United Kingdom

SEBASTIAN SHAKESPEARE: War hero poet who was the real Captain Corelli dies at 96 

He says he felt 'doomed to perpetual failure' in his youth, before achieving fame with his best-selling novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin. 

Now Louis de Bernieres has paid a final, heartfelt tribute to the man who made it possible — his father, Piers de Berniere-Smart, who has died peacefully aged 96.

'I wouldn't be a writer at all without him,' de Bernieres tells me. 

'He used to recite Shakespeare during Sunday lunch. He wrote poetry — and never hid it. A lot of the poems were about me and my two sisters. So it was normal to aspire to be a writer.' 

His father's World War II experiences had an indelible influence too. 

Piers de Berniere-Smart, who has died peacefully aged 96, was the inspiration for his son's novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin

'He was the last surviving officer from his regiment, the Queen's Bays, to have seen action,' says de Bernieres. 

After initially serving in North Africa, his father crossed the Mediterranean with the 8th Army for the Italian campaign. 

'He landed at Rimini, on the Gothic Line,' explains de Bernieres, 65, whose dedication in Captain Corelli's Mandolin reads: 'To my mother and father, who [...] fought against the Fascists and the Nazis [...] and were never thanked.' 

But though his parents had a long and happy marriage, which only ended with his mother's death nine years ago, they might never have met, had a wartime love affair of his father's not perished. 

Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz in the 2001 film adaptation of the book, 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin'

'He told us that he'd had a romance with an Italian woman during the war. They'd actually got engaged, but her family wouldn't let them marry because he wasn't a Roman Catholic.' 

Piers left the Army after his regiment was amalgamated in 1959. 

'He still insisted he was a Queen's Bay rather than anything else. He then ran the Shaftesbury Homes, for disadvantaged children. 

'After he retired, he raised money for SSAFA [the Armed Forces' charity]. He had an amazing life, but never had any acknowledgement of any kind,' says de Bernieres. 

Just six people could attend his funeral, including his daughters Susanna and Charlotte and de Bernieres, who brought not a mandolin but his soprano saxophone, on which he played The Last Post. 

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Chatto in training for the Round Britain rowing expedition which has now been postponed

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Katie Derham who is married to restaurateur John Vincent, has been doing a lot of gardening, which entails getting her green fingers grubby

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