In his ‘agony uncle’ column in Country Life, the magazine for Britain’s landed gentry, Kit Hesketh-Harvey warned readers that domestic tensions during Covid lockdown could put marriages at risk.
Divorce lawyers would make merry, he suggested. Sadly, he is now one of those affected.
For the cabaret star, lyricist and pantomime baddie is now living in the vestry of a Norfolk church after splitting from his wife of 35 years, former Bond girl, Hot Gossip dancer and ex-lover of Prince Andrew, Kate Rabett.
The couple have shared a three-storey Georgian mansion in a Norfolk village for the past three-and-a-half decades.
They also own an even more valuable beach house on one of the most exclusive bays in Cornwall.
Happier days: In his ‘agony uncle’ column in Country Life, the magazine for Britain’s landed gentry, Kit Hesketh-Harvey (pictured right) warned readers that domestic tensions during Covid lockdown could put marriages at risk
However, Kit, a scriptwriter for the BBC’s Vicar Of Dibley series, has forsaken both properties in favour of a monkish existence in the village church, which he bought several years ago and uses as an office.
And the reason for this state of affairs? It seems that the pressures of the pandemic forced Miss Rabett, 61, to choose between her husband, 64, and Ian Harrison, a wealthy old Etonian financier to whom she’s become close.
As a family friend reveals, the break-up happened as Kit, who was worried about the health risk to his elderly parents, wanted to form a bubble with his wife.
But when she insisted on continuing her relationship with Mr Harrison, Kit felt obliged to move into the vestry across the road in order to shield.
Initially, he expected the pandemic to pass in a matter of months, but he has been living there ever since. To compound matters, Kate has now served him with divorce papers.
Kicked out: For the cabaret star, lyricist and pantomime baddie is now living in the vestry of a Norfolk church after splitting from his wife of 35 years, former Bond girl, Hot Gossip dancer and ex-lover of Prince Andrew, Kate Rabett
Good evening Mr Bond: It seems that the pressures of the pandemic forced Miss Rabett (pictured), 61, to choose between her husband, 64, and Ian Harrison, a wealthy old Etonian financier to whom she’s become close
‘Kit and Kate were one of those theatrical couples whose marriage wasn’t conventional. What happened on tour, stayed on tour,’ says the friend.
‘Kit believed that whatever the faults – and they exist on both sides because he’s not blameless – their marriage was sacrosanct. That was his word, sacrosanct.
‘He told me that since they were both in their 60s, looking forward to retirement and grandchildren, he wondered why they could not bumble along together. He felt they could have separated and carried on as Mr and Mrs Hesketh-Harvey, while leading lives of their own.’
Yet today, it is said, they are barely communicating in person.
Kit, whose sister Sarah Sands is the ex-editor of Radio 4’s Today, is said to feel bruised by the sheer speed and finality of it all.
He bought the 14th Century church to save it for the community and uses it to compose and write, and as a rehearsal space.
He lets locals use it for services such as Remembrance Day and Christmas carols, and to host exhibitions and concerts.
He declined to comment when The Mail on Sunday contacted him, but a garden table and chairs by the vestry entrance suggest he spent the summer in residence.
Kate’s friend Ian Harrison, meanwhile, is himself separated and living apart from his wife, Cynthia Menzies, the heiress daughter of the late newsagent and stationery tycoon John Menzies.
Her family’s wealth has been described as ‘majestic’ and its high-society ties included a close friendship between Cynthia’s sister and Princess Diana.
It is thought that Bentley-driving Mr Harrison, said by friends to be ‘very, very rich’, also owns a flat in Chelsea, where he spends time with Kate during the week.
According to neighbours, he no longer lives in the Hampshire manor he once shared with his wife.
‘He has moved out of the big house and into a cottage at the back. Everyone in the village knows about the situation,’ says a neighbour.
How ironic that Kit, who recently performed at a dinner at Chequers to mark 100 years since prime ministers were first given use of the Buckinghamshire country home, should have warned in his Country Life advice column about the potential peril to relationships posed by Covid lockdowns.
