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Obituary: Beatrice Sinclair, fashion designer, dance hostess and hotelier

Beatrice Sinclair, fashion designer, dance hostess and hotelier. Born: 3 July, 1915, in Ellon, Aberdeenshire. Died: 13 September, 2010, in Torquay, Devon, aged 95.

She may have inspired the legendary Sybil Fawlty in the classic comedy series but that was a mere snapshot in the fascinating life of Beatrice Sinclair.

From relatively humble beginnings in North-east Scotland, her sense of ambition and wanderlust took her across the Atlantic by the age of 24, through running a string of successful hotels and going around the world in luxury numerous times on the QE2.

Along the way she had also been a fashion designer and elegant dance hostess and rubbed shoulders with celebrities including Alan Whicker, Ludovic Kennedy and David Jacobs.

Although often just as formidable as Sybil and definitely the boss in the hotel, she broke her silence over Fawlty Towers only once, vehemently believing the portrayal of her husband Donald as Basil was deeply unfair to his memory.

Known as Betty, she was born Beatrice Coutts Ritchie in Ythan Terrace, Ellon, the eldest of four children to police constable William Ritchie and his second wife Beatrice. Leaving school at 14 she had an urge the travel and by the outbreak of war was living in Glasgow at 2 Park Terrace.

She worked by day in a large department store on Sauchiehall Street, assisting wealthy women with their wardrobes and designing dresses. In July 1939 she sailed on the TSS Athenia - just two months before it was torpedoed - from Glasgow to Montreal to attend the World's Fair in New York, returning with lots of dresses that she unpicked and used as patterns.

Always fashionable and with a copy of Vogue to hand, she also loved to dance and at night, wearing one of her stunning evening gowns, she was a one-shilling-a-dance hostess at Glasgow's Piccadilly Club.

It was there she danced with the man who was to become her husband, Merchant Navy seaman Donald Sinclair. They married on 15 June, 1940 in West Nile Street. He had been called up to the Royal Naval Reserve and was a Paymaster Lieutenant Commander. Twice torpedoed, he spent many hours in an open boat in the North Atlantic before being rescued. Their elder daughter Ann was born in Glasgow before the couple moved to Torquay, where her aunt lived, to escape the bombs and enjoy a quieter life.

Donald continued his career at sea for some time after the war ended while his wife opened her first hotel, Greenacres, where their second daughter Helen was born. With her flair for cooking and interior design, Mrs Sinclair made a success of the business and moved on to Hotel Gleneagles, which she created from a private house in 1964.It was named after Gleneagles in Scotland and it was where the Monty Python team stayed while filming in the early 1970s, prompting John Cleese and Connie Booth to create the characters, Sybil and Basil.

The Sinclairs were working together by this time but she was undoubtedly in the driving seat, a successful businesswoman with a man behind her. She was far-sighted enough to provide ensuite bathrooms in all the bedrooms, for example, and always worked extremely hard. But she was a hard task master and expected everyone else to do the same. Though all tried their best to please her, they rarely succeeded.

Over the years she moved house several times, always choosing a property with a sea view and a swimming pool, which she never used but which she expected to family to go to clean out. Although a diminutive 5ft 2in, she always got things done.

In retirement she and her husband looked for somewhere different to spend their winters and enjoyed numerous trips on the QE2. She continued her trips sailing around the world on the great ship after he died in 1981.

Three years later she was on board when Alan Whicker made Whicker's World: A Fast Boat To China and her voice is one of those heard on the closing credits, extolling the pleasures of the QE2: "I come for the lovely life you can have," she says. "It is a lovely life."

Sinclair, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2003, spent her last three years in a nursing home where her challenging spirit and big personality provided staff with a good deal of fun.

She is survived by her daughters, sister Chrissie and brother Albert.

 
 
 

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