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Tara Browne's death in the swinging Sixties inspired a Beatles classic

The death of Tara Browne at 21 inspired the opening lines of a Beatles classic. And now a brilliant new biography of the society playboy's short but decadent life reveals how he introduced Paul McCartney to LSD and put the swing into the Sixties

Just after midnight on December 18, 1966, in a London festooned with Christmas lights, 21 year old Tara Browne, a Dublin born brewery heir, music lover, style icon, racing car driver and sometime Vogue model, lost control of his light blue Lotus Elan in South Kensington, London, and collided with a black van.

His passenger, girlfriend Suki Potier, later claimed that Browne wasn't going particularly fast although that would have been wildly out of character for the speed obsessed young aristocrat. In her version of events, a white car either a Volvo or an E Type Jaguar, never traced emerged unexpectedly from a side street and forced Tara to swerve.

Tara's mother Oonagh (right), painted by royal portrait artist Philip de Laszlo, and (left) Oonagh on the cover of Tatler

Browne's final act replica van cleef and arpels perlee bracelet in life was to pull the steering wheel to ensure that he, not Suki, took the full impact of the collision. 'A gentleman to the very end,' said his friend, the model and actress Anita Pallenberg. There, in the middle of page three, was an article headlined: 'Guinness Heir Babies Stay with Grandmother'.

John had heard about Tara's death, though unlike Paul McCartney, he hadn't known him well. The two Beatles had just been discussing whether or not Browne, son of Lord Oranmore and Browne, would have inherited his father's seat in the House of Lords had he lived.

Lennon touched the piano keys and out came the opening line of a song:

'I read the news van cleef perlee bracelet today, oh boy

About a lucky man who made the grade'

Fifty years on, Tara Browne is familiar to many as the man in the first verse of The Beatles' A Day In The Life, who 'blew his mind out in a car' and then drew a curious crowd of onlookers who wondered whether he was 'from the House of Lords'.

Sung by John in a disembodied, almost spectral voice, A Day In The Life is considered by many to be The Beatles' greatest song a musical high point of the decade and a haunting coda to an album that represented the last hurrah of Swinging London.

To the pop stars, models and aristocrats who knew him, the tragic end of Tara Browne had a similar significance. Singer Marianne Faithfull, with whom Browne had 'a little scene' weeks before his death, would later describe the news of Tara's fatal crash as 'like a death knell sounding over London'.

Browne's wrecked Lotus Elan after the crash that took his life

Pallenberg, girlfriend of Tara's close friend, the doomed Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, said that after Browne died, 'the Sixties weren't the Sixties any more'.

Rich, handsome and effortlessly cool, Tara was the living, breathing quintessence of Swinging London a dandy with the air of a young prince, always right on the heartbeat of the moment in everything he did, whether introducing Paul McCartney to the mind expanding possibilities of LSD in his Belgravia mews, turning heads in his psychedelic AC Cobra or gadding about London's West End with Peter Sellers or Roman Polanski.

Browne thrilled to danger of any kind experimenting with the newest drugs, shooting the breeze with the East End villains who popped into his motor repair shop in Chelsea, and tearing up the King's Road in a low slung sports car, a record player built into its dash, the needle skipping across the vinyl as he weaved through the traffic.

Born in 1945, Tara was the younger son of Dominick Browne, the fourth Lord Oranmore and Browne, and Oonagh Guinness, a glamorous society beauty and member of the sixth generation of the brewing dynasty, whose surname was as famous as Ireland itself.

Even as a small child, he was precocious to a degree that would leave strangers open mouthed in shock.

During his mother's dinner parties at Luggala, her grand gothic home in Ireland's Wicklow Mountains, he would walk down the centre of the table barefoot in blue satin pyjamas, greeting the guests. As a 13 year old, sophisticated far beyond his years, he travelled everywhere in his mother's chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, splurging a 720 a month allowance at a time when the average industrial wage for a man was 546 per year.

By the time he was 18, having already travelled the world with his vivacious mother, Browne was married with a child, but that didn't stop the charming, well connected young man finding his true purpose at the centre of a suddenly swinging London.

He became a central character at a club near Leicester Square called the Ad Lib, the hippest replica van cleef jewelry of London hotspots, where Britain's once sacred class structure was being shaken like a snow globe, as pop stars and criminals mingled with debutantes, aristocrats and it was rumoured royalty, in the form of Princess Margaret.

On any given night, you might see Terence Stamp catching up with his old housemate Michael Caine; David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton twisting on the dance floor; or John Lennon and Paul McCartney, home from conquering new worlds and sharing their experiences with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who would soon be making the same crossing to America.

'Tara was absolutely central to it,' remembered Sixties socialite Jane Ormsby Gore. 'We were meeting people from different walks of life, but we needed somebody in the middle saying, "Oh, so and so, have you met such and such?" And that was what Tara did.'

In the great social switchyard of the Ad Lib, it was inevitable that Tara and McCartney would meet. One had a ravenous curiosity about the world; the other, the assured air of a privileged young man who had seen and done it all. Introduced by McCartney's brother Mike, they bonded over clothes, cars, music and drugs. From that moment on, Tara took Paul into his circle of high born friends.

Tara and his wife Nicki's mews house in Eaton Row, Belgravia, became the centre of an after hours scene. Every Friday morning, Nicki bought five dozen eggs to make breakfast for whichever guests had improvised beds for themselves on the living room floor.

'The house was always strewn with bodies,' she remembered. 'You never knew who was a Beatle, who was an Animal, who was a Trogg and who was a Pretty Thing.'

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