Then & now Koo Stark

 

WHEN IT COMES to wives and girlfriends, it’s plain the British royal family likes to play it safe. It’s either nice, girl-next-door types (although not next door to Buckingham Palace, obviously) such as Diana or Kate, or frumpy but reliable mares such as Fergie or Camilla. After all, the palace doesn’t want another Wallis Simpson on its hands .

But for 18 months in the early 1980s, Prince Andrew stepped out with someone who definitely did not fit the blueprint for Rwags (Royal wives and girlfriends). Kathleen Dee-Ann Stark was the palace’s worst nightmare made flesh: she was young, good-looking and free-spirited; worse, she was American; even worse, she was an actress and model. On the plus side, she came from a posh New York family, and she quickly won over the queen with her charm and poise. When she began joining Andrew on Mustique and at Balmoral, the world’s media turned their gaze away from big brother Charles and his new young wife, and focused squarely on this sultry, dark-haired siren and her jammy royal beau.

When it emerged, however, that Stark had appeared naked in a shower scene with another woman at 17, in a film called Emily, eyebrows weren’t the only things that were raised. TV companies and video stores scrambled to get copies of the 1976 film, and HBO in the US ran the movie so many times on its late-night slot, it’s a wonder the tape didn’t get worn out. Stark’s phwoaar factor went through the roof, and Prince Andrew’s stud stock went up with it. The tabloids went mental, labelling Stark the queen of soft-core porn, and dubbing the prince Randy Andy.

For the palace, the shower scene was a deal-breaker. Andrew had no choice but to dump his American beauty, and he subsequently married Sarah Ferguson, someone less likely to be cavorting naked in showers with other women (although, as it turns out, she was photographed having her toes sucked).

Although Stark subsequently appeared in an episode of Red Dwarf, her acting career was eclipsed by a new passion – photography. But unlike the paparazzi who hounded her, Stark became a celebrity snapper of a different class. After learning the craft from her teacher and mentor Norman Parkinson, Stark went on to create acclaimed portraits of cultural icons such as the Dalai Lama, Shirley Bassey, Oliver Reed, John Hurt and Graham Greene. Her work was also exhibited in the Saatchi Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the VA.

Her bad luck in love continued. She married Green Shield Stamps heir Tim Jeffries, but they were divorced after four years. She was engaged to Warren Walker, heir to the Forbes publishing empire, but he called off the marriage and sued for custody of the couple’s daughter, Tatiana. In 2002, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through a double mastectomy, which prompted her to found the charity Keep Abreast. But her own financial situation became shakier, as she moved between homes and relied on the generosity of her high-class friends.

When she found herself without a roof over her head, she did what any sensible person would do – she checked into the swanky Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in London’s Knightsbridge. The management let her put the room on the tab but when the bill ran past the £30,000 mark, the hotel brought a bankruptcy petition against her. Earlier this year, it was reported that she had applied for state housing benefits. She may not have ended up a duchess, but for a short while she made the royal family seem just a little less boring.