Shropshire Star

How Shropshire aristocrat kept Eric Clapton company during his darkest days

He was a rock god. She was a teenage member of Shropshire aristocracy.

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The couple were reported – wrongly – to be engaged.

The relationship of Eric Clapton and Alice Ormsby-Gore, the daughter of Lord Harlech, made headlines. There was speculation that they were to marry.

Alice was with Clapton through his darkest days, when for three years he sunk into a pit of heroin addiction, cut off from the world.

He survived and today is a music legend. Alice was a casualty. She died of a heroin overdose while living under an assumed name in a Bournemouth flat in 1995.

Theirs was not a romance ever likely to have a fairytale ending, as is revealed in the BBC documentary "Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars."

"I had begun on and off to see this girl Alice. She was a great woman but she didn’t know that I was obsessed with Pattie," Clapton told the programme.

Pattie was Pattie Boyd, the wife of George Harrison, the ex-Beatle guitarist, and Clapton's great mate.

Clapton wrote songs inspired by his love for her, most famously "Layla" with his band Derek and the Dominos. But his musical wooing didn't work.

Rock legend Eric Clapton

Bobby Whitlock, who played keyboards in the band, recalled: "Eric went into seclusion. He turned and walked away with Alice and he got off into the heroin."

Alice, brought up at Brogyntyn Hall, near Oswestry, was only 17 when she and Clapton, who was in his mid-20s, became a couple in the late 1960s. But from the end of 1970 to the beginning of 1973 the troubled Clapton was a virtual recluse at his home, where he lived with Alice behind closed doors.

He was in the depths of addiction to heroin, which Alice, who herself fell into the drugs pit, sourced for him from dealers.

Interviewed for Ray Coleman's authorised 1985 biography "Survivor" Alice explained: "I thought it helped him not to have to face the full horror, himself, of scoring his own heroin supply."

According to the book Lord Harlech masterminded the major step towards public rehabilitation.

Alice plays a tune for Eric

Clapton said: "He'd appealed to Alice many times and I think he'd tried to appeal to me, but he was a perfect gentleman and a sweet human being. He did write me a threatening letter which must have cost him a great deal. It said that if I didn't either leave his daughter alone or give up the drugs and make sure that she gave up the drugs, he would turn me in to the police."

Lord Harlech, who lived at Trefonen, asked Pete Townshend of The Who to put together a concert in London which would benefit a charity the peer supported. Eric would be persuaded to take part as a major return to work – the ultimate cure.

Coleman's book tells how another of Lord Harlech's initiatives was arranging for Clapton to do a month farming near Oswestry under the supervision of Alice's brother, Frank Ormsby-Gore.

Frank and the rock star farmworker struck up a friendship, and after toiling on the farm would go together to the local pub, getting drunk several times.

Once George Harrison and Pattie came to the farm to see Clapton on a surprise visit.

George Harrison and wife Pattie, with whom Clapton was obsessed.

Clapton and Alice were together for about five years. At one point there was talk in the press that they were engaged, but in the book Clapton says: "We were never engaged. I made it up."

Lord Harlech's efforts helped him escape his heroin addiction, although he simply moved on to drink, before finally breaking free of his demons.

Alice went on to live quietly and privately out of the public eye. She was found dead at a ground floor bedsit in a Victorian block at Boscombe, Bournemouth, on April 8, 1995.

Neighbours knew nothing of her background. To them she was Deirdre Stevenson, or Dee for short.

The inquest heard that Alice, who never married, had battled against drink and drugs for more than 20 years. She died after injecting herself with more than six times the lethal dose of heroin. The verdict was misadventure.

Her funeral was held at Selattyn on what would have been her 43rd birthday.

Among the tributes was a wreath of white lilies with a card bearing the message: "I shall miss you Alice. Love Eric.''

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