HIS aristocratic lineage is impeccable, his wealth fabulous and his country homes stately – yet the Earl of Durham has just exchanged vows with his bride in the humble surroundings of a register office.
The 7th Earl counts Biddick Hall and Lambton Castle as part of his County Durham estate, and he also owns a Tuscan palazzo and a remote retreat near Wooler, Northumberland.
Both of his County Durham piles are marketed as the perfect destinations for weddings, boasting luxurious rooms and exquisite surroundings.
Yet the 49-year-old aristocrat, known as Ned, exchanged vows with socialite Marina Hanbury, 29, in a London register office, in a ceremony which could have cost as little as £300, including booking fee and wedding certificates.
The couple first met a few years ago, when Marina, who occasionally models for the storm agency, was sharing a flat with the earl’s son Fred – Viscount Lambton, who is said to have dated her sister Rose.
They began dating after Christmas in 2009 and it’s been reported there were a few raised eyebrows among the chattering classes when they got engaged last March, just three months after they started seeing one another.
It’s not known which London register office the pair swapped nuptials, but it’s likely Westminster or Chelsea provided the romantic setting, as they recently made the top 20 places to get married in the world.
Chelsea register office also provided the setting for Marina’s sister Rose last year.
Weddings at Westminster can cost as little as £43.50, but the building – where Paul McCartney and Linda Eastman, Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach, and Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit all tied the knot – also has five other plush rooms.
The Chelsea register office is now world famous, thanks to everyone from Judy Garland to Arsenal star Patrick Vieira picking it for their wedding celebrations.
Like all London register offices, the most expensive room at either venue costs £385 including the booking fee so, with the wedding certificate price on top of that, the most the happy couple’s wedding would have cost is £388.50 – an easy bill to meet for an earl who inherited £12m from his father.
The earl has been married twice before, another possible reason for the low-key wedding.
In 1983, he married Christabel Mary McEwen, but they divorced in 1995 after their son Fred was born, and she has now married the musician Jools Holland. Later that year he married Catherine FitzGerald, but after their split she married actor Dominic West.
It’s not known whether the Earl and the new Countess of Durham will now jet out of the country on honeymoon, but it’s possible they’ll be back in the region soon.
They apparently split their time between their Tuscan villa and Northumberland.
Family dropped out of sight after sex scandal
THE earl is the only son of former Tory MP Lord Lambton.
Lord Lambton and his family were leading socialites and high-profile figures in the North East. When Edward, his heir, was born they kept to tradition and lit a bonfire at the top of Penshaw Hill, part of the annual Houghton Feast.
The family also owned Lambton Safari Park, a 200-acre animal park near Chester-le-Street, and Edward and his sisters were often pictured in the newspapers as they introduced new arrivals. An annual gymkana was also very popular.
However, in 1973 the family all but disappeared from the public eye when Lord Lambton was forced to quit amid a sex scandal which rocked the Conservative Government.
He was Defence Minister in Edward Heath’s cabinet when he was caught with call girl Norma Levy, a revelation which led to him quitting both his ministerial role and his parliamentary seat for Berwick, which he had held for 22 years. The seat was won by Liberal Alan Beith at the resulting by-election and he has held it ever since.
The Government came under attack as many believed the affair could also have been a threat to security, with rumours that the minister had been sleeping with a woman who also slept with a KGB agent.
However, when he issued a statement soon after the story broke in May 1973, he said he’d had a casual acquaintance with the call girl, and that police told him her husband had secretly taken photos to sell to newspapers. He said: “There has been no security risk and no blackmail.”
After the scandal he moved abroad to the family’s home in at Villa Cetinale in Tuscany and vanished from public life, leaving his wife Belinda at Biddick Hall, near Chester-le-Street.
He had inherited the earldom in 1970, but renounced it so he could continue to sit in the Commons.
After he died in 2006, aged 84, the earldom of Durham reverted to Edward, who also has five older sisters.
Edward ventured into the world of politics, when he stood against Lib Dem MP Alan Beith in his father’s former constituency of Berwick in the 1997 general election. Standing as a candidate for the Referendum party, he took just 3.4% of the vote.