Wednesday 26 September 2018

From prisoner of war camp to raving in techno clubs in Ibiza - extraordinary life of 'Uncle Jack'

John Leslie with the sword worn by his uncle Norman, who was killed in World War I. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
John Leslie with the sword worn by his uncle Norman, who was killed in World War I. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

John Leslie, one of Ireland's last surviving Second World War veterans, has died aged 99.

Leslie, a cousin of Winston Churchill and whose family seat was Castle Leslie in Co Monaghan, died at home with his family at his side.

While his official title was the 4th Baronet of Leslie and he was sometimes called by his British aristocratic honorific of Sir John, he preferred being called simply 'Uncle Jack'.

"The Leslie Family are sad to announce that Sir Jack Leslie passed away peacefully in his sleep surrounded by his family," a statement said.

Sir Jack became an international news sensation in 2002 as his castle hosted Paul McCartney's wedding to Heather Mills.

With the global media gathered at the gates of the estate near Glaslough he announced the superstar's nuptials were taking place behind the gates but that it was "a secret".

Born on December 9, 1916, he was an active Knight of Malta, art connoisseur, water colour painter and restorer of historical buildings.

Leslie's passing comes just a few months after he received France's highest honour for his service in World War II.

He celebrated receiving the Legion of Honour in November with a glass of champagne in the French embassy in Dublin, dedicating it to "all soldiers from the island of Ireland who fought and died between the two great wars".

Jean-Pierre Thebault, French Ambassador to Ireland, said his country had "lost a friend and a hero".

"I had the privilege to pay him a private visit last Friday. We chatted for half an hour," he said.

"In his perfect French, he spoke of the many opportunities he had to visit our country and the many links he and his family still had with France."

During World War II, Leslie served with the Irish Guards and was captured by the Germans in 1940.

He went on to spend the rest of the war in POW camps across Europe. For a time, it was believed he had been killed in action.


During that time, he contacted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, his cousin, and pleaded with him to secure the release of his comrades who had fallen ill in captivity.

"So many of us would be grateful if you could, by chance arrange the repatriation of prisoners," he wrote in a postcard.

"We know that our trivial discomforts are as nothing compared to the suffering world, but we feel a change could favour us."

Once he was freed, Leslie travelled extensively throughout the United States and Europe until he settled in Rome in the 1950s and purchased a 1,500-year-old monastery.

Returning to Castle Leslie, in Glaslough, Monaghan, in 1994, Leslie soon made a name for himself.

Far from being the shy and retiring type, he was often spotted joining crowds of 20-somethings on the dance floor.

Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney were just some of the A-listers who stayed at the Castle Leslie hotel.

The Beatle returned to marry Heather Mills there in 2002. Speaking to the crowds of international reporters gathered at the gates, Mr Leslie revealed: "They're getting married on Tuesday, but it's a secret."

His colourful life was enough to rival those of most rock stars, and he was known for being the life of the party in the village and beyond.

His family said "one of the most endearing of Uncle Jack's hobbies was his love of 'house music'. Each week he would visit the local nightclub to dance to the 'boom boom' music", they said. "He quickly gained respect in the clubbing community to the extent that there is a nightclub named after him in Clones."

His interest in raves and discos even resulted in a trip to Ibiza for his 85th birthday, where he danced the nights away in Privilege, one of the world's biggest clubs.

He also remained a regular in Glaslough's local bars, joining locals for karaoke sessions and nights on the tiles.

His unorthodox hobby was also the subject of two hit documentaries, Lord of the Dance and Uncle Jack and the Boom Boom Music. He also published his memoir, Never A Dull Moment, in 2009.

In an interview, he said: "I used to go to the village pub. A lot of the girls and boys there would go to discos, but I didn't pay the slightest attention.

"Then I thought I'd try one, and it was absolutely delightful," he added.

Locals also remember him popping in to the local shop for his paper and "a bit of craic".

He will be buried in a private enclosure next to the estate's St Salvator church.

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