“I’ve been shooting for as long as I can remember. My parents got divorced and when I was at boarding school, I used to go and spend the weekend with my father. I used to get so frightfully bored being left alone in the house with all the older women, so I decided it would be more fun to go out and shoot with the men. I was 13 and they thought it was terribly amusing because no girl shot in those days, let alone from the background I came from, so it was very funny. I got my .410 and I started shooting.”
Where did you shoot your first driven bird?
“At home, where I eventually ended up. It’s my father’s house near Hungerford.”
Who were your father’s shooting contemporaries?
“They’re all dead now. They were the Duke of Marlborough’s father’s generation; people like Felix Fenston and Joe Nickerson and those sorts of people. The first serious shoot I ever went to was Helmsley, which Felix had. He was great friends with my father, Sir Charles Clore. He used to place me, well…what they would call ‘the girl up the hill,’ so I was as near as possible to the birds. Even in those days Helmsley was a pretty tough shoot. I haven’t been there for a long time.”
Where do you do most of your shooting now?
“I go to Spain quite a lot and I do rent shoots.”
What was your highlight last season?
“My highlight this season was Castle Hill in a gale. I suppose last year was Garrowby up in Yorkshire, again, in a proper howling gale.”
What guns do you tend to use?
“Side-by-sides; a pair of 20 bores. I used to shoot Hollands but I’m afraid I no longer do. I now use Spanish; they are less dangerous when you are travelling. They’re far better with new cartridges which are not terribly good in very expensive, wonderful Hollands.”
Which make of Spanish gun do you favour?
“Grulla. I’m definitely a Grulla girl.”
How many days would you tend to average a season?
“About the 20 mark.”
Are your shooting contemporaries mainly girls?
“No, mostly men. There is the odd lady.”
Who do you consider the finest lady gun of your era?
“I never shot with the Duchess of Devonshire but everybody said she was. It was either one of the Percy girls or the Duchess. There are some fantastic Spanish lady shots. They shoot quite beautifully.”
You’re famously and passionately involved in the arts; how is shooting received in that world?
“I never really talk about it, but one of the great shots, if you really want to know, is Kiri Te Kanawa. I have shot with her several times. There are quite a lot of artists who shoot.”
Is shooting purely downtime for you or does it ever overlap into business?
“Purely downtime. I like the social life. I will not shoot with people I don’t like. If I find the people are boring, I don’t go. And I have to admit the older I get, the more I like shooting in Spain.”
Do you prefer early season stuff over here, rather than late pheasants in a howling gale?
“I don’t mind howling gales, but I just like the Spanish style of shooting, the tapas and the music. I have given up grouse shooting. I used to own a grouse moor in Scotland but when I sold the moor I found it wasn’t quite the same thing and I have all these grandchildren now.”
Is it special for you watching your children and grandchildren shoot?
“My children shoot, both of them. My grandchildren are still too small to shoot, but they will do, I hope, if shooting is still around.”
Aside from Dame Vivien Duffield, other Robert Cuthbert interviewees for Shooting Stars include: