Books: Norman Scott, the man at the heart of the Jeremy Thorpe political scandal

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Norman Scott arriving at the Old Bailey trial in 1979
Norman Scott arriving at the Old Bailey trial in 1979

As his autobiography is published, the man at the heart of the Jeremy Thorpe political scandal tells Hannah Stephenson why he's 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 centre of the Thorpe affair, a major political scandal of the 1970s.

The story of the former stable hand 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 the Liberal Party leader and Ben Whishaw as the former lover who wouldn't be silenced.

Now 82, Scott is seemingly 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 poultry species and tortoises Rigby and Peller - yet he is once again putting his head above the parapet by writing his autobiography, An Accidental Icon, which most 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, frequently penniless, sometimes homeless, suffering spates of mental illness and fall-outs with employers, one of whom failed to release his National Insurance cards which he needed to work. His only solace was in the horses he rode and cared for. "From an early age, I just believed in animals rather than people because of what happened to me as a small child. You can trust animals," he says now.

Scott was a stable hand when he first met Thorpe, MP for North Devon, a friend of his then employer. The MP gave him a business card, should he ever need 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 for help in recovering the National Insurance cards his former employer had failed to return, he writes.

So began the sexual trysts, Scott claims, which were non-consensual on his side. "People don't realise that in that day and age, you had a totally different attitude. I was drugged to the hilt as I'd come out of the mental hospital. You just believed this man was going to help you."

He rented a room in London where they would meet, he recalls in the book. "I had no friends, or parents. I couldn't leave him. I was caught. Nowadays, I know I would have gone off and got some sort of job without my insurance card but in that day and age you couldn't."

As time moved on, Thorpe's political career flourished and he got married. Scott became an embarrassment who refused to disappear quietly, he claims.

He eventually moved to Barnstaple, living in a room over a country pub. Then, in 1975 he was alone with his beloved Great Dane, Rinka, on Exmoor, when a gunman blasted his pet before turning the weapon on him - only for it to jam. Subsequent police investigations led to Thorpe being charged with three others with conspiracy to murder Scott. They were all acquitted.

But the scandal ended Thorpe's political career. He resigned the party leadership in 1976 and lost his seat at the 1979 General Election a week before the trial began.

The scandal - and Scott's refusal to be silenced by the establishment - may have long died down, but the TV adaptation in 2018 once again raised his profile, although he has reservations about how he was portrayed.

"It's been amazing for me because it's helped get the real truth out, but how Ben [Whishaw] portrayed me - although he's a lovely chap and a wonderful actor and I'm very fond of him - he was doing what his director told him and he played me in the way a person of [director] Stephen Frears's age thinks of gay people. I just don't mince. I'm not that sort of person."

Despite this, he stresses that the adaptation helped in changing people's perception of him. "People had thought of me as this pathetic sponger - thanks to the wretched judge (whose damning summing-up was later heavily criticised) - and they discovered that I wasn't. They saw how my life had gone. My book will help that even more."

How does he feel about being deemed a 'true queer hero and icon'?

"If I could have had my name for the book, I would have called it A Reluctant Icon, because it isn't me. It was a wonderfully kind thing to do, make that dedication in Hollywood in front of all those people to me, but I don't consider myself an icon, really."

He laughs when asked how life has been since that infamous court case more than 40 years ago. "If it weren't for the press on anniversaries, I would just be carrying on living my life, and I do have a life beyond Jeremy Thorpe. That's a tiny small part of my life, in a way, with huge impact. People think that they know me - the Thorpe thing is frozen in time, I'm frozen in people's minds with the Thorpe scandal. But I think there's much more to my life."

He has a partner he's been with for 26 years: "He's a very nice chap, kind and good. We don't live together but we might in time. It works better this way."

And surrounded by his beloved animals, he's in a much happier place and goes riding every day. "I don't think I behave like an 82-year-old," he chuckles. "A lot of people don't think I am my age, because I do get on and do things."

He'll be doing a book tour, and remains pretty nonchalant about it.

"People perhaps don't want to read about one's dysfunctional childhood, but they need to know that I was able to escape thanks to my love of animals and that's kept me going all through these years. I wasn't a sponger with a warped personality," he continues. "I was somebody who had been destroyed by an evil 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 finished, never sought counselling, and says he has no feelings about Jeremy Thorpe, who died in 2014.

"I'm terribly lucky. I had an Irish grandmother who was a very good, decent, honest person, a staunch Catholic. She was marvellous at making me see that honesty and truth are everything. Thorpe took that from me."

Himself a father-of-two - 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 four grandchildren, but is estranged from his son, who he hasn't seen since he was 19.

"I just want my story to finally be told truthfully," says Scott. "I just know I should be believed, because it's warts and all."

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

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