Earl’s special bond with cause after fall

Bournemouth Echo: ON MEND: Nick Ashley-Cooper, The Earl of Shaftesbury, speaking at Victoria School, suffered a serious riding accident last year ON MEND: Nick Ashley-Cooper, The Earl of Shaftesbury, speaking at Victoria School, suffered a serious riding accident last year

HE has three hereditary titles, a 9,000 acre estate in the Dorset countryside, and was on this year’s young millionaires’ Rich List – his £11 million fortune putting him in 16th place, alongside singers Leona Lewis, Charlotte Church and Katherine Jenkins.

But the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury is refreshingly down to earth. When our first meeting was stymied by the volcanic ash cloud, which stranded him in New York, he apologised by email, signing off as “Nick”.

A couple of weeks later, our second meeting nearly didn’t take place when his flight from Germany was grounded by the same volcanic ash. Instead of sitting it out, he drove to Paris, boarded a train to London, then drove down to Dorset, rolling up bang on time at the Victoria Education Centre in Poole.

Last year, the 30-year-old former techno DJ agreed to be patron of the centre’s Daily Echo Sparkle Appeal. The charity aims to raise £5 million for a replacement hydrotherapy pool and new therapy centre for disabled youngsters.

Nick, who was already a patron of the Philip Green Memorial School near Cranborne, was keen to be actively involved – especially given his family connection with the Shaftesbury Society, which founded Victoria School.

But in December, he was thrown from his horse. “The ground was frozen and very hard, and I broke my back,” he recalled. He was initially airlifted to hospital in Dorchester, but transferred to Southampton, where he had a metal plate and screws inserted, and then to Salisbury Hospital, where he spent Christmas and New Year.

“I have been an endurance runner. I went from being in the best shape of my life to taking one step a day, then going back to bed. Mostly I have recovered very well, but at a certain point you have to wait until the nerves regrow, and nothing much is going to do that other than time.”

The experience – and coming so close to being paralysed – has given him fresh insight into the problems faced by many disabled people. “I have been very lucky,” he said.

In 2004, Nick’s father, the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, disappeared in the south of France. Five months later, in April 2005, his remains were found in a gully outside Cannes. His estranged Tunisian third wife and her brother were later convicted of his murder.

“He was on a path to self-destruction, as people do get when they completely lose control and alcohol takes over, but not for a second did we think it was going to lead where it did,” said Nick.

The title passed to his 27-year-old brother Anthony, but within a few weeks of their father’s body being found, he also died from sudden adult death syndrome in Nick’s Manhattan apartment.

“He was beginning to assume the responsibility of taking care of the estate. It was one of the very lucky coincidences that he happened to be over that weekend with our other (half) brother and sister. We were all together,” said Nick.

“The heart just stops. They have no idea what causes it. For some people, that’s their time.”

Nick moved back to the UK. “Obviously the situation was really unexpected. Being the second son, I never thought I would be Earl.

“I never felt afraid of the responsibility, but I needed time to figure out how to approach it. I had a couple of years in business school when I moved back, which gave me a buffer.”

These days, he sees his main role as running the estate. “It’s like any other family business.

“The title has ceased to have any real significance, other than the tradition of it. There’s a great honour in having such important people in your ancestry.

“I definitely try to take from their example.”

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