Born to a mother raised amongst dairy cows and bantams on a Sussex farm, and a father raised amongst monkeys and mongooses in the foothills of the Western Himalayas.
Raised in a strict Mormon household, at the age of 18 the local Bishop and his cohorts imposed a histrionic ‘exorcism’ by the ‘laying on of hands’. Their imagined intention was to ‘expel’ the ‘perverting demon’ by which they had determined I was possessed and prevented my ‘natural’ attraction to girls.
Deemed ‘cured’, a year later I was posted to Pennsylvania on the obligatory two-year proselyting mission. Ended up working a harvest amongst the Amish, to whom I felt a personal link as members of my mother’s family had been Old Order Mennonites and ‘plain dressing’ Dunkard Brethren.
Returned to Europe determined to live a very different, more honest life as directed by my heart and not by a repressive priesthood or the ‘holy’ books of old dead men. As a result, I was condemned as a ‘cesspool of sin and corruption in the power of Satan’ and promptly excommunicated by a Church Court for daring to declare that since childhood I had only ever want to find a life-long love with my own sex.
Of English, Scots, French, Swiss and Swedish ancestry, a stabilising force in my upbringing was the recounting of family history by my maternal grandmother. Her tireless, fascinating stories and the vivd characters she revealed had a marked influence on both my imagination and curiosity, with such ancestors as:
James Lee (1715–95), who in his teens walked from Selkirk to London to become the famed nurseryman who first introduced to British cultivation such plants as the China rose, fuchsia and dahlia. A life-long friend of Sir Joseph Banks, James was the first to translate Linneaus into English. Even gets a mention in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.
Dr. Charles Thomas Pearce (1815–83), writer, controversial homœopath, vegetarian, anti-vivisectionist, manager of the Royal Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, inventor of the flashing electric light and member of the mystical Orphic Circle. Committed to Newgate Prison, accused of murdering his brother with homœopathy – only to be acquitted. Campaigned tirelessly against compulsory vaccination and for humane treatment of the mentally ill. Career ruined by scandal when the son he had fathered with his matron was publicly revealed.
Thomas Harrington Wilson (1819-1905), Royal Academy exhibitor, long associated with the Adelphi Theatre. A regular cartoonist for Punch and artistic Foreign Correspondent for the Illustrated London News. Patrolled Trafalgar Square with Napoleon III during the Chartist suppression.
Alfred John Pearce (1840-1923), writer, obstetric specialist and medical astrologer celebrated as the ‘world-famed Prophet … the great, mysterious Zadkiel’. Noted for foreseeing, amongst many other events, imminent ‘appalling murderous outrages’ in London, shortly before the first of Jack the Ripper’s victims was discovered. Later satirised in Hichens’ The Prophet of Berkeley Square.
Helena Amelia Lindgren (1855-1931), a noted beauty who defied social conventions. Eloped, had affairs and eventually left her husband for her son’s father-in-law. Modelled for such Chelsea artists as Agnes Pringle and James McNeill Whistler.
Other familial inspirations have been the gay travel writer Robert Byron (1905–41); the pioneering, convention-defying tea planter Oscar Lindgren (1857-1946); the Swedish suffragist, social reformer and writer Cecilia Milow (1856-1946); and Desmond Macready Chute (1895-1962), co-founder with Eric Gill of The Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic at Ditchling, whose photograph albums I preserve.
Epsom, Lichfield, Paris, Birmingham, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Kalimpong and Bath, where I read Music specialising in collaborative composition.
Church, ballet, theatre and cabaret pianist from the age of 12. Privately accompanied Dame Felicity Lott and Dame Vera Lynn. English teacher to grumpy German bankers in Frankfurt. Clinical assistant in a specialist centre for neuro-diverse children. Art school life model. Translator for Professor Alfred Tomatis in Paris; also for the National Research Group and Virgin Films in London.
Assistant to a leading theatrical milliner. Propmaker for various theatre companies, including Glyndebourne, and window dressings for Harvey Nichols and Butler & Wilson. Stage manager at the ICA for Lea Anderson’s dance companies The Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs. Employed to dance myself, the full length of the Champs Elysées, representing Britain in Jean-Paul Goode’s Bicentennial Parade in Paris.
Worked for 5 years as a theatre designer, primarily with Adventures in Motion Pictures, one of Britain’s leading dance companies. Also commissioned to compose original instrumental work. Set and costume designs included Matthew Bourne’s Infernal Galop (plus revival), Deadly Serious, The Percys of Fitzrovia and Drip (BBC’s Dance for the Camera). Designed the first Italian translation of Bernstein’s Candide for Graham Vick at Batignano, Tuscany.
Trained in Physical Medicine and for 14 years worked as physical therapist and yoga teacher at Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Also led courses in Shaiva Tantra Yoga at English National Opera in London, for the Jerwood Young Artists’ Programme, and with village groups in various regions of India. Formally initiated as a Shivite by my long-term Nepalese jhankri teacher in the foothills of the Kanchenjunga.
In 2006, co-founded Sarvashubhamkara, a charity that works with ostracised individuals and communities in North India. Most of our projects are with people who are socially excluded because of the stigma of leprosy.
In 2011, returned to the theatre to write text for choreographer-director Ben Wright, on which he based a new bgroup national tour, The Lessening of Difference.
In 2012, commissioned to write an article on Bahia, Brazil, for the National Geographic Traveller Magazine.
In 2013, invited to be a representative of the charity Diversity Role Models, which “actively seeks to prevent homophobic bullying … by educating all young people about differences in sexuality and gender identity.”
In 2015, interviewed for How to Create Kind Schools by Jenny Hulme (published by Jessica Kingsley), alongside Martin Sheen, Henry Winkler, Jamie Oliver and others, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the national anti-bullying charity Kidscape.
In 2018, commissioned to write an article in French for the history magazine Mémoire d’Opale, on the discovery of secret love letters hidden in the back of a family journal dated 1871, between an ancestral cousin Léontine Combertigues de Varennes (1847-97) and the older wife of the local judge, Amélie Hibon de la Fresnoye (1839-1915).
Since 1993, life’s largely been spent between the Sussex Downs and the foothills of both the Bengal and Garhwal Himalaya.
In the Shadow of Crows (2009) Reportage Press, London; (2011) Signal Books, Oxford. A percentage of the first publisher’s profits from its sale were dedicated to the work of Sarvashubhamkara. You can buy it here.
Limitless Sky (2014) Rider Books/Penguin Random House, London. Also Kuraldisi Publishing, Istanbul (Turkish translation) and Vaga, Vilnius (Lithuanian translation). You can buy it here.
Noodles and Knaves (2016) – the biography of Dr. Charles Thomas Pearce, as described above. Subsequently used as a primary resource for others’ professional research and two final dissertations.
The Captive Heart (2018) – the remarkable true story of a fractious Victorian honeymoon and an audacious kidnapping that led to love. Soon to be published.