Multicultural marriage: Charles Vernon Wentworth,His family's power and influence may have waned since the days when they owned great swathes of England, and a castle and country estates were named in their honour. In his Suffolk manor, however, Charles Vernon Wentworth, 52, millionaire scion of an aristocratic clan dating back to the Domesday Book, still carries considerable clout.
the BNP's largest cash donor - and Eastern European wife Zorka
the BNP's largest cash donor - and Eastern European wife Zorka
His inherited wealth includes a 660-acre farm in Friston - a pretty hamlet of pink-washed cottages and narrow lanes. The village green and meeting hall also belong to him, so parishioners must seek his permission to stage fairs and other events there, just like commoners of old.
Inevitably, Mr Wentworth's importance makes him the subject of much local gossip; and the fact that he is a rather reclusive, enigmatic figure who has been married three times and habitually goes unshaven and wears scruffy old clothes only adds to the air of intrigue that surrounds him. Tongues were wagging again this week when newly-released documents revealed him to be the British National Party's most generous benefactor, having reportedly donated some £38,000 to Nick Griffin and his extreme Right-wing cronies in recent years.
'Fancy him supporting that lot - he's a disgrace to the Wentworths,' sniffed one long-time resident, who declined to be named for fear of offending the man who also funds the annual children's Christmas party.
Others were astounded, pointing out that their timeless rural idyll is hardly an obvious breeding ground for the politics of fear and bigotry. Most people here are relatively well-off, crime is virtually unknown (according to one parish councillor, there have been two burglaries in 25 years) and ASBOs are something you only read about in the Ipswich newspapers. Furthermore, Friston appears to be the exclusively white Anglo-Saxon community of Griffin's dreams. Among those residents I spoke to this week, no one could think of a single person among its 300-odd inhabitants who comes from an ethnic minority.
Clearly, then, they don't know much about their own squire's new bride. For, by the deepest of ironies, the Mail has discovered that the latest lady in the Wentworth manor is of Eastern European extraction.
Strolling along a damp autumnal lane in her Wellingtons and padded jacket this week, her pet Doberman straining at the leash, the wife of the BNP's arch-backer looked every inch the English landowner's wife. Yet the maiden name of 39-year-old Zorka Wentworth was Ilic. Her mother is from Kosovo, her late father Serbian. Having fled to Britain in the 1950s to escape the tyrannical communism of Yugoslavia under Tito, they were precisely the sort of immigrants who would be barred from entering the country if Griffin had his way.
Although she was born in Bedfordshire, Zorka considers herself half-English and half-Serb, speaks with a very slight Eastern European accent (presumably because she was raised to be bilingual), is Serb Orthodox by religion and celebrates both Serbian and English festivals. This kind of duality would hardly be welcomed in Griffin's ethnically sanitised Utopia. After all, during last week's Question Time debacle, the BNP leader described white Britons as 'aboriginals': English, Scots, Irish and Welsh people 'who have been here for the last 17,000 years'.
Ludicrously, Mrs Wentworth - who met her husband eight years ago, when she was working as a chef in the local pub, and became his third wife last year - would not even be permitted to join the party her husband bankrolls so generously.
Charles and Zorka Wentworth are evidently struggling to see the irony. Talking to the BNP's most unlikely darling couple this week, over cups of tea in their stylish country kitchen, I began to understand why. They seem far removed from the hate-filled BNP rabble-rousers who wave banners in Northern mill towns. And as Mr Wentworth remarks wryly, he is no 'knuckle-dragging' skinhead.
Yet they give the distinct impression that they don't know nearly enough about Griffin and his racially divisive policies, even though Mr Wentworth says he read 'the bulk of' the party's manifesto before opening his cheque-book. 'Is it really £38,000? I thought it was £28,000, but I can't recall. I don't keep personal bank records.'
Does he support them, then, because he has some longstanding connection with Griffin, who was raised just a few miles away in Suffolk and attended fee-paying Woodbridge School, where two of Wentworth's four children were educated? The squire scratches a stubbly chin and ponders. No, he replies, he wasn't acquainted with the BNP leader until they were introduced at a party rally a few years ago.
'I was smoking one of these, and Griffin didn't like it,' he grins, pointing to his hand-rolled cigarette. 'Nick hates smoking.'
But why was he at the rally in the first place? What common ground does he share with Griffin? He grins again and continues: 'I think the death penalty for serious crimes is an issue. I don't know how that would go down in a referendum. But for the likes of the Harold Shipmans, and serial rapists and killers, I would like to see it re-introduced.'
A short, square-built man with a complexion which suggests he enjoys his wine (Serbian reds are a favourite), and a sardonic wit, Mr Wentworth shoots his wife a meaningful glance, then adds: 'And obviously you are going to ask me about immigration.'
His five-figure donation is all the more surprising given his experiences as a young man in the United States. After leaving public school, he went travelling there and his girlfriend fell pregnant. Needing a job to support her, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served for four years. This was long before 9/11 and he says they had a policy of actively enlisting foreigners. He says he formed friendships with several Hispanic servicemen. And later, when he left the military and lived on the West Coast (he worked for a U.S. pest control company before returning to his Suffolk estate), he also saw how multiculturalism worked.
