Nicolas Head 1938-2018

20 of us gathered at St Mary’s Avington to remember Nicolas Head, step brother to Sarah Bullen and brother to Georgie Black of Avington Park on Monday 10th December 2018.  David Duffin played the organ and we sang ‘Lord of All Hopefulness’ and ‘I Danced in the Morning’ and we read the Nunc Dimittis together.  The Bible reading read by Charlie Bullen was John 14:1-6.

Georgie Black (Nic’s sister) read the following reading:

Many people will walk in and out of your life,
But only true friends will leave footprints in your heart
To handle yourself, use your head;
To handle others, use your heart.
Anger is only one letter short of danger.
If someone betrays you twice, it is your fault
Great minds discuss events;
Small minds discuss people.
He who loses money, loses much;
He who loses a friend, loses much more;
He who loses faith, loses all.
Beautiful old people are works of art.
Learn from the mistakes of others
You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.
Friends, you and me … You brought another friend … and we started our group … our circle of friends … and like a circle … there is no beginning or end …
Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is mystery.
Today is a gift.

Jamie Black read the following tribute to his uncle

We are here today to celebrate and commemorate Nicolas Head, or Nic or Nicki, and quite often naughty Nic!  We are here to remember his amazing qualities and incredibly colourful life, but how to do this for someone who painted in such vivid strokes, especially when he packed so many things into his 8 decade

Well, I think the best way is through the stories that we all have about him, as there was pretty much nothing about Nic that was ordinary; he was taller, better looking, more athletic, funnier, more talented and fuller of larger than life anecdotes than pretty much everyone else.  

And yet I think that this man, possessed of the most ridiculous and prodigious amounts of raw talent, continually felt an underlying need to prove himself to the rest of the world.  And Nic could never do this through boring, conventional achievements, like getting a job or buying a house …. The result was often the opposite of what he intended, perhaps because he was very dyslexic.  Whatever the cause, I think few of us would describe him as one of life’s great conformers.  

Instead, he was forever coming up with new ideas to do something completely out of the ordinary.  This would inevitably be romantically adventurous and ruinously expensive – like running motor yachts, hunting for lost cities, or trying to acquire Pigeon Island off St Lucia, where he, Georgie, Sarah and Catie all had so many happy years.  With the benefit of hindsight and distance, the golden thread that ran through them all was that they required tremendous vision, vaulting ambition, huge promotion, and dogged determination.  Nic could certainly manage the first three, but the last was – perhaps – not such a forte.

But I’m getting ahead of myself … We should start at the beginning, in London at the outbreak of world war 2.  

Giving a broad hint as to his preferences later in life, Googs – by whose side his ashes will be buried – always said that he was a very cherubic looking, blond, blue eyed baby who positively glowed when pretty girls looked into his pram.  However, anyone he thought less attractive was not so welcome – the die was cast here from an early age!

As Nic became a toddler, there were more distractions.  Chief amongst these was the addition of his new sister Georgie.  Nic – it’s fair to say – had a very definite idea of what an elder brother’s responsibilities consisted of, which mainly revolved around persecuting his little sister.  He filled her pram with sand – with her in it – and gave her a haircut to help her lose her curly hair – albeit just on one side.  

Despite this, they both lead an idyllic life for four years from 1946 when the family moved to Pigeon Island.  The school run for Nic was cadging a ride on passing yachts to get to and from Barbados, while the freedom that he had living in a desert island idyll was something that drew him back to St Lucia and the Caribbean time and again later in life.

While there he developed his ability to throw things quite a distance, with Georgie doing her bit to assist by acting as a (it’s fair to say, not always willing) mobile target.  At school, his sports and arts capabilities shone through, but dyslexia was unknown at that time, so his academic studies were more … challenging. However, being a white blond and sporty boy at a mostly local Barbadian school, he became used to being in the spotlight.  

Returning to the UK in 1950, he joined Millfield School on a sports’ scholarship.  There, his tremendous physical abilities were honed, and he became the Amateur Athletics Association’s champion in javelin, discus and shot put.  His ability and enthusiasm for sport – and throwing stuff in particular – remained undimmed throughout his life, and I can remember trying to throw a cricket ball with him here on the lawn at Avington when I was in my 20s and he was in his 60s … Given the age gap, this was obviously not a fair competition and I learned a lesson to never do that again, as he beat me by miles!  

Millfield also encouraged his artistic side, where he learned to play the piano and guitar, as well as to sing.  He and the author Johnny Clive became firm friends, and after they had left school, they busked in London, where Nic’s lovely crooning voice and looks made for brisk trade.  His talent as a pianist was then recognised when he was asked to play a honky tonk tune that he’d composed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  Unfortunately, his dyslexia meant that he never mastered reading music, and a freeform Nic plus a musically scored orchestra wasn’t a successful combination.

