Raine McCorquodale was born in Newbury Berkshire in 1929, only child of romance novelist Barbara Cartland and army officer Alexander McCorquodale. Raine became an immaculately dressed figure at an early age, and after the war at 18, she was a leading debutante in London’s high society. A year later, in 1948, she married Gerald Legge future Earl of Dartmouth.
The new wife was determined to have a more creative life than being just a housewife looking after children. So in 1954 she stood as a Conservative councillor in London. At 23, Raine began in the St George’s Ward in Knightsbridge, the youngest member ever in the Westminster City Council. While Raine was largely known as a socialite within London’s high society, she had also embarked upon a career in politics at an early age.
Raine had ambitions to become an MP, attempting to become the Conservative candidate for Richmond in 1966. Instead in 1967 she was elected to the Greater London Council as councillor where she ran a successful campaign against plans to redevelop the Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. She was also a key figure in preventing a disastrous redevelopment plan for Covent Garden. By 1972, Lady Dartmouth resigned from the Greater London Council, although she continued to work on public bodies like the English Tourist Board and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Earl John and Countess Raine Spencer at Althorp
The newly married Countess Raine Spencer immediately moved into Althorp in Northamps, the family seat of Earl Spencer. Architect Henry Holland made extensive changes to modernise Althorp from 1788 on, and the grand hall entrance to the house was described as the noblest Georgian room in the county. By 1976 Althorp presented Raine with a long term and serious renovation project. She was badly criticised for her taste, but husband supported her all the way. As expected, the stepchildren greatly disliked Raine.
Althorp Park, Northamps
Was the home of the young Diana Spencer
Later the home of Earl and Countess Spencer
In the months before & after the 1981 wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, the media followed both royal spouses and analysed every aspect of the couple’s lives. Particular focus was placed upon the young teenage girl. As we increasingly read in the newspapers back then, the quality of Diana’s relationship with Prince Charles were not as tender as she hoped. Nonetheless, years later when she experienced the miseries of divorce first-hand, it was the stepmother she had previously disliked who clearly was becoming the trusted friend.
In 1992, Lord Spencer the 8th Earl passed away at 68, having suffered a heart attack. Diana was bereft. Charles the 9th Earl simply insisted Raine moved out of Althorp immediately after her husband’s funeral. And so she did.
Raine married a third time, to the French Count Jean-Francois de Chambrun. When Raine divorced this husband, three years later, she decided to revert back to her Countess Spencer title. Three marriages, three times an aristocrat! Remember that aristocracy was something mum Barbara Cartland had never achieved.
In 1996, the owner of the very classy Harrods shop, Mohamed al Fayed, appointed Raine a director of Harrods International. She loved the job, and loved dealing with the customers. Then she acted as a roving ambassador, and she spent some time at the company’s airport properties too. Plus there were trips to China, Russia, Monaco and Egypt. [Visitors to Harrods can visit Raine’s lasting connection to the Spencers for themselves. Note that her cash register in the basement was only 100 metres from the shop’s recent memorial to Diana and Mohamed’s son Dodi Al-Fayed].
Countess Raine and Princess Diana
In the five years before Diana’s horrible death in 1997, the princess and her stepmother formed a close bond. Perhaps with Diana’s own imminent divorce, she found herself treated very badly by the Royal Family, much like Raine had been with the Spencers. In the book The Queen and Di: The Untold Story (2000), Ingrid Seward described how the two women had regular lunches together and spoke on the telephone daily. Raine became Diana’s most trusted confidante during a very tough time in the Royal Family.