Home Mens Interest Field Interview with The Countess Bathurst

Field Interview with The Countess Bathurst


Melanie Cable Alexander talks to the chatelaine, the indomitable chatelaine at Cirencester Park (Gloucestershire), about pensions for dogs of police and her deep-seated love of nature.

It’s not everyday that you get bitten by a police dog. This is what I’m doing, thanks to the persuasive abilities of the Chatelaine, Countess Bathurst of Cirencester Park in Gloucestershire. She’s described by the Duchess of Rutland in her popular podcast Duchess as “a tornado of a woman”. Why?
Incongruously we are in the middle of one of the Park’s prestigious polo pitches, famous for hosting sporting royals from the Duke of Windsor to HM The King. But it also doubles up as a police dog training ground and “has done for generations”.

Lady Bathurst, the National Foundation for Retired Service Animals

Lady Bathurst stood with two dogs.

We meet at the Countess’ home on the edge of the Park to talk about her new project, the National Foundation for Retired Service Animals (NFRSA), as well as her love of fieldsports, namely shooting. However, I’ve been bundled into the Countess’ Porsche and whizzed across the Park, past a marquee set up for the VWH hunt ball, to participate in a police dog training exercise. “Oh well done,” I hear. “Not many people would be brave enough to take that on,” says the Countess – or Lady B as she is affectionately known – after a snarling German Shepherd hurtles towards me and grabs the bite shield on my arm.
The NFRSA, which celebrated its first anniversary in April this year at Christie’s, was the Countess’ lockdown project in 2020. While many of us were in a pyjamafied state of somnambulance, she decided to “put all her soldiers [or police officers] in a row” and create a charity inspired by her service as High Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 2016.
She focused her efforts and support on the police system and the judicial system during that year. “As an animal lover, it was inevitable that I went straight for the dog and mounted sections,” she explains.

Support for the NFRSA

It was here that Lady Bathurst discovered that service animals – fire and rescue, border force, prison, and police – retire without so much as a pension, let alone money to cover vet bills, despite having risked life and limb for the good of the rest of us. She was not one to rest on her laurels and created the charity in order to help with medical costs. She also gained the support of influential people, including Hollywood actress Minnie driver, interior designer Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and entrepreneur Deborah Meaden.
Sarah, Duchess of York is passionate about the charity, and at Christie’s read a poem written by a Scottish police dog handler as a goodbye and thank you after his canine partner was put to sleep. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Lady Bathurst plans to hold a clay shooting simulation at Cirencester park in 2024, which will raise more funds for the charity. “The wonderful team at EJ Churchill are going to organise it for us, and we’re all incredibly excited,” she explains.

Passion for the countryside and conservation

Lady Bathurst, born in 1965 with a hand full of books instead of guns. Her father is an ex-Army farmer who was friends with John Fowles. The French Lieutenant’s WomanSerendip Fine books was a legendary bookstore in Lyme Regis. She met her future husband, Earl Bathurst, via friends, after returning to Britain to run the family’s business after a five-year stay in Chicago.
“My husband introduced me to shooting and therein started a passion for the sport and conservation of the countryside.” There’s a caveat, however. “I am not so keen on the large bags any more. It is important to me that we understand what we’re doing. I just spent the day at Highclere, with Lord Carnarvon and Lady Carnarvon. A beautiful location with wonderful people. It’s a privilege to be able to take part and to see areas of the countryside that very few people get to see.

Lady Bathurst & the County Food Trust

“There used to be a shoot at Cirencester Park but sadly the geographical layout and public access has made it too difficult,” Lady Bathurst reveals. “As a result, we now take a day on a local shoot, owned by friends and run just as it should be. It’s a real joy, and we love it. I am extremely fortunate to have five to six days a year and that’s quite enough.”
She interrupts herself to make a phone call as she’s reminded of another charity she supports: “Forgive me but if I don’t do this now I’m going to forget.” She’s referring to the Country Food Trust, which aims to help beat food poverty by supplying game-based dishes to food banks across the UK. “I wouldn’t be comfortable going to a shoot if I knew that the birds were not entering the food chain,” she declares.

The sporting Countess

Her first guns, a pair English side by sides. “My husband bought them for me when I first took up shooting and I have used them ever since. It’s possibly fairly unusual for a lady to shoot with 12-bores but they suit me very well,” she says. Lady Bathurst is also known for stalking. “I’ve been kindly invited by friends to the Highlands to stalk,” she tells me. “I’ve also had a bash at fishing but I am not very good at it. Once I thought I’d caught a salmon, but it was actually a log in the bottom of a river. I recently caught a Scottish trout and was so surprised that I promptly fell into the river.” She rides but admits to having precious little time to do it. However, the estate is in the VWH’s Monday country and hosts the hunt ball and Closing Meet.
The NFRSA was created because animal welfare is a priority to her. “Having seen the amazing work these extraordinary service animals do to keep us, the public, safe, I’m passionate about the charity and everything it does.” She’s also brave: in the spirit of our late Queen who famously saw off an intruder, Lady B once faced off a burglar whom she caught hiding behind the curtains in her house. During training, the Countess also took several bites of police dogs. “It’s all part of the job,” she laughs. I’m not sure the same could be said for me.
Please visit the NFRSA website to learn more about this charity.
Read our interview here with writer, comedian, actor, angler, and conservationist Paul Whitehouse if you liked this article.

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