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The Lord Vestey GCVO DL
Late Scots Guards
by Colonel J M Clavering OBE MC
formerly Scots Guards

Sam Vestey died on 4th February 2021 in hospital, with his five children at his bedside. He was born on 19th March 1941, the eldest son of Captain The Hon William Vestey who was killed in action with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards at Val D’Orcia Italy in June 1944. His grandfather, the 2nd Baron Vestey, died in 1954 and he inherited the title at the age of 13 years while he was at Eton. On leaving Eton he applied for a Short Service Commission with the Scots Guards and went to Mons Officer Cadet School at Aldershot in September 1959. It was here that I first met Sam and it was obvious that he was relishing the training and military life. While others huddled in the bottom of their trenches in the wet and cold, he was saying what fun it all was. This was my first insight into his larger than life and physically robust character. He was the Senior Under Officer of his intake and having completed officer training was commissioned into the Scots Guards on 4th June 1960. He was posted to the 1st Battalion at Hubbelrath, Germany and then in November 1960 to Gravesend, Kent. He enjoyed ceremonial and wearing a tunic and was Ensign of No 4 Guard on the Queen’s Birthday Parade in 1961. He retained this love of smart uniforms throughout his life. In Autumn 1961 the Battalion moved to Scotland for training and recruiting, culminating in a final exercise in Argyll. For this Sam was in charge of the enemy platoon. It was raining hard, so early on in the exercise, in view of the weather, and with an indication of his generosity in years to come, he took the entire enemy force into a pub for a drink and warm up. Unfortunately one of the Right Flank platoon commanders, by chance went in to buy cigarettes, discovered the enemy, and surrounded the pub capturing Sam and his men.

In early 1962 the 2nd Battalion was posted to Kenya and to bring it up to strength it was reinforced by a number of officers and men from the 1st Battalion. Four Ensigns, Sam, Robert Fellowes, Nicko Timpson, and I, came up with a plan to drive overland to Nairobi to join the Battalion. Through the Vestey family business we were lent two Austin Gypsy vehicles, the British Motor Corporation’s newly launched rival to Land Rover, which they were hoping to sell to the Vestey Farms in Australia and South America. We departed Wellington Barracks on 8th January 1962 with the Commanding Officer and press present, which was embarrassing as driving down the Embankment Sam discovered he had left all the travel documents behind in his room. It was an eventful journey and I doubt if we would have made our destination without the assistance of Vestey representatives in every country en route.  We arrived with the Battalion at Muthaiga Barracks Nairobi on 11th March, one month overdue. Sam enjoyed his time in Kenya enormously, the soldiering, playing polo, hunting game, and making many friends. When he was nearing the end of his three years he made it clear to me that he would like to remain in the Regiment and in due course leave to run his estate, Stowell Park in Gloucestershire. However this was not to be as his grandmother, a very powerful lady, and his uncle Ronald Vestey, told him that he had to join the family business. This was to the Regiment’s loss as he had proved himself to be a very competent platoon commander much loved by his men. His time in the Scots Guards was undoubtedly one of the happiest periods of his life, which was reflected in his continuing interest in all matters military.

Sam continued to maintain a close relationship with the Scots Guards throughout his life supporting it in so many different ways, giving generously to the Charitable Funds and with acts of kindness to many individuals. An example of this was when he arranged for Guardsman Norman Fee, who had been severely wounded in Londonderry, to be flown in a private jet from Stoke Mandeville hospital to the 2nd Battalion memorial service in Edinburgh. He was a member of the Regimental Finance Committee for a number of years and President of the South West Branch of the Association for a period. He visited and stayed with both Battalions on a number of occasions, including one visit to the 2nd Battalion in West Belfast where he found himself in the middle of a riot. He enjoyed recounting this with much embellishment at any opportunity and thought he should have qualified for the General Service Medal. He was a regular attender at Third Guards Club dinners and was a guest on many occasions at the Household Division Quartermasters Dinner.

