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Many people have asked me over the years what happened to Orchard Manor, Diana’s last home. There have been lots of press coverage over the years about her house.
Diana was very proud of Orchard Manor and enjoyed showing it off, with colourful magazine shoots featuring her bedroom, and later around the famous pool room.
Views of the Pool Room
The house is a modest family home, Diana knocked two of the bedrooms into one to create a large suite for her and Alan. It consisted of a large bedroom, with a walk in closet for all the clothes and then a Hollywood style bathroom with a round sunken bath. All gloriously carpeted in white shag pile carpet and beautiful stained glass windows.
Diana's sunken bath and the legendary white shagpile carpet
Also upstairs was a smaller guest room looking over the garden and then Jason’s larger bedroom next door, with its own access into the large family bathroom, containing a navy blue bathroom suite.
The white shag pile carpet continued down the stairs and into the lounge, and even up one wall of the lounge which was where the latest rear projection TV was placed. This TV can be seen in the Russel Harty ‘At home with Diana’ show filmed in 1982.
The lounge looked out of French doors onto the garden; there was a York Stone bar at the end of the lounge with wicker bar stools covered in a leopard skin fake fur, racks of optics, and a pineapple ice bucket.
Bronzed doors connecting the lounge to the pool
Beyond the bar was the impressive Californian Bronzed doors leading into the Egyptian styled pool room. A very ornate pool with columns along its length and black panthers each side of the steps leading down into the heated water, each spurting water into the pool. Diana worked with the designer to create exactly the look she desired, adn the pool room was added in the early 1980's.
The Pool, with Diana's famous throne
At the end of the pool room was an enormous leaded stained glass art deco style window which extended the width of the pool room some 20-30 feet, and from floor to ceiling. The light that came in through this wonderful window was simply amazing. Patio doors which could be opened onto the garden ran the length of the pool. There was also a separate Jacuzzi and sauna within a changing room area.
Just outside the patio doors in the garden was a large illuminated pond and waterfall feature….
Next to the lounge and also facing onto the garden was a wood panelled dining room with a small serving hatch into the kitchen. Off of the dining room was an extension with patio doors leading onto the garden, this light and airy room was Diana’s study. From here she wrote her books, and answered correspondance. At the front of the house was the well fitted kitchen with dark oak fitted units, the very latest cooker and oven and a wonderful double American fridge freezer. There was also a separate utility room with a large chest freezer and other kitchen goods. During Diana’s Excel diet programme featured on GMTV, Diana was filmed cooking recipes from the diet cook book in her kitchen.
Diana's Modern early 80's kitchen
Also off the large hall was a downstairs cloakroom and WC, decorated with an opulent pink tented silk ceiling and chandelier.
In front of the house, on the other side of the drive was a full size tennis court and a small self contained lodge, with it’s very own stone fireplace, kitchen and shower room. This was also used as guest accommodation and as a games room for the ‘boys’ as Diana called them.
After Diana's death on the 4th of May 1984, Alan Lake and their son Jason continued to live in the house, It was a terrible time for Alan, he was missing Diana enormously and was grieving badly, he missedhis soul mate more than can be described.Jason was adapting as best he could and as well as looking after Alan he was appearing in a play in London, Jason was just 14 years old.
Diana’s solicitors were sorting out all the financial implications when in October of the same year, Alan put a shotgun in his mouth, in Jason’s bedroom, and shot himself.The housekeeper Honor Webb found him dead and called the police.
The executers acting on behalf of Jason planned to sell the house quickly, and it was on the market for £360,000. Guy Edney and his Girlfriend, Gail Standen, offered £280,000 to exchange in a week. The executers accepted this offer, although the house was still full of all Diana, Alan and Jason’s belonging's. Food in the fridge, furniture, cosmetics in the bathroom, pictures Jason had drawn for his parents were still tacked to the wall.
Sotheby’s valued the contents at £100,000 which included everything as it stood, Alan had already burned the majority of Diana's clothes, he was unable to bear the thought of her precious clothes becoming a commodity. He burned them in the garden after her funeral.
Alan’s sister went into the house and tried to collect some personal belongings for the sake of Jason, the executers loaded everything else deemed personal, such as the contents of drawers that contained bank statements, personal letters, a box of photos that had been her fathers’ and which had remained in the box after he died. Precious memoirs, family photos and letters Diana sent to her parents as a child. They were loaded into a number of suitcases and later auctioned to pay tax bills.
Edney offered £500 for the house contents and finally the executers settled on £4,000 for all the contents. He was given a letter from the solicitors stating they had the rights to everything in the house, which also sadly included Diana’s precious and adored two pet Siamese cats, and Jason's pet Parrot. Jason had lost everything he held dear, his whole life had been packed up and sold by men in suits.
After their work was done, and the house sold, it’s contents gone forever, Diana’s jewellery was auctioned to the highest bidder at another Sotheby’s auction all the taxes and duties paid, and finally the huge bill from the solicitors for their work, Jason was left with virtually nothing but his memories.
Not only had his mother and father died so tragically, but his whole life had been sold off on his behalf!
Some of Diana's Jewelry Auction by Sotheby's
The couple owned Orchard Manor for the following 20 years or so, and kept everything almost as it was, "It was not as a shrine to Diana, I just loved the house as it was", Gail, the owner at the time, would tell me just before it was sold. In Diana’s bedroom, all the furniture remained, including the famous round bed with leopard skin throw.
I visited the house in March and April 2007 before it was sold and was surprised to see that the fabric of the house had been left to deteriorate, however eually suprised to find so much of Diana's pocessions which they bought with the house, some of Diana's furniture, pictures and contents remained in place, where they were left. It gave the house a spooky ghost-like quality, almost like we were stuck in 1984. The present owners Guy Edney and Gail Standen, had split up and the house had not been lived in for a while, which accounted for the deterioration I guess! They were even still using Diana's American fridge freezer, which in the 80's was a rarity and luxury item, now vintage and retro, but still working after 25 years!!
The years of neglect could also be attributed to the desire to develop the land on which Orchard Manor sat. Over the years many planning applications had been sought and awarded, one of these was a plan to demolish the house and rebuild a new much bigger executive style home, more in keeping with the hi-tech demands of the 21st century.
I guess the owners were of the opinion of why maintain a house they were selling as a building development. They featured in a national Sunday supplement in an attempt to lure developers to buy the property, claiming that because the house had not been touched since Diana died, there could be untold treasures to be found under floor boards etc. However when I visited it was clear that the house had been examined in every detail, and Diana’s lost millions had not been discovered under any the floorboards!
The future of the house is still uncertain, Christmas 2008, the house was still standing and there was no visible building work.
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