LONDON — London socialite, former model and photographer Lucy Birley died while on holiday in Ireland. A statement released by a family spokesman on behalf of her husband Robin Birley and her four sons said she passed away surrounded by her three dogs. The cause of death is unknown. She was 58.
“On Monday Lucy Birley (nee Helmore) passed away whilst on holiday in Ireland, surrounded by her beloved dogs, Daisy, Peg and Daphne. Her husband Robin, and her sons — Otis, Isaac, Tara and Merlin — are understandably devastated and request that their privacy be respected during this difficult time.”
Birley is survived by her husband and by her sons from her marriage to the singer and songwriter Bryan Ferry. Ferry expressed his grief on Twitter: “I’m much saddened and shocked by this tragic news of Lucy’s death. The family request that our privacy by respected during this difficult time.”
Although she was often photographed with Ferry on the London social scene, and the two were fixtures during London Fashion Week in the early Nineties, Ferry was a private person and increasingly uncomfortable in the spotlight, rarely giving interviews. Her circle included Bella Freud and Kate Moss and she was also friends with Annabelle Neilson, who died earlier this month, and the late Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen.
Friend and milliner Stephen Jones posted a photograph on Instagram of the two of them at a Cecile Beaton themed party for Hamish Bowles’ birthday. Jones wrote, “Lucy Birley quite simply the loveliest girl in the world. Here dressed as Paula Gellibrand for Hamish Bowles’ Cecile Beaton birthday party. And I loved you. R.I.P.”
Close friend and photographer Mario Testino said Birley was an inspiration to many. “For me in particular, coming from Peru, her type of extravagance, mixed with elegance and kindness was completely new. For some reason, extravagance had always signified rebellion, rather than sweetness and softness, which is what she always gave to me. I shall miss her humour, beauty and friendship that was unfailing, always. My deep sentiments are with her sons Otis, Isaac, Tara and Merlin, who I know she loved dearly.”
Birley also worked with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she posed for in 1986. In 2014, she was featured in Manolo Blahnik’s short film and video campaign, “Jealousy.” In the film, Birley played the role of a femme fatale wearing a number of stilettos from the designer’s spring 2014 collection.
Following her divorce with Ferry and her eldest son Otis’ public protest against the fox-hunting ban, Birley retreated from the limelight. In 2011, she told The Guardian that her family had always carried a negative attitude toward the press, which had affected her marriage with Ferry. “I didn’t want to reveal myself and, actually, probably there wasn’t much to reveal at that point.”
She was married to Bryan Ferry for 21 years, and the two split in 2003. Three years later, she married Birley, the son of Lady Annabel Goldsmith and London’s late nightclub king, Mark Birley, founder of Mayfair hotspots Annabel’s and Harry’s Bar. After Mark Birley’s death, Robin Birley opened his own private nightclubs, 5 Hertford Street and LouLou’s, both of which are popular with London’s fashion and social crowds.
During her first marriage, Lucy and Bryan Ferry both struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and Birley was said to have been a friend to them both, helping Ferry recover.