But why, if he accepts it works over there, would it not work here?
'America is historically a melting pot, isn't it?' he says, adding that its vast size meant it was better able to accommodate people of diverse nationalities. In contrast, he argues, this country is too crowded a nation to cope with an influx of foreigners. He recites the familiar argument about Britain being 'overloaded'; and since none of the other parties seems willing to pull up the drawbridge, he has joined, and funded, the BNP.
'I'm not vile or odious - the adjectives they always attach to the BNP. I don't agree with everything they're saying on this, but I'm sure you get die-hard Labour supporters who don't agree with every policy their party has. Or Liberals or Tories.'
Zorka interjects: 'He's not a racist; I'm not a racist. I know the man here. He's not a Nazi.'
Perhaps not, but how can he possibly fund a party who would have turned away his refugee parents-in-law, and possibly his wife?
'I don't think they would send her back home,' he says uneasily, then, almost in the next breath, admits that he is not 'completely au fait' with BNP immigration policy.
'As far as I'm concerned, if anyone's here legally, I think they should be allowed to stay. They're not going to send her back home and neither will I.'
The new Mrs Wentworth grasps her husband's hand and smiles at him. She has met 'Nick', she says, and found him charming. In any case, she and her parents aren't the type of Eastern Europeans he wants to see the back of.
'You can't tar everyone with the same brush,' she argues, seemingly unaware that the average BNP thug, who lives in a very different Britain from the one she has married into, does precisely that.
'My father got a job in the brickworks at 16 and worked hard all his life. My mother came here at 14 and, at just turned 70, she has only just retired. They never claimed benefits in their lives, and worked to make this country better. They aren't the same as the influx who have come here since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and still come here now, demanding mobile phones and houses. A lot of them are Bosnian Muslims, but there are also Croats and Serbs. They are so-called asylum seekers and refugees, but they are a lot of s*** basically. They just came over to milk the country.'
Sensing that she is going too far, she catches herself and adds: 'Not all of them, obviously.'
Soon, though, she is sounding off again. 'Britain has huge problems - with everything. I find it absolutely frightening. Youngsters nowadays terrify me; you only have to pick up your newspaper every day.'
Does she have some first-hand experience of this? Do muggers lurk in the hollyhocks?
'No, no - but we are lucky to live in a tranquil part of the country,' she says. 'Others are not so fortunate.'
My morning with the Wentworths left me perplexed. Since I find their politics so abhorrent and worryingly ill-informed, I had expected to despise them. When the conversation moves away from politics, however, they turn out to be a rather engaging pair. Mrs Wentworth has taught her husband some Serbian, and over a traditional Serb dinner - made with their home-grown vegetables - they sometimes converse in her language.
He is also knowledgeable about Balkan history, reminding me that the Serbs were among Britain's greatest allies during the War and how thousands were slaughtered by the Nazis. (Just how this squares with Griffin's admiration for Hitler, he struggles to explain.)
There is much that is decent about Charles Wentworth and his 'alien' wife, too. Each night, they invite the old man who lives alone nearby into their home for supper. And in addition to funding a Christmas party for every child in the village, Mr Wentworth has purchased much of the play equipment on the village green - anonymously, so as not to make a fuss. Given his charitable nature, and his readiness to embrace her family's customs and traditions, it comes as no surprise to hear that Zorka's mother 'adores Charles', as did her late father.
Clearly, theirs is a model multicultural marriage - one whose very success makes a nonsense of the BNP's opposition to the mingling of races, ethnicities and cultures. This reinforces one's impression that the couple, though not by nature malevolent, are dangerously naive and that - in the absence of persuasive policies from the main parties - the BNP are playing on their fears to maximum effect.
Judging by the names listed among the party's major financial backers this week, other unlikely figures are falling into the same trap. They include Plymouth widow Mrs Sheila Butler, the 83-year-old greatniece of World War I hero Lord Horatio Kitchener, who has donated her £11,032 savings to the BNP, because, she told me: 'Nick Griffin is a patriot - like my great-uncle.'
She said she had abandoned the Tories, and then UKIP, because 'I don't like it that most people [here] are brown, yellow or green these days', and the BNP was the only party that promised to recreate Britain as the country of her youth.
Another prominent donor is Kent fruit farmer Adam Champneys, who is reported to have given the BNP £15,000 in the past year alone. He is battling a serious illness and was unavailable for comment this week. However, like Charles Wentworth and Kitchener's great-niece, this accomplished pilot and antiques collector, who served in the Intelligence Corps, is far removed from the disaffected, down-at-heel rabble one normally associates with the BNP.
Whether or not we believe the BNP's spin doctors when they claim that membership inquiries have soared on a wave of public sympathy after Griffin's Question Time mauling, it would be foolish to ignore their broadening appeal. For when a wealthy English landowner places one hand around the shoulder of his new Eastern European bride and with the other signs a £38,000 cheque to a party who would banish her from the country of her birth, we should all feel more than a little worried.