Half of glamorous 'Guinness' couple who personified Sixties in London
Nicki Browne:SOMEWHAT PATRONISINGLY referred to as “the farmer’s daughter from Ireland who met and married a Guinness heir”, Nicki Browne for a brief few years was one half of a golden couple who seemed to personify the 1960s in “Swinging London”.
Born Noreen Anne MacSherry, her father Seán was a farmer from Co Down. Nicki, reputed to have run away to London in search of excitement as a teenager, hardly dreamed that within a few years she would be married to the son of a member of the House of Lords, rubbing shoulders with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and entertaining a Bohemian circle that included people such as Peter Sellers and Roman Polanski.
Nicki Browne’s death earlier this month caused hardly a ripple, but when her impossibly glamorous husband, Tara Browne, died in London aged 21 at the wheel of his Lotus Elan sports car, just before Christmas 1966, John Lennon was inspired to write a song about it.
Not so well known is that Seán Ó Ríada also composed a piece in memory of Tara, according to Browne’s brother, Garech de Brún.
Lennon’s A Day in the Life was the closing track of The Beatles’ legendary 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Lennon’s evocative lyrics (the original handwritten and signed version sold for $1.2 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2010) included the lines:
He blew his mind out in a car
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed.
This possibly fuelled the untrue rumour that the heir had been out of his mind on LSD when he crashed.
Tara was the son of the fourth Lord Oranmore and Browne, and Oonagh Guinness, one of the three “golden Guinness girls”.
His brother Garech, of Luggala, Co Wicklow, pointed out this week that the coroner’s report confirmed there was neither alcohol nor drugs in Tara’s system, but the legend persists that the raffish young aristocrat, who was with 19-year-old model Suki Potier when he died, had been under the influence of LSD .
“Suki recalled in several interviews that he saved her life by swerving to avoid a car,” insisted de Brún, who founded Claddagh Records, and remained close to Nicki for the 56 years after his brother’s death. “We liked each other. I was completely in favour of her being Tara’s wife,” he said.
“She rang me once to see if it would be okay for her and [actor and model] Anita Pallenberg to come to Luggala to see Tara’s grave, and she visited regularly then.”
Nicki and Tara were already estranged when he died and court battles over the custody of their children had already made news in Britain with headlines such as “Guinness Babies held by Granny” screaming from front pages.
In the week following her son’s death, Oonagh Guinness, dressed entirely in black, continued the court battle and ultimately won custody of the two boys Dorian (3) and 18-month-old Julian.
Tara and Nicki had been introduced by mutual friends at Battersea funfair on the day after his 17th birthday. They married less than a year later at a registry office in Islington. Contrary to reports, Oonagh, who mixed in a circle in Paris that included Beckett, Cocteau and Dali, did attend the ceremony.
Nicki had worked in a bank but lost her job after a “spectacular” accounting error and later worked as an artist’s assistant. Due to inherit £1 million on his 25th birthday, Tara enjoyed many of the trappings a large trust fund can provide .
Paul McCartney told interviewers that he took LSD for the first time with Tara Browne, who was a close friend. Tara’s 21st birthday party at Luggala was a highlight of the 1960s for those celebrity guests (Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and John Paul Getty among them) who could actually remember it.
Friends say Nicki, who got a modest allowance from Tara’s family, was devastated when she lost custody of the children.
In a newspaper interview afterwards, she said she was moving to the 400-year-old house she and Tara had bought in Marbella “to pick up my life again” and where she planned to open an exclusive boutique and “install a big fountain and plant thousands and thousands of flowers”.
Journalist Paul Howard, who is writing a biography of Tara Browne, said Nicki was always gracious and friendly. “She was a lovely lady. She asked me once to send her the words of The Lake Isle of Innisfree, which she loved and wanted read at her funeral.”
Nicki lived for many years in the small mountain village of Benahavis, near Marbella, with her longtime partner Robbie Oliver, who died last year. Her two sons survive her.
Noreen Anne (Nicki) Browne: born 1942; died June 11th, 2012