From a Palladian mansion and a noble bloodline to life in a tracksuit on a seaside housing estate: The epic decline and fall of the viscount who married a vice girl

Lord and lady: Viscount Scarsdale Peter Curzon unloads shopping with his American girlfriend Diane BussertLord and lady: Viscount Scarsdale Peter Curzon unloads shopping with his American girlfriend Diane Bussert

When Diane Bussert, an American divorcee with four children, announced that she was to be visited by a new admirer from Britain, her mother was both delighted and wary, given that her daughter had ‘met’ him in an internet chat-room.

From the moment she sat down to dinner with Diane and her newly arrived guest, Jennine Dichard’s antennae began to twitch and she sensed that all was not as it seemed.

Though he’d introduced himself as plain Peter Curzon from Sussex, he spoke with the sort of accent and self-possession that Mrs Dichard associated with the aristocracy, and he clearly thought himself a cut above his humble hosts in Greendale, Wisconsin.

‘He talked a lot about himself — him living in some fancy beach-house in Florida, him living in Australia, and something about a helicopter, though I don’t know whether he flew one or owned one,’ Mrs Dichard, 76, recalled this week.

During the ensuing weeks, the mysterious ‘Mr Curzon’ would periodically come to stay with Diane, who lived next door to her mother and worked locally as a secretary, and the two of them would drop in for coffee.

But then one day, Diane — who was in her late 40s — simply disappeared, abandoning not only her mother but her four adult children and grandchildren, who lived nearby.

For the next three years, the family had no clue what had become of her. She seemed to have vanished without trace.

‘I didn’t know whether Diane was dead or alive,’ her mother told me. ‘It was heart-breaking for all of us. We didn’t go to the police because we knew she must be with this Peter guy, and if something had happened to her we would have been informed.’

However, it was during one of her exhaustive online searches that Mrs Dichard discovered Peter’s true identity, and the full story began to fall into place.

He was, in fact, the Rt Hon Peter Ghislain Nathaniel Curzon, 4th Viscount Scarsdale, scion of one of England’s oldest families, with a Viceroy of India among his forebears and a bloodline dating back to a French nobleman who landed with William the Conqueror.

This Gallic invader had been rewarded for his valour with a vast estate in Derbyshire, where, during the mid-18th century, another illustrious ancestor had built one of the nation’s grandest country houses, a magisterial Palladian extravagance called Kedleston Hall.
From this: Magisterial Palladian Kedleston Hall, Peter Curzon's ancestral home in Derbyshire From this: Magisterial Palladian Kedleston Hall, Peter Curzon's ancestral home in Derbyshire

Reading all this in astonishment, it briefly crossed Mrs Dichard’s mind that her daughter might have secretly married the viscount.

But if she envisioned the errant Diane reclining in palatial splendour, she got a rude awakening, for further internet searches exposed the upper-crust Englishman’s decidedly lowbrow past.

Estranged from his late father after a series of ugly quarrels, he had lived more like Arthur Daley than a titled lord, buying and selling used cars, marrying a miner’s daughter he’d met at a motor auction, and running off to Florida to wed one of the many prostitutes he’d hired from an Eastbourne agency called Dream Girls.

Newspaper stories dating back to 1997 also revealed how he had been jailed for failing to pay £575,000 in maintenance to his first wife and their daughter, the Honourable Danielle Curzon (now 33, and working as a female bodyguard and cage-fighting referee), and how he was abruptly ditched by his prostitute bride.

After that, little more had been heard of him, and for Mrs Dichard and her family the trail went cold.
It was not until 2007, driven by a grave emergency, that they finally tracked Diane down.

Viscount Scarsdale had taken her back to Eastbourne (where the old-time hookers still remember him fondly as ‘Florida Pete’), and the pair were living in a redbrick house in an unprepossessing cul-de-sac.

Understandably, Mrs Dichard, now recovered, has since spent long hours agonising over her daughter’s distressing behaviour and can only conclude that Curzon has ‘influenced her’.

‘Maybe he filled her head with a bunch of nonsense and she believed it,’ said Mrs Dichard. ‘But the last time I heard, she was working in a pub, making salads.

‘Well, isn’t that lovely? If he really has all this money, why is my daughter making salads?’

It seems a reasonable question. Last week, however, when I called at the Eastbourne house he bought in 2006 for £197,000, and where the couple still live, the irascible Viscount Scarsdale was in no mood for explanations.

‘Pay me £5 million and I might just be tempted [to grant an interview],’ sniffed the 64-year-old viscount, portlier now than in his heyday and slopping about in baggy blue tracksuit trousers and

To this: The Eastbourne home where viscount Peter Curzon is living with his American girlfriend To this: The Eastbourne home where viscount Peter Curzon is living with his American girlfriend

trainers with a dazzling Union Jack pattern.

‘But be careful what you write, because people like us are very powerful,’ he said, adding darkly: ‘How do you think earls can do away with their nannies and disappear?’

This seemingly knowing allusion to the Lord Lucan case was, I am told, par for the course.

Before retreating inside, he boasted of owning ‘27 other properties’ and leading an affluent, transatlantic lifestyle, but feigned ignorance when I inquired about 57-year-old Diane, who scuttled across the hall behind him, hiding behind a girlish fringe.

By all accounts, the playboy peer — who would have been entitled to a seat in the Lords if Tony Blair had not, to his fury, reformed the law on hereditary peerages — leads a sedate life.

Once an avid golfer, he now serves as a competitions organiser at the local bowls club; as one fellow member told me, his title is embossed on his chequebook and he frequently reminds other players of his breeding.

