‘Damascus’ for Clarissa on the Sussex Downs

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Fiery countryside campaigner and TV cook Clarissa Dickson-Wright who died this week aged 66, was a tireless supporter of county charity, Friends of Sussex Hospices.

Chair Kathy Gore from Framfield said: “Clarissa will be sadly missed by all her friends in Sussex and especially by the Friends of which she has been a patron of for the past eight years. Clarissa was no stranger to pain and bereavement and, in her open and outspoken manner, didn’t shy away from talking about death. Speaking on Desert Island Discs in 1999, following the death of her ‘Two Fat Ladies’ partner Jennifer Paterson from cancer, she said: “She died magnificently, she was an example to all of us, if I can die that well I should be very happy.” I pray that she did. She was a kind and generous friend to FSH and her wonderful support will be sorely missed.”

On one occasion her talk at Ashdown Down School, Forest Row spilling the beans about cooking and life in Sussex she helped raise more than £4000 for the charity.

Daughter of a successful surgeon and an Australian heiress, she was brought up in St John’s Wood, London but was delighted to escape an unhappy childhood by going to boarding school in Hove. Here she met lifelong friend Christine Coleman who lived near Selmeston. At the age of 15 Clarissa wrote in her diary this was her favourite place in the world. She describes a ‘Damascus’ moment on one morning when she walked up to Firle Beacon to see the sun rise.

As one of the youngest women called to the Bar, at 21 she was destined for a successful career but her mother’s sudden death triggered a downward spiral into alcoholism. She combined drinking with work as a barrister in Sussex, rented a cottage in Selmeston, became a cricket umpire for the village team and a regular fixture at the Yew Tree in Chalvington. where she would be offered her usual: “Four double gins and two small tonics with ice in my pint mug.”

Days of high living - and her inheritance - ran out. Leaving the law she worked as housekeeper to a large estate in Danehill, shopped at the ‘excellent butchers in Fletching’ and down to Newhaven for fish. But she was sacked from her job and shortly afterwards was caught drink driving on the Uckfield by-pass, prompting rehab and the beginning of a life lived amongst food, cooks and writers. Clarissa’s screen saver was a photograph of Firle Beacon - Sussex was a first love to the end of her life.