Lucy's sad Farewell
When socialite Lucy Birley, former wife of rock icon Bryan Ferry, took her own life in Co Clare recently, it was the latest tragedy to hit a gilded social circle, writes Barry Egan
Some say that hope is a necessity for normal life and the major weapon against the suicide impulse. It is impossible to know now - or ever - but maybe Lucy Birley lost all hope when she ended her life at Mount Vernon in New Quay, Co Clare, last week at the age of 58.
She was staying in her eldest brother Mark's house with only her dogs, Daisy, Peg and Daphne, for company. Lucy fought a valiant battle with depression. It was a battle she sadly lost on Monday, July 23.
At the weekend at Mount Vernon, her husband Robin, her sons Otis, Isaac, Tara and Merlin, and her brothers Charles, Mark and Edward paid their last goodbyes to the understated goddess of a certain era.
The father of the children, and Lucy's first husband, icon Bryan Ferry - who played a moving concert in Dublin at Trinity College last Friday night - was also expected to pay his last respects to his lovely Lucy.
After mass on Sunday in St Patrick's Church, New Quay, Lucy's ashes were scattered at her mother's grave in the nearby Killeen Cemetery.
"Lucy Margaret Mary Ferry has the kind of English beauty that is of the Lady Diana Cooper school," wrote Eric Boman in 1991, referring to the iconic Jazz Age heartbreaker, "translucent skin, effortlessly lanky limbs, no artifice".
She divided her time between houses in Shropshire and her childhood home in Kensington and visits to Ireland. "When I wake up, I pray for as long as I can," she said a few years ago.
In 2011, she told The Daily Telegraph: "I'm happiest on a horse, by myself. I ride every day if I'm in the country. I have two to ride: Dusty, a mare that I hunted for 10 seasons, and Bob, who is a bit green.
"My ambition is to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. And I had a horse at Cheltenham this year - but he is in disgrace. He chucked off his jockey, Patrick Mullins, going down to the start, and then tried to get him off the whole way round."
Hamish Bowles wrote in an appreciation for Vogue magazine how the fashion world was "understandably besotted with Lucy Helmore from the moment she appeared on the scene at 17, when she fled her handsome stuccoed parental home in London's haughty Kensington to shack up with It girl Lady Vivienne Haig and aspiring actors Rupert Everett and Joe McKenna".
"A penniless tribe," continued Hamish. "They subsisted on baked beans on toast, but Lucy, as McKenna recalled, 'always looked really good - fantastic style that was a little exotic and always very personal, but effortless' in John Galliano's Vionnet-cut satins and chiffons and the exoticisms created by her friend Rifat Ozbek."
The society queen soon "became a poster girl for Christian Lacroix", who, we were told, worshipped the "zip", "knack" and "je ne sais quoi" of Lucy's style.
Milliner to the royals Stephen Jones posted a photograph on Instagram, writing: "Lucy Birley quite simply the loveliest girl in the world. Here dressed as Paula Gellibrand for Hamish Bowles' Cecile Beaton birthday party. And I loved you. RIP."
The loveliest girl in the world, Lucy once said that she didn't want to be put in the spotlight. "My family's attitude to the press and publicity was very much that it was frowned upon. You only appeared in papers if you were born, married or had died."
Tragically that has now come to pass as Lucy is in all the papers.
"That affected me when I got married to Bryan," said Lucy (who in 2006 married second husband and businessman Robin Birley, son of Lady Annabel Goldsmith) in that interview with The Observer in 2011.
"I didn't want to be part of it. I didn't want to reveal myself and, actually, probably there wasn't much to reveal at that point."
She and Ferry's backgrounds couldn't have been more different. He was the son of a farm worker who tended pit ponies; working class Bryan grew up in Durham, in a house with an outside lavatory and a tin bath on the wall.
She was of aristocratic stock; the privileged daughter of a Lloyd's underwriter with bloodstock interests who was also godfather to Viscount Linley's wife Serena.
