Lore from the Happy Valley
Djinn Palace, Lake Naivasha, Kenya, circa 1970
The famed Djinn Palace, most famous and notorious of the plantation estates dotting the verdant Naivasha Lake in Kenya is an exotic stark-white Moorish fantasy of domes, turrets, and cupolas. Known not only for its splendor but also for its turbulent history, it had been built in 1927 by Hollywood actor Cyril Ramsay-Hill.
During the Happy Valley-era debauchery, the house’s original owner and designer lost everything to the greatest Lothario Kenya has ever known: Lord Erroll, real name Josslyn Hay, the handsome rogue with an aristocratic lineage seemingly intent on bedding every woman (especially every rich and married one) who crossed his path. A man of physical perfection and virile potency, he was a conscienceless cad who stole first Ramsay-Hill’s wife and then his beloved Djinn Palace.
Josslyn Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll
“You’ve got the bitch, now buy her the kennel,” Ramsay-Hill cabled Lord Erroll after he had run off with his wife. Erroll was perpetually broke, but Ramsay-Hill’s wife got the palace in her divorce settlement, and it went to Lord Erroll after she died from chronic heroin and alcohol abuse. [It is rumored the palace was named “The Djinn Palace”, due to the Lord’s liking for large gins.]
In 1941, Lord Erroll in all his louch magnificence was brutally murdered, believed to have been shot by the husband of Diana Broughton, (a social seductress with a libido to match his own) with whom Erroll was engaged in a very public affair. (Chronicled in the book and film White Mischief).
“The butler would come in with a card, I heard, and on it was the name of the lady with whom the gentleman–or lady–would spend the night,” said the palace’s current owner, June Zwager, a vivacious redhead, recounting rumors of the spouse-swapping ritual for which the house was famous in the 1920’s. “I think they were quite naughty. Took years for us to live down the reputation. People called it a Playboy Club because it has no outside keys,” she continued, meaning keys for the bedroom doors. “You must lock them from the inside. That was the way he built it. There was a lot of cocaine.”
–Excerpt from Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa, Mark Seal, Random House, 2009.