There are perfectionists, and then—almost in a category of her own—there is Lady Carole Bamford.
Such becomes apparent shortly past dawn on a dewy June morning at Daylesford, her magnificent 1,700-acre estate in Gloucestershire. In anticipation of a photo shoot, a squadron of about a dozen workers has been deployed to the rose garden.
Scrambling feverishly, they seem to be manicuring each stem and scooping up every dropped Adélaïde d’Orléans petal.
Beyond the rose garden’s trellised arbor, a succession of other, equally glorious gardens are visible. But when a wish to photograph these other precincts is expressed to Bamford’s two pretty assistants, terror flashes across their faces. “Other areas of the garden might not be up to the level of perfection Lady Bamford requires,” replies one, looking stricken. Pressed on the point, however, she reluctantly picks up her mobile phone and whispers something to someone, who will in turn presumably relay the matter to Bamford herself. “It is being discussed,” she intones, rather gravely.
This Lady Bamford, one quickly surmises, must be some number.
Née Carole Gray Whitt, she has been married for 33 years to billionaire industrialist Sir Anthony Bamford, owner of JCB, a leading manufacturer of construction cranes and other heavy equipment, founded by his father in 1945. The Bamfords are one of England’s most politically and socially influential couples, thanks at least in part to extravagant entertaining at their numerous properties. In addition to the Gloucestershire stronghold, there’s a London mansion; a 4,200-acre estate in Staffordshire, known as Wootton; Heron Bay, the fabled Barbados home once owned by Ronald and Marietta Tree; and Château de Léoube, in Provence. At sea and in the air they are no less pampered: There’s the Virginian, their 240-foot yacht previously owned by John Kluge; the private jet; and one of the biggest private helicopters in England, a Sikorsky S-76 (Anthony uses it to commute daily to his factory in Staffordshire).
For many a wealthy wife, organizing domestic life on this scale would have been quite enough. But five years ago Bamford found a vocation. She decided it might be nice to open a small shop on the Daylesford property to sell the produce, meat and cheese from their two country estates, which she began converting to ecologically friendly farms two decades before. Daylesford Organic, as the enterprise is known, has since grown into a much visited lifestyle supersite, offering a full gourmet shop and café, other shops selling home furnishings, garden tools and accessories, and a holistic spa complete with visiting Thai monk. Another barn is dedicated to her women’s and men’s fashion lines (Bamford and Bamford & Sons), featuring ultraluxe organic cashmeres.
So imagine a sort of superposh, organic, British Martha Stewart. At 10 a.m. she materializes in the rose garden, right on schedule. (The previous day, her staff had rather proactively e-mailed this reporter a timeline for the entire day, scheduled down to the quarter hour.) Trailed by Fudge and Bellini, her two shih tzus—as well as her hairdresser and makeup artist—she floats in a cloud of white summer-weight cashmere, topped by an enormous white hat and dangling diamond earrings. At 61, she retains a slim figure, with long blond hair and alluring blue eyes. Polite but a bit reserved, she sits for her portrait, mostly concerned with wrangling Fudge and Bellini into cooperating. But when she is asked directly about the possibility of photographing more of her famous gardens, she seems startled. “We can’t show everything!” she says in her rather high-pitched, clipped voice. A bit of a standoff follows. Her initial concession: “You can take a picture of this artichoke,” she says, perfectly serious.