The 22-year-old Lucy - 14 years Ferry's junior - married the Roxy Music star at the Church of St Anthony and St George in West Sussex on June 26, 1982.
The previous month, Lucy had appeared on the cover of Roxy Music's Avalon album holding a falcon and wearing a medieval helmet at dawn by a lake at Crumlin Lodge, near Inverin in Connemara. (Ferry's former girlfriend Jerry Hall was on the cover of the 1975 album Siren.)
It was there in Connemara that Lucy's parents had a grand fishing lodge and where Lucy and Bryan would spend many happy times.
The iconic image of Lucy was deliberately evocative of King Arthur's final journey to the mystic land of Avalon.
Lucy and Bryan appeared very happy for long periods, being photographed around the world at high society events, before their marriage changed and they "drifted apart". They divorced in 2003.
Lucy had problems with alcohol addiction and depression. In the early 1990s, she attended NA and AA to deal with her drug and alcohol addictions.
"I know I have an addictive personality," she said. "I grew up with alcoholism. My father was an alcoholic. It's genetic, partly."
Lucy's sad passing wasn't the first tragedy to befall her family in Ireland. Lucy's father Patrick Helmore died in a fire at the family's fishery in Connemara in 1997.
With Lucy's death it appears that a golden era has ever so grimly drawn to a close. On July 12, her friend Annabelle Neilson died of a heart attack at her home in London aged 49 (Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Liv Tyler and Noel Gallagher's first wife Meg attended the funeral).
Like Lucy, Annabelle battled depression. "I fell into a serious depression and became a heroin addict because it provided an escape bubble and was the only way I could cope," Annabelle said in 2015.
Perhaps Lucy's closest friend, legendary fashion stylist Isabella Blow killed herself in 2007. In 2006, after she had talked of suicide at Milan Fashion Week in February of that year, Lucy and Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, arranged for Isabella to enter a residential treatment centre in London. Isabella left halfway into the six-week course. Upon her death, Isabella had left dramatic instructions for The New Yorker that her heart "was to be taken from her body, placed in a heart-shaped box, and given" to her husband Detmar Blow.
"Isabella rang me quite late one night," Birley told Vanity Fair in 2014. "I thought she might have taken acid or something. She said she was buying a castle in Kerala and she would have a farm of white peacocks. We were going to lie on the balcony and she would wear a necklace with emeralds the size of bird eggs. It was like being plugged into a surreal film, extraordinary and dislocated from reality."
That reality fatally dislocated when in May of 2007, she took her own life: it was her seventh suicide attempt in 14 months.
She killed herself the same way her father-in-law Jonathan had done when his son Detmar was 14, and in front of Detmar's 12-year-old brother Amaury.
Alexander McQueen, another part of Birley's social circle, killed himself in 2010. There is a story in the documentary McQueen that he had the macabre idea of staging his own suicide as the finale to Plato's Atlantis, his spring 2010 show in Paris's 12th arrondissement that would turn out to be his final runway show.
He killed himself after taking cocaine, sleeping pills and tranquillisers at his flat in London on February 11, 2010, a day before the funeral of his mother Joyce.
George Forsyth, who married Alexander in Spain in 2000 only to separate a year later, once remarked: "The fashion world is the loneliest place on the face of the planet."
"The Helmores had a great connection to Ireland," wrote Hamish Bowles in Vogue last week, "which can be a magical and mystical place, and Lucy's life came to an end in one of its most magical and mystical places, where the rugged landscape is punctured with prehistoric stones thrusting up from the earth as though the hand of God had conducted them up with a sculptor's aesthetic precision, and the sea laps and eddies into coves and rock pools and licks at the sand.
"It is a place that has understandably drawn many of the guiding lights of Ireland's literary and artistic worlds across the decades. Their spirits dance there, and now Lucy's dances with them, too."
As her famous image evoking King Arthur on the cover of that Roxy Music album seemed to foretell, Lucy is dancing in Avalon now.
'Now the party's over
I'm so tired
Then I see you coming
Out of nowhere...'