”

The Duke of Westminster is succeeded by his son and is survived by his wife, and daughters Lady Tamara, Lady Edwina and Lady Viola.

The new seventh Duke of Westminster is only 25 years of age, a godfather to Prince George and now “owns half of London”.

Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor, who was previously known by the honorary title Earl Grosvenor, inherits his father’s £9 billion estate and the family’s country seat Eaton Hall in Cheshire - home to the Grosvenor family since the 15th century.

Hugh was the youngest and the wealthiest of Prince George’s godparents when he was carefully picked by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2013 for the role supporting the future king.

A former student of countryside management at Newcastle University, he keeps out of the limelight but is known for having thrown a spectacular 21st birthday party for 800 guests at Eaton Hall, which was reported to have cost £5 million.

Comedian Michael McIntyre and the hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks provided the entertainment and Prince Harry was among the guests. The dress code was “black tie and neon”.

Invites included family and friends, as well and long-serving members of the Grosvenor Estate staff, with guests who wanted to give a present asked to add to Hugh’s large wine collection.

“The party was simply amazing - a birthday and a party I will never forget. It is the beginning of a new era in my life and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead,” Hugh told the Chester Chronicle at the time.

He gave a speech in which he joked about growing up with his three sisters and thanked his parents for their unconditional love.

Vanity Fair described him as “baby-faced” and “absurdly rich”, while the Tatler List declared: “Hughie’s a Newcastle graduate with his own wine collection who goes wild for girls in neon.”

It added that after inheriting his father’s estate he would “own half of London”.

He works as an account manager for bio-bean - a green technology company which recycles waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels and biochemicals.

Unlike William and Harry, Hugh was not educated at boarding school, but enrolled at a state primary before going to a private day school close to home in Cheshire.