KEITH SCHELLENBERG, who has died aged 90, was one of Yorkshire’s greatest all-round sportsmen – most notably at the Winter Olympics – but may perhaps best be remembered as laird of the remote Scottish island of Eigg, a fiefdom in which he was unkindly compared to Toad of Toad Hall.

For the past two decades he had lived with his South Africa-born fourth wife Jilly in Richmond. The column spent a most rewarding couple of hours there early in 2010.

“A charmer, an adventurer, a character and an incorrigible, lifelong, four-seasons risk taker,” we wrote.

“Autocratic, capricious and insensitive,” the Guardian had said 15 years earlier in a piece over which he unsuccessfully sued.

“He brought a spirit of fun, love and adventure to so many,” said the death notice in The Times last Wednesday.

Two weeks before the Echo interview, I’d constructed another Schellenberg column – bricks without straw, by no means for the first time – which concluded that he might have been Britain’s best remembered Winter Olympian after the near-flightless Eddie the Eagle.

His unavailability was subsequently explained by the fact that, at 80 and with two new hips, he’d been winter sporting in Switzerland, though carefully avoiding St Moritz.

“I don’t think he’s very keen on St Moritz these days,” said Jilly. “It’s full of Russians wearing dead animals.”

The Northern Echo:

HE was born in Middlesbrough, variously described as an aristocratic playboy, an extrovert gentleman, flamboyant – forever flamboyant – and some of those things attributed to the Guardian. Inarguably he was a godsend to gossip columnists, one of whom even supposed him rambunctious.

His passions included vintage Bentleys – once there were eight – though it was in a 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom that he’d drive along Eigg’s only road, clad in tweeds and goggles and with scarf blowing in the wind.

Whether the laird would simultaneously intone “Poop poop”, as had Mr Kenneth Grahame’s egregious amphibian, is sadly not recorded.

He’d bought the Hebridean fastness of Eigg for £600,000 in 1975 – 7,400 acres, fewer than 1,000 people, once described as Britain’s most expensive stretch of bracken – promising to conserve one of Europe’s great beauty spots. Relations with the islanders soon deteriorated, however.

A mysterious fire – a mystery not least because all on Eigg swore they’d no idea who could have done such a dreadful thing – destroyed not just the Rolls-Royce but, ironically, a vintage fire engine kept nearby.

If Eigg’s residents thought little of the new laird, however, they may have been even less keen on his many boisterous visitors. One of them, a German, was greeted with a swastika draped over the balcony. A joke, Schellenberg insisted.

Schellenberg subsequently termed his neighbours “dangerous” and “barmy revolutionaries”, sending a Christmas card with a photograph of himself and two well built-Eigg bailiffs dressed in Santa Claus outfits and carrying croquet mallets.

“We specialise in recalcitrant tenants, squatters, weirdos, junkies, hippies, new age travellers and Reds,” the message added, not especially festively.

It was for matters not directly related that he eventually brought a libel action against The Guardian, a High Court hearing which heard that the laird’s well-heeled visitors treated locals with utter contempt.

“No doubt in his own mind the islanders of Eigg were the weasels and stoats who drove him from the lodge, Eigg’s version of Toad Hall,” the paper wrote, triumphantly.

Jilly thought he’d really quite liked the Toad analogy. “It gives him the chance to wear his plus fours,” she said.

HE’D played rugby for Middlesbrough and captained Yorkshire, still met weekly with old friends at Darlington Rugby Club, was in the Great Britain bobsleigh team in 1956 and 1964, raced his Bentleys at Brooklands, loved power boats and skiing.

He’d owned the Whitehall Shipyard in Whitby and the Neesham car company on Teesside – sold for £2m in 1987 – was a director of Croft Autodrome, lived in Stokesley and Sandsend and had long loved northern Scotland.

He’d also contested the true blue Richmond seat for the Liberals in 1964 and 1966 – it should have been the Rainbow Alliance, the guy was so gloriously colourful – losing heavily each time to Tim Kitson, the Conservative. “Tim’s an old chum and a lovely man. He says I only do it to annoy him,” he said.

“Either you were a Keithophile or a Keithophobe,” Jilly had said back in 2010. “He did divide opinion.

The West Highland Free Press had clearly formed the latter view, a framed cartoon on his wall showing Eigg residents waving joyously as their erstwhile laird finally headed from the hills. “I’d spent 40 years on the north-west frontier, trying to tame the Scots,” he said.

“What happened on Eigg really upset him,” said Jilly. “He spent a lot of money, really only wanted to do his best, I do wish he hadn’t sued The Guardian, though. They won’t admit it, but I think the papers missed him no end. There was no one to write about after that.”

The Northern Echo:

THE island was sold in 2001 to a consortium of islanders said to have been funded by an anonymous woman from North-East England. The Schellenbergs paid £900,000 for St Nicholas’s in Richmond, formerly owned by Lady Serena James, locally much loved, who’d died aged 99.

It was a great rambling treasure house of a place, the seven acres of gardens known especially for the roses but the downstairs decoration described in The Daily Telegraph soon after they moved in as “like something from the Addams Family.”

Jilly thought the place eccentric, the impression at once reinforced by the two African figures – “eunuchs” said Keith – either side of the fireplace in the hall. One wore a straw hat and carried a rugby ball.

He’d been particularly disappointed, however, when thieves stole two of his vintage toboggans from the garages out the back. “In 1964 I was the only member of the British (luge) team to finish the course,” he said at the time. “One man finished in hospital and another in the mortuary. Let that be a lesson to these people.”

The rest of the house was a gallery to a life lived richly, sometimes recklessly, Out the back were more Bentleys, a vintage MG, another fire engine – this one horse-drawn. The house was put on the market in 2017 for £1.8m.

It was in a new Mondeo, however, that the engaging Mr Schellenberg insisted upon giving me a lift back to the bus, sitting low behind the steering wheel as if waiting for the green flag at Goodwood.

Already he was said to be showing early signs of dementia, Jilly doing most of the talking, though the last words must be Keith’s.

“It doesn’t strike me that I’d do anything differently at all. It’s all been rather fun.”

His funeral is private. A memorial service is expected next March.