Olga Deterding

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Olga Maria Deterding (23 August 1926 – 31 December 1978) was a wealthy heiress and socialite who regularly featured in the gossip columns of London society during the Sixties and Seventies.

She inherited an estimated £50 million from her father Sir Henri Deterding, the second chief executive of Royal Dutch Petroleum, following his death in 1939. Her mother was Deterding's second wife, the White Russian Lydia Pavlovna Koudoyaroff (1904–80), a former mistress of his rival Calouste Gulbenkian. Olga Deterding grew up at Buckhurst Park at Winkfield in Berkshire and was later educated at Oxford University. In 1956, she became an unpaid volunteer at Albert Schweitzer's leper colony in Lambarene, West Africa.

Without any medical training, she worked in the kitchen and at other tasks but refused to see even visitors she knew.[1] Deterding remained with Schweitzer for a year until she became ill with a tropical disease.[2] After this, she lived in Tahiti for six months. In Beirut, a city she apparently disliked, Deterding found that a flight to Paris was a week away, but the option of flying around the world to reach Paris meant that she could leave at once. Deterding arrived back in Paris later than if she had remained in Beirut.[2]

From 1966 to 1969, she had a relationship with the broadcaster Alan Whicker,[3] with whom she was for a time engaged,[4][5] and made Whicker her heir in a will (later changed).[3] By now, subject to mood swings, she was suffering from bulimia and an addiction to tranquillisers. Shortly after attempting to commit suicide in Whicker's flat, she suddenly left.[3]

Later she became involved with Jonathan Routh, best remembered for his role on the British version of Candid Camera; their relationship lasted for several years from 1971.[6] Jennifer Paterson, later one of the Two Fat Ladies, had by now become a close friend. She suggested that the two women might live together and become "the most famous lesbian couple in London."[7]

In 1976, Deterding put in an unsuccessful bid to buy The Observer newspaper, then in a serious financial position.[8][9] Deterding was an eccentric partygoer and died in a nightclub on New Year's Eve after choking on her food.[10] A subsequent coroner's inquest was told, "Miss Deterding ate lasagne, roast beef, rice and beans." According to pathologist Peter Lantos, a large (3 x 3½-inch) piece of beef was found in her throat, and she had an exceptionally high blood-alcohol level. The coroner, Gavin Thurston,[11] recorded a verdict of accidental death due to asphyxia.[12]


  1. ^ Arthur Brittendem "Heiress Olga is peeling potatoes for Schweitzer", The Straits Times (Singapore), 24 February 1957, p.14
  2. ^ a b Bloxham, Peter (7 May 1963). "Olga Deterding Learns Through Travel". Toledo Blade. p. 25. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Christopher Howse "Alan Whicker interview: a journey of a lifetime", telegraph.co.uk, 16 March 2009
  4. ^ "Alan Whicker". The Daily Telegraph. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  5. ^ Rachel Cooke "It's Whicker's world, baby", The Observer, 3 February 2002
  6. ^ Obituary: Jonathan Routhg, telegraph.co.uk, 5 June 2008
  7. ^ Andrew Barrow "Obituary: Jennifer Paterson", The Independent, 11 August 1999
  8. ^ Dennis Hackett "A doubtful Proposition", The Spectator, 4 December 1976, p.13
  9. ^ Roy Greenslade Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda, London: Macmillan [Papermac], 2003 [2004], p.332
  10. ^ Andrew Barrow International Gossip, A History of High Society 1970-80, p.248
  11. ^ Past coronor at various notable inquests, including those of Brian Epstein, Judy Garland, and Jimi Hendrix.
  12. ^ Daily Mirror, 16 January 1979