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War hero, aristocrat and Ibiza raver. The amazing life of Sir John Leslie (99)

Published 19/04/2016

Sir John at the French embassy in Dublin, where he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur last year
Sir John at the French embassy in Dublin, where he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur last year

A war hero described as Ireland's last aristocrat - who endured five years in a prisoner of war camp, spilled the beans on Paul McCartney's wedding and later celebrated his 85th birthday raving in Ibiza - has died.

Sir John 'Uncle Jack' Leslie passed away peacefully yesterday morning in his sleep at the age of 99.

His family owns the five-star Castle Leslie Hotel in Co Monaghan where he spent his last years, often delighting guests with his tours of the estate.

He famously let the cat out of the bag to global media in 2002 at the castle gates that Sir Paul McCartney was about to marry Heather Mills, saying: "They're getting married on Tuesday, but it's a secret."

Describing his full life, his family said yesterday: "He served with the Irish Guards in World War II. He was an active Knight of Malta, art connoisseur, water colourist, ecologist, disco dancer and restorer of historic buildings."

Born in New York on December 6, 1916, he travelled on a White Star liner to Ireland at the age of three to live in Castle Leslie.

The Leslie clan had been living on the estate since the 1600s, with the castle built for them in the 19th century.

A first cousin once removed of Sir Winston Churchill, he was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge and enlisted in the Irish Guards in 1937.

He remembered being at a party at St James's Palace in 1940 when he was ordered back to base to go to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

He was captured the same year at Boulogne-sur-Mer while fighting a delaying action against Hitler's marauding panzers.

He spent five years in various German stalags and risked his life sending a postcard to Churchill urging him to get prisoners released.

The postcard still hangs in the Imperial War Museum to this day.

After the war he travelled around the United States and Europe before settling in Rome, where he bought a 1,500-year-old monastery that would become his home for the next 40 years.

Returning to his ancestral seat of Castle Leslie in 1994 at the age of 78, he supported his niece Sammy in renovating the estate in the 1990s, turning it into a five-star hotel.

He also surprised many by developing a love of clubbing and house music.

"I went to the local town one night," he remarked.

"They were playing this 'boom boom' music. I liked it a lot."

Soon he would be seen out every weekend in his tweed jacket dancing with fellow ravers in their 20s.

One club in Clones, Co Monaghan, even renamed itself after him, and in 2001 he spent his 85th birthday dancing in Ibiza's Privilege, the world's largest nightclub.

In 2015 he was awarded the French Legion of Honour in Dublin for his bravery during the Second World War.

His family recalled: "In his typical thoughtful and modest style, he dedicated the award to all of the brave soldiers from the island of Ireland who fought, and died, in both World Wars."

'Uncle Jack', as he is fondly remembered by many, will be laid to rest in a private burial enclosure next to the estate church of Saint Salvator.

He had already prepared his tombstone with the engraving 'The 4th Baronet of Glaslough and Pettigo'.

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