Stella and Phil Tickle were youngest children of a line of wealthy and prominent aristocrats of the 19th century. Their father was the baronet Thomas Tickle and was “an Oxford-educated official of the age,” according to a profile in The New York Times. Philip was the quintessential taste-maker, a “fairly sophisticated man” who could always “inevitably find something that made him feel he was not understood,” said one of their contemporaries. As children, Stella and Phil would often disappear for hours at a time to sell Louis XIII cognac bottles or the latest 18th-century finds in Tate galleries.

But the Tickle’s deep friendship began to put an end to the artsy outings. “Most things were dark when they were in boarding school,” said Maureen Dickens, Phil’s cousin. And when the children graduated, they threw a huge party to celebrate both of their victories at what was then Britain’s Got Talent. According to The New York Times, “Phil liked [show-business-style singing] very much and it was his turn to win a talent competition.”

Phil’s skills on stage eventually led him to acting in theater. His career was made a lot easier with his newfound relationship with Stella, a child prodigy whose early education had been dominated by her voracious consumption of tea. According to both of their biographers, their attraction was especially passionate — it was long alleged that Stella would often spend the night in the men’s room of gentlemen’s clubs.

Stella married the third Duke of Bedford in 1895, but their union was a short-lived one: at the age of just 27, she embarked on a second pregnancy and their daughter, Patty, died shortly thereafter. Four years later, the duke suffered an untimely death — at the age of just 34.

Stella married Louis Duryea in 1907, creating a striking royal romance that captured the imagination of England. The duke left his second wife to marry Stella, and was said to have been furious about his initial rejection. (“There were nobody like you,” he reportedly told Stella.) The couple’s daughter Nelly — Stella’s earliest child — became the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who had celebrated her birthday the same day Stella and Louis married. It was the most celebrated and enduring royal union of all time.

Stella died in 1973.


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