by Tony Bryant
Described by the tabloids as 'indecently charming and ‘deliciously wicked’, Shelagh Tennant, the ‘60s wild child noted for being the person who helped bring The Beatles to Spain, became one of the most important characters in the history of Torremolinos. The former model and owner of Shelagh's Bar - one of the first English pubs in Torremolinos – died in 2018, but she left a legacy that is still talked about in the town today.
Shelagh's Bar, located on Calle María Barrabino, was one of the liveliest venues in Torremolinos during the 1960s and it attracted both local expat residents and a string of visiting celebrities and socialites. The excitement of the early sixties managed to survive amid the oppressive Franco years, and Shelagh’s pub, which is today called New Tina’s Bar, became renowned for its incredible music and the owner’s infamous parties: during its brief two-year existence, Shelagh's became known as one of the trendiest bars on the Costa del Sol.
Shelagh managed to acquire the top records of the time from London and Gibraltar, and her collection of music became one of the main attractions of the bar. At that time, it was virtually impossible to find modern rock and roll records in Spain, so Shelagh’s was the only place in the area to hear the latest music from the UK and the USA.
However, the incredible story of Shelagh Tennant is not confined the ‘anything goes’ parties that made her bar so well known.
She arrived in Torremolinos in the early 1960s with her mother, Marion Wrottesley, a socialite that married the heir of a barony and who hobnobbed with everyone from The Rolling Stones to Somerset Maugham and the Kray Twins.
Married seven times, Marion inherited 30,000 pounds during the late 1950s, with which she purchased a 13-bedroomed mansion in Mallorca. A few years later, after living in Tangiers for two years, she surfaced among the bullfighting sector of Torremolinos, where she received the nickname of ‘Pinkie’ because of the colour of her hair.
Marion eventually returned to London penniless, where she spent the remainder of her life living in a bedsit in Kensington: Shelagh stayed behind in Torremolinos and soon followed a similar path to that of her mother.
Born in India in 1943, Shelagh, whose parents were both in the army, travelled the world, living in Shanghai (where her grandfather was a director of Shell), before moving to Spain, where she was educated in Barcelona and Madrid.
Shelagh was a mischievous child and she moved through various boarding schools after being repeatedly expelled for disobedience and unruly behaviour. Her adolescence followed a similar pattern and she often landed in hot water with the police and the local authorities.
The daughter of a wealthy family, Shelagh began working as a model aged 17 thanks to the insight of the Spanish fashion designer, Elio Berhanyer, who recognised her potential. However, as with most of Shelagh’s career moves, the modelling career was short lived.
A friendship between Shelagh and The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein marked another phase of her professional life. When The Beatles came to Madrid, Shelagh was in charge of the translations and the paperwork.
After her adventure with The Fab Four, Shelagh flirted with music promotion, although this was another career that never took off, mainly due to her carefree attitude and love of the good life.
At the age of 20, she defied family opposition by marrying a man who was three times her age - David Tennant, an English aristocrat and the brother of Lord Glenconner. Shelagh was the best friend of Tennant’s daughter, Sabrina, and the wedding, which was held in Caxton Hall, shocked London society. Her mother refused to attend the wedding, as she maintained that Tennant had been a former boyfriend, a claim that Shelagh denied.
Tennant brough his wife the bar in Torremolinos as a wedding present, she called it simply Shelagh's Bar and it was during this period, that she would enjoy the life of a socialite, mixing with the stars and aristocracy, acquiring a taste for the good life and gaining a reputation as the person everyone wanted to know.
In 1968, the same year that her husband died of a heart attack, Shelagh was paralysed after jumping from her apartment window after claiming her drink had been spiked with LSD at a party in Torremolinos. Her back was broken and doctors told her that she would never walk again. After more than a year of hospitalisation and therapy, Shelagh amazed her doctors by overcoming her injuries.
In the early the 1970s, Shelagh went to live Barcelona for five years, after which, she moved to New York and then to South America, before returning to the Costa del Sol to open a fashion boutique in Marbella.
Some years later, she married restaurateur Ajit Kuner and the couple lived in a villa in the mountains surrounding Fuengirola. After divorcing Kuner, Shelagh settled in Fuengirola, where she spent the remainder of her days.
Shortly before she died, at the age of 75 after a short battle with cancer, a special tribute party attended by around 100 friends and associates was held in her honour in Torremolinos, as reported in Sur in English. Photos of Shelagh and friend in the 1960s at Torremolinos Chic.
Shelagh Tennant died in Fuengirola in November 2018. A former colleague from the town’s golden era described Shelagh as “one of the most fascinating people of that era”.