Clarissa Dickson Wright: five things you didn't know about her extraordinary life

Mar 17, 2014

Two Fat Ladies star led a colourful life, from her ten middle names to illicit sex in the House of Commons

Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

OUTSPOKEN chef Clarissa Dickson Wright died in Edinburgh this weekend at the age of 66. She was best known for starring with Jennifer Paterson in BBC Two's Two Fat Ladies, during which they were seen travelling the UK by motorbike and sidecar. The show came to an end in 1999 following Paterson's death, but Dickson Wright led a colourful life both before and after the series. Here are five things you might not know about her:

She had ten middle names
As well as two surnames, Dickson Wright was christened with 11 middle names: Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright. Her parents apparently had great trouble deciding on a first name, eventually blindfolding her mother, Molly, and "turning her loose in the library". She pulled out Clarissa, the 1748 novel by Samuel Richardson. Dickson Wright said she believed her parents were then "so delighted that they'd finally found a name, they got pissed on the way to the church".

She was the youngest woman to be called to the Bar
At 21, Dickson Wright became the youngest woman ever to be called to the Bar. Her father, an eminent surgeon to the royal family, but also violent and abusive at home, wanted her to pursue medicine, but she instead trained as a barrister at Gray's Inn. With an IQ of 196, Dickson Wright was described as "exceptionally intelligent". Her career in law ended, however, with her well-documented descent into alcoholism following the death of her mother.

Her weight was caused by tonic
Dickson Wright was an alcoholic for 12 years, eventually drinking away her inheritance and becoming homeless in her mid-30s, sleeping rough at Victoria Coach Station after being fired from her job as a housekeeper in Sussex after twice flipping the family’s car into a ditch while drunk. The chef said she piled on weight in her later years, not due to food, but because she damaged her adrenal gland. It was when doctors asked if she could have suffered quinine poisoning from malaria tablets that she realised she had poisoned herself with the pints of tonic accompanying her two-bottles-a-day gin habit.

She had sex in the House of Commons
Dickson Wright claimed she once had sex with an MP behind the Speaker's Chair in the House of Commons. She refused to name her mystery partner but said he had suggested during the summer vacation that she might like to "see the floor of the House". She wrote in her 2007 autobiography Spilling The Beans. "It was all rather hurried and breathless, and was more about being daring than the joy of sex, but the memory still makes me laugh when I watch all those politicians pontificating."

She regularly received death threats
Dickson Wright was a vocal supporter of hunting and in 2007 was privately prosecuted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare for attending two illegal hare-coursing events. She told The Guardian she regularly received death threats from the anti-hunt lobby, including parcels of needles which were said to be infected with Aids. The angry letters apparently diminished after she threatened to hold an exhibition of her death-threats to raise money for hunting. The threats did not stop her from later suggesting – at the height of the badger cull controversy in 2012 – that badgers should be basted, marinaded and turned into casserole.

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