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A lady who lived life to the full

James Westacott recalls an unforgettable character

It was announced yesterday that Clarissa Dickson Wright had died, aged 66. Although I shall leave full appreciations of her life to the media obituary writers, I noted that in the piece by Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail today that – according to Who’s Who – her recreations were listed as ‘hunting, shooting, fishing, food, rugby, men’.

Nearly four decades ago now, when I knew Clarissa reasonably well, on a ‘familiar acquaintance’ rather than close friend basis, I could certainly vouch for the last three of these.

I was then a young barrister, a member of Gray’s Inn, making my first small steps in the profession. Even then, she was well-known personality around the place, sometimes with her nonentity of a non-lawyer boyfriend in tow, always opinionated and up for fun and a party.

Nearly twenty years later, when she re-emerged as a TV celebrity cook with Jennifer Patterson in Two Fat Ladies, I was delighted, but also surprised – during the period I’m talking about, her interest in food was almost entirely in the devouring, not the preparing, of it.

Furthermore, her legal career as described in profiles – supposedly ‘the youngest female barrister in the country’ at the time she was called to the Bar in 1968, and ‘the most brilliant law student of her day’, according to Christopher Hirst in his obituary for today’s edition of The Independent – was at variance with my experience.

When I knew her, Clarissa never gave the slightest impression that she worked, at least as a barrister. Gray’s Inn was simply a place she hung around, mostly in the bar. The legend has it that her legal career faded as she descended into alcoholism, drinking her way through a considerable inheritance. I can certainly vouch for the drinking. Several of my mates were heavy imbibers and she was a match for any of them.

My future Best Man was captain of the Gray’s Inn rugby club, whose activities included playing the odd match in breaks between near-incessant revelries. Our first XV mostly played away, travelling to all parts in a coach, accompanied by our one loyal spectator – Clarissa Dickson Wright. I remember one game we played, against a team of inmates from a well-known prison (I think it was in Essex). We had been warned to expect a degree of thuggery, not least in potential retribution for any of us who had been instrumental in our opponents’ incarceration. In the event, however, it was a relatively-clean, hard-fought, contest, each side gaining the other’s respect – enlivened at one point in the second half by a familiar fog-horn female voice from the sideline, bellowing the immortal phrase “Come on, Gray’s Inn! Get your fingers out your bums and your minds out of neutral!”

See here for Steven Morris’s appreciation in The GuardianCLARISSA DICKSON WRIGHT



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About James Westacott

James Westacott, a former City investment banker, acquired his love of the Noble Art as a schoolboy in the 1970s. For many years he attended boxing events in and around London and more recently became a subscriber to the Box Nation satellite/cable channel. His all-time favourite boxer is Carlos Monzon. More Posts