The school also demonstrated the third leg of Nic’s passions, and in a case of life imitating art, he left Millfield slightly earlier than planned after falling foul of school rules relating to ahem, entertaining the fairer sex.

Entering adult life, Nic was one of the last cadre of people drafted in for National Service.  He had a slightly shorter than normal stint in the Horse Guards, where his empathy with animals was a success, but his natural view of authority was not. However, what this did do was give him a taste of London, and he became a successful model for Austen Reed and the milk marketing board.  

It was while he was doing this that he met and married his first wife Sue, but having married young, they soon parted.  He then married Illyana – otherwise known as Brandy – in 1970.  They had a son, Christopher in 1973, who has travelled here to be in the UK for the first time today.  I’d like to take a moment to say thank you to Chris for making such a huge effort – it’s great to have you here, and I know that Nic would be very proud to see you here with the rest of the family.  

Life was still centred around the King’s Road, but Nic moved on again and married Annas in 1976.  It was over the next few years that life took some more extreme directions. Annas described him as her ‘Knight in shining armour, albeit one that fell off his horse quite regularly’, which sums him up far better than I can.  Her view of him as “huge fun, completely irresistible – and hilariously irresponsible” is a perfect view of an imperfect man.

Nic persuaded Annas that they should buy an old Fairmile motor yacht and convert her to become a luxury charter boat.  They named her Sea Victory and sailed to Cyprus, just in time for the Turkish invasion of the island.   They established themselves despite this, but life was further complicated by the Lebanese civil war.  

To every war coloured cloud, there was a Nic coloured silver lining of dangerous opportunity.  With Annas mostly in charge – to the extent that she was nick-named ‘the pirate queen’ in the press – Sea Victory was involved in the rescue of a large number of people and their valuables from the Lebanese coast.  One memorable trip included filled the bath with the gold from the National Bank of Lebanon as the civil war took hold.  The ship’s visitor’s book filled up with thanks and the stories of those who had been evacuated, and Nic – in collaboration with Jonny Clive – turned these into a rip-roaring adventure yarn called Ark based closely on what Annas and he had done.

1978 saw Nic and Annas with their newly born son Charlie back here at Avington having sold Sea Victory.  Unfortunately, the promise of a conventional life for the three of them was overtaken by his other plans, and Nic left Annas and Charlie to go treasure hunting in the Cocos Islands.  

As with most of his schemes, it was wildly ambitious and totally unrealisable. It was followed in the early 80s by a similar scheme to get Pigeon Island back and run it as a club, with similar results. Book, film and art ideas all went the same way over the years, but his charm and conviviality saved him, and he fell back on his feet when he met an elderly American lady in the late 80s.  

She was looking for someone to run her 100ft motor yacht Borina J and charter it out in the USA and West Indies.  This was just up Nic’s street, all the fun and travel and someone else to pay the bills!  The Sea Victory crew was stood up again to run Borina J, keeping her in beautiful condition.  

Sadly, her owner died in 1990, and with it the ocean life.  By then, Nic had met and married Ramona in Texas, and they had a daughter Olympia in 1992, it being an Olympic year.  Nic’s wanderlust again got the better of family life, and he left another young family. This sad thread ran through his life, and he admitted to me that this was no reflection on his ex-wives or – in particular – his children.  

At about the same time, Nic had started taking his art more seriously.  A talented cartoonist and water colour painter, he was encouraged to focus on oils in the belief that they would be more valuable.  A lock up full of expensively framed oil paintings is still available in New York for anyone who wishes to purchase them – please come and see Georgie afterwards should you wish to take possession!

The most stable part of Nic’s life was the last chapter with Maidee, and we’re very sorry that she can’t be here with us now. They were married for nearly two decades and whilst Nic could never be tamed, she was the anchor on which he was able to secure a more conventional life in New York state and later Texas, building dry stone walls, painting and writing.  

So, how to sum Nic up?  Charismatic, irresistible, ebullient, a natural entertainer and sportsman, wonderful company and fantastic for a party.  Against these, the ledger also shows an inability to lay down roots in one place or with one person, and a penchant for wild schemes that often painfully impacted those around him.  

So Nic, if you are listening, we still very much miss you, in spite of – and sometimes because of – your hilarious irresponsibility.  

Chris Head read the following tribute from Nicolas’s widow Maidee:

Firstly, I would like to say how infinitely sorry I am that I’m unable to be there with all of you today.  Nic’s passing has been a heart-rending dilemma for me and one that doesn’t seem to become any easier as the days go by.  I have often thought if only I could be there at this celebration of his life, some of the tears might go away.   