Since he once disparaged his multi-titled ancestors as ‘nothing more than elevated horse-traders’, and appears to regard his heritage more as a curse than a boon, this seems ironic.

Nevertheless, he was once destined to inherit the keys to Kedleston Hall. So just why is a lord of the realm living on a seaside housing estate?

In the past, he has blamed all woes on his ‘miserable’ childhood.

His father, Francis Curzon, was a strapping, 6ft Scots Guardsman and his mother, Solange, a diminutive Belgian opera singer. They met after the war in Germany, where she had been forced to work as a translator for the Gestapo.

When Curzon returned home to work for Shell, they settled in Croydon, where Peter, his brother David, now 55 and a respected art dealer, and his sister Annette, 59, who married an Egyptian army officer, were raised.

However, Peter’s mother descended into alcoholism, and after having her sectioned, his father divorced her, remarried and had a second family.
Peter Curzon with his second wife Michelle, who was his favorite prostitute Peter Curzon with his second wife Michelle, who was his favorite prostitute

Solange worked as a waitress in the Gold Egg café in Leicester Square and died seven years later in a bedsit.

Her body was found by the then 25-year-old Peter Curzon, who was appalled at his remarried father’s nonchalant reaction to her death.

He had always adored his mother, whom he physically resembled (he stands just 5ft 6in tall). At the same time, he despised his father, who cruelly derided his lack of stature and branded him ‘the runt of the litter’.

Father and son had long been at loggerheads over Peter’s perceived lack of respect for the family traditions. He had persistently flouted the rules at his public school, worked for a time selling classified advertising for The Times and then became a car dealer rather than following his father into the Army. But now they were at daggers drawn.

They briefly patched up their feud after Francis was installed as the 3rd viscount in 1977, and persuaded Peter to give up his London bachelor lifestyle and move to Kedleston Hall to learn the ropes of running the family estate.

But it resumed with a vengeance when, much against his father’s wishes, he married miner’s daughter Karen Osbourne (he sneaked off to the register office after feigning a toothache and saying he was going to the dentist).

And when Peter refused to support his father’s decision to offer Kedleston to the National Trust to offset crippling death duties and maintenance costs, opting instead to pocket a £1.15 million cheque from his father for his stake in the estate, their estrangement was sealed.

Though his father hadn’t the right to prevent him inheriting the Scarsdale title, he cut him out of his will, so that today Peter’s half-brother, the Honourable Richard Curzon, his wife Emma, and their two young children live in the mansion’s 23-room East Wing, which remains the family residence by agreement with the Trust.

Meanwhile, the Curzon clan’s black sheep wasted no time in enjoying his million-pound windfall.

He moved with Karen and their daughter to an East Sussex stud-farm, complete with billiards room and swimming pool, where he staged marathon gambling sessions and regularly escaped to the fleshpots of Eastbourne in his racing-green Bentley, which he boasted had once belonged to the Duke of Kent.

He later confessed to having slept with ‘hundreds’ of prostitutes, rating their favours with a score out of ten in his personal organiser.

Unsurprisingly, Karen became suspicious of his ‘golf trips’ and hired a private detective to catch him red-handed with the one whom he rated most highly, Michelle Reynolds.

No sooner were he and Karen divorced than he invited Michelle to holiday at his home on Florida’s Gulf Coast, then married her on a whim in a beach ceremony.

What became of their relationship? This week, at her flat in Torquay, Michelle, now 58, and back on the game, filled in the blanks.

For a short time, she says, their marriage was enormous fun. They took over a Baskin-Robbins ice-cream parlour franchise in Florida, and ran a jet-ski business; he bought her a convertible and whisked her off on exotic holidays.

But, she claims, she soon discovered he was a Jekyll and Hyde character. He could be great company one minute, possessive and controlling the next.

'He kept such a tight control over my movements.

'My passport was locked in the safe' - Former wife Michelle Reynolds

One night, after they got drunk in a bar, she says he punched her in the face, and court records seen by the Mail bear this out.

They show that he was convicted of ‘domestic battery’, placed on probation for a year and ordered to complete a ‘family violence programme’.

Small wonder, then, that in June 1998, they were divorced after just 18 months of marriage. But their story didn’t end there.

After Michelle returned home, Curzon followed her and pleaded with her to make another go of it. Together, they ran a boarding house in Bournemouth (which she likens to Fawlty Towers because he was so rude to the guests) and also a West Country pub.

Michelle walked out on him for the last time some 12 years ago, after, she claims, he hurled a tray of chicken at her. She drove off to start her new life with only a few clothes and her two cats.

Michelle is not surprised to hear that Diane Bussert cut off her family without warning after her relationship with the viscount began.

‘It sounds as though she found herself in a similar situation to mine, when I was with him,’ she told me. ‘He wouldn’t let me keep in touch with anyone I knew.

‘He kept such a tight control over my movements. My passport was locked in the safe. I’m also convinced someone was keeping tabs on my phone calls, because I’d hear this strange buzzing on the line.

‘Because I seemed to be living the high life, my friends couldn’t understand why I longed to be back in Eastbourne with them. But, in the end, I just wanted my freedom.’

And so, newly elevated as a viscount but with only his embossed chequebook to show for it, Peter Curzon was left alone — although not for very long.

Prowling internet chat-rooms, he happened upon an altogether different type of woman, and, according to her Midwest family, spirited her away to England.

That they are still ensconced in their Eastbourne bolthole almost a decade later would suggest that the lord and his Midwestern ‘lady’ have found lasting happiness together.

That’s all well and good. Out in the Midwest, however, where honesty and openness are bywords, a mother asks herself why they had to elope so furtively and break so many hearts.
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