Lady Hester Stanhope: meet the trailblazing Queen of the Desert

Claim to fameThe big puzzle about Hester Stanhope is how we’ve reached 2020 without a massive Netflix drama ever having been made about her fascinating life. Born into the British elite – the niece of prime minister William Pitt and the granddaughter of a man who made his fortune after discovering an enormous diamond in India, she was all set up for a life of comfort.Instead, shaken by a failed love affair, she left England when she was in her 30s, never to return. She visited harems, smoked pipes, impressed the Bedouin with her horsemanship and, having discovered a mysterious map that suggested treasure was buried undertheruins ofa mosque, undertook pioneering archaeological work in Palestine. Last sightedHester spent the last seven years of her incredible life in her draughty fortress outside a Lebanese village, heavily in debt and going increasingly out of her mind. When asked if she wouldn’t prefer to return home and live out her days in relative comfort, she was contemptuous, insisting that she had no intention of going back to “knit or sew like anEnglishwoman”.