Elizabeth Harris Aitken, who was married four times, including to two film superstars and a pair of cousins, died aged 85 on Friday April 15.
The socialite, author and family matriarch was most recently the wife of Jonathan Aitken, formerly disgraced politician who served in John Major’s Conservative government cabinet, turned devoted Christian and prison chaplain.
When Elizabeth Aitken wrote her memoirs aged 40, she titled them Love, Honour and Dismay, and dedicated them to “RH” – which could have been either her first husband, Richard Harris, or her second, Rex Harrison.
Born Elizabeth Rees-Williams in 1936 in Wales, Aitken was the child of a Labour MP. She attended London’s Royal Academy for Dramatic Art herself, where she was in the company of future stars Peter O’Toole, Alan Bates and Albert Finney, but she became best known as the partner of Irish actor Richard Harris. The couple married in 1957. They stayed together for 11 years and had three sons, including Chernobyl and Mad Men star Jared Harris, but life was complicated by Richard’s legendary revelling and constant absences.
Aitken went on to marry the far more stable but equally miserable Rex Harrison. Despite their glamorous life on the French Riviera, Harrison – who had four previous wives – made no attempt to become a loving family man. Jared Harris later described family meals at the dinner table as excruciating.
In the 1980s, Aitken briefly married Peter Aitken, the cousin of Jonathan, whom she had previously had an affair with. Her third marriage was by her own account disastrous, but her reunion with Jonathan proved far happier.
They met again in 2001 when she attended a play starring her son Jamie Harris, alongside Jack Davenport, nephew of Jonathan Aitken. By this time, Jonathan was recently out of prison having perjured himself in an infamous libel trial, and had become a devout Christian who would later became a prison chaplain.
Thus, after they married in 2003, Elizabeth Harris, former legendary socialite and party giver and goer, became a chaplain’s wife. She was also a committed homemaker to her extended family, including her three sons Damian, a film director, BAFTA-winning Jared and fellow actor Jamie.