On leaving the Army he joined the family business initially working and travelling widely in countries where the Vestey Group had interests. He became a Director of the Group in 1971 and later Chairman. Although business was not his natural milieu, his management style was to allow his executives and managers a free rein, encouraging good ideas and questioning those he did not agree with. He was proud of the business, making a point of knowing those it employed at every level. Having been with him on business visits, this was clearly appreciated and imbued loyalty. He never fully retired from the family business but gradually stepped back and handed over to his sons William and Arthur, allowing him more time to enjoy his wonderful estate.

He loved every acre of Stowell and was immensely proud of it, taking a close interest in all matters concerning its management. He felt a particular affinity with estate staff who had been born on the estate and who had lived there all their lives. He was adamant that all employees, retired employees and widows should be looked after in every way.  Stowell hospitality was legendary and will be remembered by the enormous number of guests from all levels and backgrounds of society, including members of the Royal Family who stayed or were entertained there. Sam and his second wife Celia (CeCe) were superb and welcoming hosts, looking after their guests in a wonderfully relaxed manner and in the greatest of comfort. They were generous in entertaining the many organisations they were both associated with, including the Scots and Grenadier Guards Associations, the staff of the Royal Mews, the Royal British Legion and many more. A regular worshipper at Stowell and Yanworth Churches, where he was a church warden, Sam ensured that the churches were maintained to a high standard. He had the Bishop of Gloucester marched in when it was suggested they would lose their vicar. He also raised large sums for the restoration of Gloucester Cathedral. Sam enjoyed attending local events, such as the harvest supper, and took a great interest in local organisations. A good shot, he greatly enjoyed having friends to shoot at Stowell and on his grouse moor, Stean in Yorkshire.  He was a keen deer stalker and owned Forest Estate on the Isle of Jura where he could relax away from his many commitments. He shot a stag in his 78th year, and if the pandemic had not intervened would I am sure have repeated this in his 79th year. A successful owner and breeder of racehorses and a Steward of the Jockey Club, he was a very effective chairman of the disciplinary committee. He was an immensely popular and respected Chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse for 21 years and with his usual light touch management manner and a genuine interest in all the staff, he played a major role in making the Cheltenham Festival a hugely successful sporting event. Sam himself was an accomplished horseman, playing polo with his brother Mark for their team Stowell Park, hunting with the local packs, and occasionally riding in cross country events.          

He had a passion for cricket and enjoyed playing as a member of I Zingari. A patron of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, he provided a permanent ground at Stowell Park for the Gloucester Gipsies. He was a Deputy Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, Chairman of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth, and past president of the Royal Horse Society. He was also a former Chancellor and Lord Prior of the order of Knights of St John and patron of the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital.  For him personally, perhaps the most significant and proud period of his life was his appointment as HM The Queen’s Master of the Horse from 1999 to 2018. In addition to his close friendship with The Queen, this combined his love of horses, wearing a smart uniform, ceremonial parades, and meeting a wide variety of people. He was good at assisting and reassuring officers and guests less familiar with State and Ceremonial occasions. He took a keen interest in all matters connected to the Royal Mews, visiting frequently and speaking to as many of the staff as possible. To quote the Crown Equerry, Colonel Toby Browne, ‘Sam was a delight as Master of the Horse, he gave an air of irredeemable optimism and left those to whom he spoke with the feeling that he really cared for their well-being which indeed he did’. He regularly rode out with The Queen and if not with her, rode or drove in the carriages with the Mews staff. The Lord Chamberlain was once asked if Sam was a help at state dinners to which he replied ‘excellent before dinner but not so good after’! On retirement he was appointed permanent Lord in Waiting to HM The Queen.

Sam was a strong family man proud of his sons, daughters and grandchildren. He married first, in 1970, Kathryn Eccles; the marriage was dissolved in 1981 and that year he married secondly Celia (CeCe) Knight, daughter of the late Major Guy Knight Coldstream Guards. He is survived by two daughters of his first marriage and two sons and a daughter of the second, to whom we extend our deepest sympathy. Sam Vestey was a man of huge charm, with a great sense of humour, teasing at times and an affable nature who was good with people from all walks of life and genuinely enjoyed their company. He was a very loyal and supportive friend to so many, a real-life enhancer whose memory and reputation will be enduring and his passing will leave a huge gap in so many people’s lives.

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