Celebrity Cooks come in many guises, but Lady Veronica Maclean was something of an enigma, a one off. In the archive I came across a book entitled ‘Lady Maclean’s Diplomatic Dishes’ , dated 1975, and began to look into it.
A lady writing cookery books? But not only did she write cookery books she was also a hotelier running Creggan’s Inn, a hotel she and her 2nd husband, Sir Fitzroy Maclean, bought in 1957 on the shores of Loch Fyne. They also bought Strachur House in Argyllshire, an impressive house with a white exterior and long slender windows. It was a place where Veronica Maclean seemed immediately at home, soon becoming an integral part of village life.
Lady Mclean’s first book of recipes collected from family and friends that she described as ‘family’ or ‘country house’ cooking, in contrast to the classical French dishes prevalent in hotels and restaurants of the 1960s.
Lady Maclean’s Cookbooks, there were four of them, soon became a standard in every gourmet’s kitchen in the Sixties and many young marrieds started their life with a copy above the stove. She wrote in a clear and easy-to-follow manner that seemed to make all the recipes simple. But who was she?
She was one of the most stylish and elegant ladies of the pre-war years. Veronica Fraser was not only beautiful and well connected but also resourceful and excellent company.
She came from one aristocratic Scottish family and married into another. Her love of the Highlands was life-long.
After service in a mobile ambulance unit in France at the start of the Second World War, she met and married Lt. Alan Phipps in 1940, who after serving with distinction on the Arctic Convoys and in the Mediterranean was killed ashore at Leros in 1943, leaving her with the responsibility of bringing up their son and daughter.
In 1946 she married Fitzroy Maclean, who had served as an officer with her cousin David Stirling in North Africa at the foundation of the SAS. Her marriage to Sir Fitzroy Maclean – said to be Ian Fleming’s model for James Bond – was long and happy.
The Macleans were avid travellers. They visited Russia throughout the Cold War, starting in 1957, and then every year for 40 years.
She shared her husband’s love of the Balkans and they bought the Palazzo Boschi on a Croatian island in 1968. The Macleans seemed to land themselves in many scrapes and were even sent on a spying mission to Turkey after the Cuban Missile Crisis to search for suitable landing strips for guerrillas if things got rough.
Lady Maclean joined her husband in such escapades with undisguised relish and brought a sense of cool organisation and an unflappable nature to the adventures.
The Macleans shared a love of Yugoslavia and as late as 1991 Veronica took a course in lorry driving so that she could drive a seven-ton truck to Croatia to deliver much needed medical supplies to the inhabitants of Dubrovnik during the war in Croatia.
Maclean then served as MP for Bute and North Ayrshire from 1959 until the 1974 general election.
Lady Maclean died on 7 January 2005, at her beloved Strachur. Her husband had pre-deceased her there, in 1996.