Also, I don’t know if Chris has already introduced himself but, whether he has or not, I would like to say a word myself.  Chris is Nic’s eldest son and one I would adore to call my own.  Our friendship and our love for each other is something which, I know, Nic had always wanted . . . he liked both of us a lot!    

Nic was such an amazing person – so full of extraordinary ideas.  His gorgeous paintings, his exceptional music and his strange and wonderful imagination.  I can truly say I have never known anyone quite like him.  He was always a surprise – from the first moment he woke up in the morning until he finally went to sleep at night.  He was, as they say, “a one off.”

Speaking of “one off’s,” he also had a priceless sense of humour.  When we were married some thirty-odd years ago, Nic – full of champagne and cheer – was waltzing around, barking at all of the “old guard”:  “Well, I must say,” he barked, “this is one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to . . . and I only go to my own!”  

The gentlemen seemed to find that rather funny – albeit somewhat quixotically.  The ladies, however, were now brimming with what seemed like a zillion unanswerable questions.  But Nicky didn’t mind . . . he just kept waltzing about!

There are so many instances, through the years, that have been absolutely priceless.   Of course, I can’t go into them now but, just know, Nic never stopped making me laugh.  The last time he did this was when he was lying in a hospital bed.  I was sitting next to him when a minister arrived to give us a prayer service.  When it was over, I thanked the minister, calling him, “Father.”  He looked at me and said, “You can’t call me Father.'”  When I asked him why not?  He said, “Well, because I’m a Baptist . . .”

Nic, who couldn’t speak – and could barely breathe – found this “faux pas” by an Episcopalian to a Baptist pastor hilariously funny and started squeezing my hands and laughing so hard, the nurses could hear it out in the hallway!  Then he kissed me.  That was the last moment we had together . . . he died a few hours later.

Nic didn’t like being in the spotlight and probably wouldn’t like it right now, although he would adore everyone who came here today.  He was an “odd duck” and preferred to stay that way.  I never argued with him nor did I ever try to change him.  He was who he was . . . good or bad.  Well, not really bad, just occasionally naughty.

What’s so important to me now, though, is that I have all of our memories and through all of our laughter and all of our tears, Nic was always my comfort and my joy.  He was the love of my life . . . he was my one true love . . .

May God always bless him and keep him . . . for Evermore.



Revd Alex Pease gave the following address: 

A Christian funeral is the final part of a journey started at baptism. It is a journey taken by one of the church’s saints accompanied by Christian Community.  

You may think that ‘Saint’ – is overstating the case a bit?  Nicolas certainly had his strengths: Sarah has described him to me as ‘beyond charming’ ‘funny’ ‘light hearted’ ‘fascinating’ ‘incredibly good looking’ ‘delightful’ and ‘talented’ particularly musically but also athletically ‘everyone liked him’.  But he was also humanitarian rescuing people by boat off the coast of the Lebanon from one of the perpetual middle east crises.

These strengths are many of the things that I feel sure he will want to be remembered for, but along with those strengths, I guess there will be things that he would rather were forgotten.

Strengths and weaknesses; Nic had things he would like to be remembered for and things he would rather were forgotten.  In this he was like all of us.  

But the Christian understanding of what happens at death is that when we as Christians cross over that barrier, we can be confident that God, creator of universe, who made each of us, will see not those successes and failures, but only Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.  Despite our weaknesses, despite our failures, God will judge our lives on the basis of what Jesus did, not on the basis of what we have done or not done. Theologians call this  “The Atonement”: we are put at one with God, because of the Cross.  This is why the gospel is “good news”.  And rather a relief for many of us, including me.

Death is always a terrible separation for those left behind – for Maidee and the family and for Nicolas’ many friends; but I am confident that it is a separation which is not for ever.

So what is it like beyond death?  Christians do not believe in a disembodied eternity: twanging a harp on a cloud. Christians believe in a physical resurrection – like that of Jesus, in a new Earth ruled by Jesus, where we can eat and drink and enjoy many of tangible joys experienced during our lives in the world.  

I cannot promise: sports cars and yachts, but I feel sure there will be music and art and that Nicolas will be able to make music and paint pictures and be appreciated by the Creator of the universe for it.

Whatever it is like; it will be so much better than we can possibly imagine.  

CS Lewis, who wrote the Narnia Stories, describes Aslan the Lion (who is the Christ figure in those stories) speaking to the children (who are the heroes of the stories), when they reach Narnia for the final time: he says; “…all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead.  The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ending: this is the morning.”  

Lewis continues: “..for [the children] it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page:  now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: in which every chapter is better than the one before’


John 14:1–6(NRSV)

Jesus the Way to the Father

14“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

As the congregation left the church to commit his ashes to the ground, we listened to a recording of some of the music that Nic had composed.

Some of Nic’s paintings:

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