“He fell in love at the late age of 49 with Robert Heber Percy, 29 years his junior. In some ways they made an incongruous couple. Heber Percy was handsome; Berners was not. Similarly, Berners was ultra-conservative in his dress, with Heber Percy on the other hand being partial to ensembles consisting of, say, scarlet shirt, blue jumper, green trousers and yellow belt.
On Berners’ plainness, Beverley Nichols was to reminisce: He was remarkably ugly — short, swarthy, bald, dumpy and simian. There is a legend that nobody who has ever seen Gerald in his bath is ever quite the same again.
Once the flamboyant set got to know of his liaison with Heber Percy, lo and behold, the engagement of the homosexual Lord Berners and the lesbian Violet Trefusis was announced in a London social column. It may have been Berners’ own doing, or Heber Percy’s, or another capricious friend’s, but in any case Berners’ mother insisted that a public denial better be made. Berners later claimed that he had to send a message to The Times to reassure the world that “Lord Berners has left Lesbos for The Isle of Man”.
As with some of Berners’ funny lines, that message is almost certainly apocryphal. But this one Edith Sitwell maintained Berners did declare:
One of his acquaintances was in the impertinent habit of saying to him, “I have been sticking up for you”. He repeated this once too often, and Lord Berners replied, “Yes, and I have been sticking up for you. Someone said you aren’t fit to live with pigs, and I said that you are”.
Berners had taken his seat in the House of Lords in December 1923, and actually attended once or twice, but rejected Parliamentary Sessions as all too boring. When asked years later by Diana Mosley about his experiences he replied, “I did go once, but a bishop stole my umbrella and I never went there again.”
Naturally, Lord Berners was not averse to sending up his own visitors. So when guests went into raptures over his mouth-watering peaches he would say, “Yes, they are ham-fed”. On one occasion an anxious dog-loving houseguest lamented, “Fido has lost his necklace”, to which Berners replied, “Oh dear, I’ll have to get another out of the safe”.
Just as he proudly allowed birds-of-paradise to flaunt themselves on the Faringdon lawns, so in his London residence he kept another series of tropical birds. The original bird he had given the name “John Knox”, and when in bed once with lumbago, he managed to teach it to turn somersaults. On its death such a talented bird deserved a public obituary, so, true to form Berners placed this notice in The Times‘ personal column: “Died of jealousy, aged fifteen, John Knox, emerald bird of paradise belonging to Lord Berners. His guests are asked to wear half-mourning”.