His decision to move into the church to shield was because, in his 60s and a smoker, he felt vulnerable. But he never expected the effect it would have on his marriage. A friend said: ‘But one thing followed another and set in progress an avalanche.’
Kit’s pragmatism and his principled antipathy towards divorce shaped many of his Oh, The Agony! columns in Country Life, which appeared until earlier this year.
He has always counselled readers that long marriages have rocky patches and encouraged couples to stick together through them.
He has been candid about his belief that modern society has too glib an attitude to divorce and that people fail to understand the ramifications for the family beyond the warring husband and wife.
He has even questioned the point of taking marriage vows at all if people don’t intend to stand by them. ‘He believes it’s ’til death us do part,’ said the friend.
Kit and Kate met in 1984 while performing in pantomime in Brighton together under the direction of television and panto star Christopher Biggins.
Couple goals: Kit and Kate met in 1984 while performing in pantomime in Brighton together under the direction of television and panto star Christopher Biggins
Pose: Kit is an award-winning pantomime stalwart, and will be starring as King Rat in Dick Whittington at Guildford this season in the town’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, which was built in honour of his French actress grandmother
Kit is an award-winning pantomime stalwart, and will be starring as King Rat in Dick Whittington at Guildford this season in the town’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, which was built in honour of his French actress grandmother.
He was born in Malawi, where his father helped oversee the transfer from British rule to independence in the mid-1960s.
A head chorister at Canterbury Choir School in Canterbury, he then studied at Cambridge where he was a member of the Footlights dramatics crowd in the era that also launched the careers of Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
Best known today for composing opera librettos and for his work as one half of the cabaret act Kit and the Widow, latterly Kit and McConnel, he is also an accomplished film and TV scriptwriter.
Kate comes from a well-heeled Suffolk family and was a model in London when she caught Prince Andrew’s eye at an art gallery in 1984.
She hosted the Prince’s 24th birthday party and was reported to have been introduced to the Queen.
Pose: Kate comes from a well-heeled Suffolk family and was a model in London when she caught Prince Andrew’s eye at an art gallery in 1984
Film star: The highlight of her acting career was as a Bond girl, American CIA agent Liz, in Timothy Dalton’s 1987 film The Living Daylights
The highlight of her acting career was as a Bond girl, American CIA agent Liz, in Timothy Dalton’s 1987 film The Living Daylights. Last September she was featured in the top five of Tatler magazine’s all-time favourite Bond girls.
More recently she has worked as an academic and art historian.
One source claimed her relationship with Prince Andrew had undermined her acting career, and that she was upset that her links to the Prince were being publicised now he’s been engulfed by the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.
‘It’s always been horrid for her, and it’s particularly nasty at the moment,’ says an acquaintance.
A year after marrying, the couple settled in Norfolk, where they raised two now adult children, son Rollo and daughter Augusta. It is understood that valuers have been assessing the property and its art and furniture with a view to a divorce settlement.
Kate is said to be determined to make her relationship with Ian Harrison work.
Distressingly for Kit, any such settlement could also include his beloved North Cornwall beach house near the surfing and foodie hotspot of Padstow.
Said to be worth twice the value of the couple’s Norfolk home, the three-bedroom house was built to his personal specifications on land he was left by a friend from Cambridge.
He spoke of his emotional ties to the house in his 2018 anthology Vade Mecum – describing its Arts and Crafts design and the gallery overlooking the Atlantic.
He also said he was determined to pass it down through generations of his own family, saying: ‘They will splash through the same rockpools as my Cornish grandfather did, and I did as a lad, and that’s more than enough for me.’
His friend says: ‘Kit’s split from Kate has been rapid and he’s found that very hard.
‘He thought after 35 years together they would end up like Darby and Joan, that they were on the home stretch towards a blissful retirement and grandchildren. The pandemic changed all that.
‘It seems that the pandemic showed Kate she had a life she didn’t want any more.
‘Now Kit wants her to be happy and if that’s with Ian then so be it, he just doesn’t want her to napalm everything along the way.’