Full page feature written when David Cameron became leader of the Conservative party. Published in The Herald on Wednesday December 7th, 2005.
It was the late sixties and I was still in my teens when a party was given for me at Granny Cameron’s flat. She lived somewhere in London’s select SW7 district and her daughter, Frances (my future mother-in-law) planned the event so I could meet the family.
I remember the aunts, uncles, friends and cousins filing in to welcome me into the fold. They were friendly but different from my folks, who milked cows and sold eggs on the Solway. The family I was marrying into was far more sophisticated and urbane than my farming relatives.
One or two people warned they’d be late: Mary Cameron was one. Her two young sons had to be tucked up in bed before she came. They were Alex, who was four (now a London barrister) and twelve month old David, who this week has become the leader of the Tories.
Was I aware I was marrying into such a high-achieving family, who one day would spawn a prominent politician and possible prime minister? Not really! Proud of their humble Scottish roots, the Cameron’s claimed their money came through the efforts of hard-working businessmen. I don’t think they were lying. When I look at my ex’s family tree I find little blue blood there: no hereditary peers, no baronets and certainly no connections to royalty. However, the ambitious often marry “up”, clever men taking higher-born brides. This is what some Cameron men did like David Cameron’s father and grandfather. The new Tory leader is fifth cousin to the Queen through the woman who married Donald Cameron, the new Tory leader’s paternal grandfather.
I’m not particularly familiar with the family today because I’m no longer married to David Cameron’s cousin but when I was, I found out a thing or two about them. They seemed to me to be a normal upper-middle class bunch with a distant ancestry of Highland crofters, many of whom emigrated to Canada and America.
The Camerons’ line is finance, stock-broking mainly.
It all began with Sir Ewan, a founder member of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, now the HSBC bank. His son, Allan, followed him in business making a tidy sum on the London Stock Exchange. Then came Donald, grandfather of David Cameron. Presumably Ian, David Cameron’s old man has done nicely in the City too. Business is in the Cameron genes. Even the new Tory leader has turned his hand at it. After leaving Oxford University he was taken on by Carlton Communications.
Generally speaking Cameron women don’t have careers, their remit being to look good, be good and do good; to breed and simmer casseroles in their aga ovens. There are exceptions and Rachel (David Cameron’s great-grandmother) was one. Physically strong (living well into her 80s), she had a mind of her own. Although her three sons went to Eton, she was more interested in the innovative teaching methods of the German philosopher, Rudolf Steiner.
I’ll never forget Rachel’s eyes. They were intense, very brown and unbelievably alive in a woman so old and she was utterly fearless (an attribute inherited by one of her sons). One day when my ex and I were driving along a multi lane road in London, a very old, lady brandishing a walking stick, stepped off the kerb. “Good God!” exclaimed my ex as several cars, including our own, screeched to a halt. “That’s Granny!” Rather than be late for her meeting at the Theosophical Society, Rachel preferred to hold up four lanes of traffic.
Rachel (nee Geddes) hailed from Haugh of Glass on the old Aberdeenshire/Banffshire border near the Deveron. When she died in 1969, many Camerons travelled up from the south of England to bury her at Wallakirk, her short wake being held in the Gordon Arms at Huntly.
Rachel and Allan had three boys and one girl. It’s difficult to comment on Donald, their eldest who died in 1958. David Cameron’s grandfather wasn’t talked about much. He worked hard becoming senior partner of his firm and apparently played hard. My mother-in-law kept photographs of Uncle Donald in uniform so he was in the army during the Second World War.
The Camerons liked Enid Levita, Donald’s first wife, even after their marriage broke up. Until I came to write this piece, I never knew Enid was so posh; it’s through her family that David Cameron is related to the Queen. All I knew about her was she had Jewish blood and was a good mother. But the Camerons were like that; they played down their smart connections.
Enid’s father was Arthur Levita and her mother the grand-daughter of James Duff, 5th Earl of Fife. He was married to Lady Agnes Hay who was the daughter of the 18th Earl of Erroll. He, in his turn, was the husband of King William IV’s illegitimate daughter by Dorothy Jordan.
Donald and Enid had one son Ian, who was born with a disability in both legs. Enid was devoted to Ian, giving him the encouragement he needed to live a normal life. Without a trace of self-pity Ian Cameron became tough, clever, accomplished and now the father of a possible future prime minister.
