Norman Scott, the man at the heart of Jeremy Thorpe’s political scandal

Norman Scott arriving at the Old Bailey trial in 1979

As his autobiography is published, the man at the heart of Jeremy Thorpe’s political scandal explains to Hannah Stephenson why he is telling his story.

Described as “a true queer hero and icon” by actor Ben Whishaw, Norman Scott is still remembered as the man at the center of the Thorpe affair, a major political scandal of the 1970s.

The story of the former squire and model’s alleged relationship with MP Jeremy Thorpe was told in the 2018 BBC drama A Very English Scandal, which starred Hugh Grant as leader of the Liberal Party and Ben Whishaw as a former lover who would not be silenced.

Now 82, Scott appears to be living a quiet life in a beautiful longhouse on the edge of Dartmoor, Devon, with his menagerie of animals – horses, ponies, cats, dogs and 14 different species of Rigby and Peller poultry and tortoises – but he is once again putting his head above the parapet while writing his autobiography, An Accidental Icon, which notably features his alleged relationship with Thorpe which he claims began in 1961 at a time when homosexual activity was illegal.

The book recounts a series of challenges for Scott – including being abused as a child, often penniless, sometimes homeless, suffering from mental illness and falling out with employers, one of whom failed to release his national insurance cards he needed to work. . His only consolation was in the horses he rode and cared for. “From an early age, I believed in animals rather than people because of what happened to me when I was little. You can trust animals,” he says now.

Scott was a steady hand when he first met Thorpe, MP for North Devon, a friend of his employer at the time. The deputy gave him a Business card, if he were ever to get in touch – and after Scott was fired from his job and ended up in a psychiatric clinic for six months, he turned to Thorpe to help get the cards back. National Insurance that his former employer had not returned, he writes.

So began the sex dates, Scott claims, which were not consensual on his part. “People don’t realize that at that time you had a totally different attitude. I was drugged to the hilt when you got out of the psychiatric hospital. You just thought this man was going to help you.”

He rented a room in London where they met, he recalls in the book. “I had no friends or relatives. I couldn’t leave him. I was taken. Today I know that I would have left and found a job without my insurance card, but at that time, you couldn’t.”

Over time, Thorpe’s political career flourished and he married. Scott became an embarrassment that refused to quietly go away, he claims.

He eventually moved to Barnstaple, living in a room above a country pub. Then, in 1975, he was alone with his beloved Great Dane, Rinka, on Exmoor when a gunman blew up his pet before turning the gun back on him – only for it to get stuck. Subsequent police investigations led to Thorpe being charged along with three others with conspiracy to murder Scott. They were all acquitted.

But the scandal ended Thorpe’s political career. He resigned from the party leadership in 1976 and lost his seat in 1979 General election one week before the start of the trial.

The scandal – and Scott’s refusal to be silenced by the establishment – may have long been extinguished, but the TV The 2018 adaptation raised his profile again, although he had reservations about how he was portrayed.

“It’s been amazing for me because it’s helped me get to the real truth, but how did Ben [Whishaw] portrayed me – even though he’s a lovely guy and a wonderful actor and I really like him – he did what his director told him to and he played me like a person from [director] The age of Stephen Frears thinks of homosexuals. I don’t chew. I’m not that kind of person.”

Despite this, he points out that the adaptation has helped change people’s perception of him. “People had thought of me as this pathetic sponge – thanks to the wretched Judge (whose damning summary was later heavily criticized) – and they found out I wasn’t. They saw how my life had turned out unfolded. My book will help with that. even more.”

How does he feel about being considered a “true hero and queer icon”?

“If I could have had my name for the book, I would have called it A Reluctant Icon, because that’s not me. It was a wonderfully nice thing to do, to do this Hollywood dedication in front of all these people. for me, but I don’t really consider myself an icon.”

He laughs when asked how life has been since that infamous to research case more than 40 years ago. “If it hadn’t been for the birthday press, I would just continue to live my life, and I have a life beyond Jeremy Thorpe. It’s a very small part of my life, of in some way, with a huge impact. think they know me – the Thorpe case is frozen in time, I’m frozen in people’s minds with the Thorpe scandal. But I think there’s a lot more in my life.

He has a partner who he’s been with for 26 years: “He’s a very nice, kind and good guy. We don’t live together but we could in time. It works better that way.”

And surrounded by his beloved animals, he’s in a much happier place and goes horseback riding every day. “I don’t think I behave like an 82-year-old man,” he laughs. “A lot of people think I’m not my age, because I get along and do things.”

He will go on a book tour and remains quite nonchalant about it.

“People may not want to read about a dysfunctional childhood, but they need to know that I was able to escape through my love of animals and that kept me going through those years. .personality,” he continues. “I was someone who had been destroyed by a bad man and the establishment. They did everything they could to destroy me but I fought against it.”

He weaned himself off medication after the trial ended, never sought advice and says he has no feelings for Jeremy Thorpe, who died in 2014.

“I’m so lucky. I had an Irish grandmother who was a very good, decent and honest person, a staunch Catholic. She was wonderful in making me see that honesty and truth is everything. Thorpe m took that.”

A father of two himself – he has a son, Ben, from a short-lived marriage and a daughter, Bryony, from a brief relationship – Scott says he remains on good terms with his daughter and his four grandchildren, but is separated from his son, whom he has not seen since he was 19 years old.

“I just want my story to finally be told with sincerity,” Scott says. “I just know to believe me, because they’re warts and all.”

An Accidental Icon by Norman Scott is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced at £22. Available now.

Colin L. Johnson