Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Money worries, depression and worse

 It is one of the pinnacle events of the English summer social season, but Charles Harbord, the Harrow-educated aristocrat and former Algarve resident, will not be attending Royal Ascot this month.
He appeared to be in good spirits when photographed at Ascot last year in top hat and tails, with a champagne flute in hand, next to his party-loving daughters, Astrid and Davina.
Appearances can be deceptive, of course. To some outsiders, Charles Harbord was an upper crust snob. Those who knew him better say he was an English gentleman of the sort you don’t often meet any more.
He was not a ‘Champagne Charlie’ as described in the British tabloid press, said one of his old friends in the Algarve, “but he liked a glass or two of wine – just like the rest of us.”
It turns out he also had financial worries - just like the rest of us.
A fortnight ago, Charles Harbord shot himself in his family home near Gillingham in Dorset.  His wife and daughters were devastated.
Charles was a descendant of Harbord Harbord whom Prime Minister William Pitt appointed 1st Baron Suffield in 1786. Charles’ second wife Sarah-Juliet – SJ to her friends – is prominent in children’s charity circles in the UK.
Their two daughters are close friends of Prince Harry.  Even before her romantic attachment to Harry, Astrid was a companion of  Kate Middleton and attended Kate’s hen party before the wedding with Prince William.
Charles  first came to the Algarve as a young man at the end of the late 1960s or early 1970s. He and some of his pals once dressed up in drag for a night on the town in Albufeira. Wearing kaftan dresses, wigs and jewellery, they looked so authentic that they were prevented from entering Albufeira’s renowned Harry’s Bar because the management had a ban on “unescorted women”.
Moving back and forth between England and the Algarve, he lived well without working, seemingly on inherited wealth. When he returned permanently less than 20 years later with his wife and two young daughters, he built  a large, impressive house in the western Algarve.
An enigmatic figure, Charles had successfully sleighed down the mighty Cresta Run in Switzerland. But he was unable to ride a precursor of the jet ski in the calm waters at Meia Praia in Lagos Bay. After falling off several times, he told the owner: “This thing's got some kind of basic instability built into it.” It was Charles who had the instability.
Although in many ways a private man, he opened his Algarve home to art classes with tutors brought out specially from England. He didn’t seem to do it for profit. 
An Algarve businesswoman and artist who regularly attended recalls the Harbords as being utterly charming. “The dinners at their home were delightful and always featured lovely wines, but they were not flamboyant affairs,” she recalls.
Eventually, Charles sold the house and moved with his family into rented accommodation.  All the while the children had been attending a local English-language primary school.  When they were ready for secondary school, the family returned to England for good.
After some years in a magnificent country mansion in Wiltshire, the Harbords sold up and moved to the apartment in a Grade II listed manor house where he chose to die.
Charles Harbord would seem to epitomise the fact that while money cannot buy happiness, a lack of it often causes great unhappiness. In these difficult economic times, an increasing number of people in Portugal, regardless of ancestry, know that only too well.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that in the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Although suicide has traditionally been highest among men  in Charles Harbord’s age bracket (65 and over), young people are now the group at highest risk in many countries. Youth suicide is increasing at the greatest rate.
Depression is associated with the great majority of suicide cases. Unemployment is one of the main contributing factors. Joblessness fosters feelings of hopelessness. The number of unemployed in Portugal is expected to reach 16 per cent next year.
All that can be said in mitigation is that only a small proportion of people who consider suicide, perhaps one in 200, actually commit it.


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