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A couple of defiant Evelyn Waugh superfans who are living in the literary giant’s £3million former home in the Cotswolds, England, for a peppercorn rent are refusing to leave the mansion four months after it was sold.
Helen Lawton, 62, and her partner Lebanese financier Bechara Madi, 60, pay just £250 a year to live in the Grade II listed Georgian manor as part of a complicated arrangement with the trust that owned it – but are now digging in their heels and refusing to leave. That position has become more complicated after their business partner, former TV executive Jason Blain, was named as a debtor in a bankruptcy petition in the High Court.
It was Blain’s money that bought Piers Court and its 23 acres of grounds in 2018, although Ms Lawton and Mr Madi claim they put £300,000 into the deal. The pair were paying just £5-a-week rent while they set about restoring the property where Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited.
But Blain, 52, got into financial difficulties after racking up a £1.1m hotel bill while staying at the plush Mandarin Oriental in London’s Knightsbridge in 2020, including £30,000 for valet parking and £8,600 for spa treatments and room service. Hoare’s Bank in London, which gave him £2.1m to buy Piers Court, called in the loan because of missing repayments.
Ms Lawton and Mr Madi were served with a notice to quit on August 19 last year and a copy of the order was pinned to the property’s imposing wooden gates. Piers Court was put in the hands of London auctioneers Allsop who offered it for sale with the warning: ‘The property is occupied under a Common Law Tenancy at a rate of £250 per annum.’
It was sold for £3.16m to a mystery buyer on December 15 – above the guide price but below what Mr Madi believes is its true value of £4m. It’s understood the new owner has yet to set foot inside the Grade II listed mansion, described as one of the most beautiful houses in Gloucestershire.
Interior designer Ms Lawton said at the time of the auction: ‘It was my wish to restore the house and give it its dignity back. That was going to be my legacy in life.
‘It was going to be a long project, I’ve done all the research on the architecture, the interiors, the grounds. It hasn’t been touched since the eighties, it needs an enormous amount of work, especially on the outside.’ Up until the sale Ms Lawton had been consulting with architects and English Heritage to return Piers Court to its former glory.
She added: ‘I am passionate about the house. It was love at first sight when I saw the house and apparently it was the same for Evelyn Waugh – he said he was beguiled by the place. ‘Bachara and I don’t have children so we have considered leaving the house to the Evelyn Waugh Society.’Ms Lawton, who describes herself as ‘eccentric’, even bought a Georgian horse-drawn carriage to go with the house of her dreams.
She claims her plans were backed by Waugh’s son Septimus, the writer’s seventh child, who lived in the house when he was young and died of cancer in 2021.
The new owner bought the mansion without seeing it – Mr Madi and Ms Lawton refused to show prospective buyers around or have the extravagant rooms and grounds photographed for the auction brochure.