She was born into a world of beauty and wealth, but priviledge does not guarantee happiness, as Susie Bulmer discovered. She tells Women's Editor Lindsay Jennings about failed relationships, swapping decorating tips with Margaret Thatcher and finding true love.

THE imposing grandeur of Studley Royal House comes into view as the private road curves through the expansive deer park and winds around the side of the 18th century house. Across the snow-covered courtyard, Susie Bulmer throws open the double doors and greets me with a firm handshake and a warm smile. Her brown eyes sparkle animatedly as she introduces herself before heading off to ask the housekeeper about coffee.

"What a wonderful house," I say, following her into the vast country kitchen. "Yes, isn't it?" she smiles. "We're very lucky."

Her slender, impeccably groomed figure disappears down the corridor as she leads me through to the Morning Room with its beautiful stone carved fireplace, ornate wallpaper and soft furnishings in cranberry and creams. Susie has just self-published her book, Keeping My Distance. It is a collection of memories, articles and poems which candidly chart her life, from her vivid, and often funny, childhood to her doomed first marriage and attempted suicide when she was at her lowest ebb. She describes it as "a social and historical journal".

"I wrote it because I felt compelled to tell people what I really cared about which is that I think women, especially beautiful women, are victims and that they are open to a lot of abuse," she says. "I think they can learn from other people telling their story."

Susie was born in the British military hospital in Maymyo, Burma on December 23, 1941. Her father was a lieutenant colonel in the Burma Rifles and her mother came from a large brewing family. She and her brother Pip were brought up by their grandmother in Dorset as "there were no suitable schools in Burma and the climate was considered dangerous for small European children".

She went to finishing school in Versailles, near Paris, and openly admits in her book that until her first marriage she thought "baths cleaned themselves when the water was let out". But her naivety was soon dispelled when she married at 21. Even though her husband admitted he was not in love with her, she felt driven by "desperation and frustration" to marry and thus open the door to sex, children and fulfilment. She succeeded with the first two, but the latter never came.

"It wasn't a loveless marriage but he was very introverted," she says. "In those days the upper classes were programmed never to show their emotions...and his family were pretty peculiar."

Her in-laws were certainly eccentric. They lived in semi-squalor in a fading Jacobean house with damp beds and mouldy food. Her mother-in-law also displayed an unhealthy obsession with the occult and once held her two-year-old grandson up at the window to point out a passing UFO. "As a result he was so frightened he would not sleep alone for several nights," she writes.

The marriage lasted 14 years and produced two sons before it disintegrated. Her next major relationship was also doomed, a time of her life she can now look back on as a "learning curve".

Her partner was an alcoholic and would often verbally abuse her and become violent without warning, grabbing hold of her beautiful red hair when drunk and kicking and punching her while she was on the floor.

"When he became psychotic, I would creep into the bathroom and lock myself in there, sleeping among the bath towels," she writes.

"In the morning his remorse was sometimes painful to behold. His memory of events was patchy, but confronted with evidence of his violence the night before (bruises, broken furniture, drink on the carpet or wallpaper) he would be pathetic in subjugation and humiliation."

It was during this time that she slipped into a secret depressive state. She was terrified her first husband would find out about her condition and stop her seeing her boys, who were away at boarding school and whom she only saw for six weeks of the year. Alone and isolated, she was unable to recognise her illness as depression and in despair, she swallowed a bottle of pills. She called her mother just before she slipped into unconsciousness and had her stomach pumped in time to save her life.

"Nobody knew what was going on," she writes. "The little white pills were a desperate cry for help - that, or a selfish last act - the Russian roulette of a para-suicide."

She was with the alcoholic for two years and eventually sought help from Al-Anon, the "other side" of alcoholics anonymous. She stayed with him for so long, she says, because in a way she had "made her bed and had to lie in it".

"I was also stupid enough to think I could change him," she admits. "But of course I couldn't. When you live with an alcoholic, it's living with insanity and it just destroys you. Thank goodness I didn't marry him."

When she was back on her feet she turned to music to soothe her wounded soul and ran dance classes in London, bringing Jane Fonda's aerobics to them.

"I had a wonderful time," she recalls. "Exercise is so good for the mind."

Her varied career also included a spell as PA to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai, which gave her a "tremendous insight into the Arab world", and a spot of interior designing for the former Conservative Party leader, Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady had been told that Susie's house had been "beautifully done up" and after seeing her efforts for herself, wanted help in giving her own home a crisp and pretty look - with no frills.

After discarding some wallpapers for being too difficult to hang, she told Susie: "One should not forget that a house is just a machine for living in".

"I realised with some surprise that she not only intended to paint the walls but also to hang the wallpaper herself," she says. "She was lovely."

Susie finally found contentment with her second husband, Esmond Bulmer, a former Conservative MP and chairman of the Bulmer family's international cider business until it was sold to Scottish and Newcastle for £278m in 2003.

The couple bought the former stable block Studley Royal House, near Ripon, from multi-millionaire businessman Sir Paul Sykes, five years ago. Sir Paul had already carried out extensive renovations and Susie has furnished the house beautifully. She knew little of Yorkshire at the time, but grew to love her adopted county.

Her husband, she says, is her safety net, someone who "if I happen to fall into the briar bush he always manages to get me out". "I couldn't be more happy," she says, smiling radiantly, her eyes twinkling. "I always knew the chemistry was right."

Her husband is very supportive of her literary efforts, as are her sons and family, although her eldest son, Charlie, did ask if she wrote the book to settle old scores. She says that that was not the case, and insists it isn't self-indulgent to write about your life in order to make sense of it.

"If I was an artist and I was painting pictures, I would probably have a retrospective exhibition," she says. "It's the same with writing. I didn't want to leave it in the bottom drawer of my desk. I've had so many letters from the family and friends saying they have loved it."

Does she have any regrets in her life?

"No," she says firmly. "Je ne regrette rien. I think I was lucky to be born gutsy and that's why I like Yorkshire people so much, because they're tough and resilient. They say what they mean and they mean what they say, and I find that refreshing." She says she has no plans to write more books, but is considering writing a column for a magazine. Esmond also has the writing bug, and is researching a book about his family history in the North.

Asked to sum up her life, Susie points to the writing on the invitation which was sent out for her lavish book launch at the Sloane Club in London, which was supported by most of the British aristocracy.

"In retrospect, like most people's, mine has been a bitter-sweet experience," it reads. "Bitter because nothing in life is perfect, sweet because coming to terms with the imperfection is liberating."

l Keeping My Distance is available by post from The Pomagne Press, PO Box 122, Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 32X priced £14 including postage.