Doctors warned Enid very early on that when Ian grew up his legs might not be able to support the upper part of his body. And they were correct. About twelve years ago, Ian Cameron had to have both legs amputated and he now walks with the aid of artificial limbs.
Ian’s early life can’t have been easy; apart from his disability he was the
offspring of a broken marriage and an only child until his father married again, to Marielen, an Austrian with whom he had a daughter, Caroline. Only children often compensate when they marry by having large families themselves. Ian and his wife, Mary (nee Moat) have four children: Alex, David, Tanya and Clare.
Family ties meant a lot to Ian, the eldest of the Cameron first cousins. When my ex and I planned to marry Ian wanted to give us a good present. But his choice clashed with ours. A nice set of dinner plates or a nest of le creuset pots was his while ours (incipient rebels that we were) was two sets of thermal underwear or a portable typewriter. Having no plans to follow the family tradition and commute daily to the City, my ex and I wanted to lead “the good life” in the depths of the country, to keep a goat and write the proverbial novel.
I too respect Ian, David Cameron’s father but I won’t ever forget my altercation with him. Ian managed a financial Trust fund for my ex, from which he was only allowed to receive income and no capital. When my ex asked Ian if he could borrow a sum of money from the fund, he agreed on condition we hand over as security the title deeds to our Glasgow flat bought with my money. Being very thorough, Ian also insisted we have the flat surveyed. From his Home Counties perspective Ian was none too impressed by the report and was alarmed to learn that we lived in a tenement, a mode of living unheard of for a Cameron. When our marriage broke up, I asked Ian to hand back the title deeds but he refused until every borrowed penny was repaid.
Donald may have served his time in the War with no great distinction but the same cannot be said of younger brother Sandy. A Lee Marvin look-alike he was action man personified winning two DSOs and two MCs in the desert campaign in North Africa during the Second World War. One DSO should have been a VC had Sandy’s valour been witnessed by another officer (it involved pulling a man out of a burning tank under heavy gun-fire).
Ewan, born in 1914, (David Cameron’s great-uncle) was the youngest and suffered from depression (possibly brought on by an attack of malaria while out in the Far East). The medical profession’s savage solution was a lobotomy. He married, converted to Roman Catholicism and outlived all his siblings, dying at the ripe old age of 88.
Apart from my ex, the Cameron best known to me was Frances, my mother-in-law although the family called her Pixie. She looked a bit like one: tall and painfully thin she suffered from TB in her youth. Pixie liked me and I liked her in spite of her arbitrary likes and dislikes. Tom Jones, cigarettes and cats were a positive, left wing prime ministers like Harold Wilson were not. She had strong political views, so strong they would embarrass some of the younger members of the family today, especially her great-nephew, David Cameron. If his lean to the left of centre, hers fell well to the right. As a young woman she travelled with a friend around Aberdeenshire in a horse-drawn caravan “living like a gypsy”.
Recently widowed when I first met her she lived in a pretty cottage on the edge of the Sussex downs. Sometimes she lapsed into Scots (presumably the Buchan dialect ) when she was feeling relaxed. Early affluence and some idyllic years in Kenya as a young wife were followed by poor health and a happy but far from wealthy marriage.
Glyndebourne was next door to Pixie’s home but she wouldn’t have been seen dead attending an opera there; she preferred to see the latest release in the local flea-pit. She was determined, youthful and as unconventional as her mother, Rachel. A debunker of the pretentious, she liked all sorts: gays, gypsies, the posh and humble equally.
All the older generation has now gone: Donald, Pixie, Sandy and Ewan. No doubt I was a disappointment to them, particularly to Pixie. Her son and I never gave her a grandchild. If any Cameron felt a grievance against me, they never voiced it, not even my mother-in-law.
The Camerons are undoubtedly advantaged and have bought the best education their children can get. Some have even married into the gentry or aristocracy but thrown in with all the privilege is a cruel hand of fate that hobbled Allan in the Great War,
forced Ian to endure considerable physical disadvantage and has now come to haunt David and Samantha Cameron’s three year old son, Ivan who suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
I’m not at all surprised David Cameron has won the Tory leadership. With a grandmother like Enid Levita and a father like Ian Cameron, he’s probably learned from an early age all about courage, determination and the will to fight against all the odds.