We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
  Dorothy Wyndham Paget (1905–1960), by unknown photographer, 1934 [centre, leading in Golden Miller, ridden by Gerry Wilson, after winning the Grand National in 1934] Dorothy Wyndham Paget (1905–1960), by unknown photographer, 1934 [centre, leading in Golden Miller, ridden by Gerry Wilson, after winning the Grand National in 1934]
Paget, Dorothy Wyndham (1905–1960), racehorse owner and eccentric, was born on 21 February 1905, at 32 Green Street, Mayfair, London, the second daughter and youngest child of Almeric Hugh Paget, first Baron Queenborough (1861–1949), politician and yachtsman, and Pauline Payne (d. 1916), daughter of a wealthy American politician, William C. Whitney. She was a spoilt child and her bad behaviour, accentuated perhaps by her mother's death when she was ten or eleven, led to expulsion from six schools, beginning with Heathfield School at Ascot. She finished her formal education in Paris at an establishment run by Princess Meshchersky, a Russian émigrée.

Dorothy Paget's wealth, inherited from her maternal grandfather, allowed her to indulge in expensive leisure pursuits. In 1931 she supported the motor-racing team of the 1929 Le Mans winner Tim Birkin to the tune of £32,000 see Bentley Boys. The involvement led to a lifelong passion for fast driving. She also invested heavily in show-jumping. As a girl she had been an accomplished rider in the show-ring and she returned to this pursuit as an owner in the 1950s with a number of successful horses.

It was as a racehorse owner that Dorothy Paget gained sporting and public fame. Statistically her career in racing was a successful one, bringing her 1532 winners, securing among them seven Cheltenham Gold Cups (five in succession with Golden Miller), two Champion Hurdles, a Grand National (also with Golden Miller), and a wartime Derby in 1943 with Straight Deal. In 1940/41 and again in 1951/2 she was leading National Hunt owner. Financially her sojourn on the turf was a disaster, costing her over £3 million. This was in addition to her vast gambling losses. She bet huge sums daily. Her largest recorded bet was £160,000 to win £20,000 and although this was successful others were not.

Dorothy Paget paid little attention to her appearance and on the racecourse invariably clad her 20 stone bulk in a substantial speckled blue tweed coat. Not easily approachable, she was domineering, often abominably rude; she described herself as ‘desperately fussy’ (Gilbey, 138), but had a sense of humour, often at her own expense. She cared nothing for public esteem, declaring that ‘the public don't pay my training bills’ (ibid., 44). She knew little about politics but declared herself an ardent Conservative ‘because I dislike being ruled by the lower classes’ (ibid., 134). Like many gamblers she was superstitious and had a particular aversion to the colour green. Her behaviour in other areas bordered on the obsessive. She referred to her staff by a colour code rather than name and often communicated with them by memoranda. She would hire a railway compartment to ensure her privacy and always took two seats at the theatre or Wimbledon, one for her handbag.

With a few exceptions in racing circles, Dorothy Paget found male company distasteful and claimed she was sometimes physically sick in the presence of men. When she congratulated Golden Miller it was remarked that this was the first male she had ever kissed, though it was noted that he was a gelding! Not surprisingly she never married, though she lavished affection on Olga (Olili) de Mumm, niece of Princess Meshchersky. Her charity was not for the bookmakers alone. When at schools in Paris, she became a benefactor to a home for elderly Russian refugees in Ste Geneviève-des-Bois and her financial assistance continued until the German invasion of France in 1940.

At 4.30 a.m. on 9 February 1960, twelve days before her fifty-fifth birthday, Dorothy Paget was poring over her racing calendar at her home, Hermits Wood, Chalfont St Giles, sorting out her entries for racing at Wetherby. An hour later she was found dead from heart failure, no doubt influenced by her weight and the smoking of 100 cigarettes a day. Although she professed no religious beliefs, she was buried on 12 February at St Mary's, Hertingfordbury, Buckinghamshire. An honest but acerbic obituary in the Sporting Life led to a spirited response from Olili. Despite her gambling, Dorothy's estate was valued at £3,803,380 (reduced by duties to £736,000); as she died intestate, the beneficiary was her sister, Lady Baillie, to whom in later years she had rarely spoken.

Wray Vamplew

Sources  

Q. Gilbey, Queen of the turf: the Dorothy Paget story (1973) · C. Ramsden, Ladies in racing: sixteenth century to the present day (1973) · R. Mortimer, R. Onslow, and P. Willett, Biographical encyclopedia of British flat racing (1978) · The Times (10 Feb 1960) · Sporting Life (10 Feb 1960) · Sporting Life (13 Feb 1960) · J. Fairfax-Blakeborough, ed., The turf who's who (1932) · R. Green, A race apart: the history of the Grand National (1989) · WWBMP · b. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

 

FILM

 

‘History of the Cheltenham Festival’, BBC video


Likenesses  

W. W. Rouch and Co., photograph, 1920–29, repro. in Gilbey, Queen of the turf · Press Association, photograph, 1929–30, repro. in Gilbey, Queen of the turf · photograph, 1934, Empics Sports Photo Agency, Nottingham [see illus.] · photograph, 1938, Hult. Arch.; repro. in Gilbey, Queen of the turf · photograph, 1941, Hult. Arch. · Press Association, group portrait, photograph, 1954, repro. in Gilbey, Queen of the turf

Wealth at death  

£3,803,380 6s. 9d.: administration, 19 Feb 1960, CGPLA Eng. & Wales