Source AP ©

Childless baronet to bestow his mansion on American rock star

An eccentric English aristocrat with a lavish 13th century mansion that has three lakes, a ballroom and hundreds of cattle lacks an heir.

After an 18-month search for a relative to inherit his 7.5 million pound (US$15 million; 11 million EUR) home, Sir Benjamin Slade, a childless baronet, has found an unlikely candidate: an American rock star from Colorado.

Isaac Slade, front man with The Fray, a Denver four-piece band that enjoy success on both sides of the Atlantic, contacted his namesake and jetted in for a two-day visit, trading sweat-soaked rock clubs for strolls through the picturesque 150 acres (60 hectares) of grounds.

Slade's search for an heir came to light on Dec. 21, 2005, when The Daily Telegraph quoted him as claiming that the Discovery Channel had "tracked down 5,000 Slades in America."

Discovery Channel spokeswoman Lynn Li said Friday that the program was commissioned but never broadcast.

Within days, nevertheless, every major British newspaper had a version of Slade's story, and two months later he claimed to have had more than 10,000 contacts.

Isaac Slade is now considering an offer to take over Maunsel House, 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of London, in the county of Somerset, the aristocrat said.

"He was terribly impressed by the place and is a thoroughly great chap," Slade told The Associated Press on Friday. "Isaac's a big strapping guy and his grandfather was a cowpoke - so he'd be more than able to handle the cattle."

Cowpokes have been a theme of Sir Benjamin's quest. In 2005 the Western Daily Press quoted him as saying: "If my heir is a cowpoke or someone who lives in a trailer park surrounded by rattlesnakes, I'll have a screaming fit. ... although I've got 430 cattle so a cowpoke could come in useful."

Sir Benjamin is descended from a line of gentry who founded a prestigious London art school. Though he has no offspring, he shares the nine-bedroom home with his partner, Kirsten Hughes, his cattle, 13 peacocks, six pigs and four dogs.

Worried that the country estate faced an uncertain future and growing weary of the costs of running the sprawling estate - it commands a 1,000 pound (US$2,000; 1,470 EUR) monthly heating bill alone - the aristocrat launched his search for relatives.

"All my relatives in England have their own large houses and had no interest in taking on another place," Sir Benjamin said.

Sir Benjamin said many of his ancestors left England in the mid 17th century, many running plantations in North Carolina. An Arkansas-based society lists 5,000 Slades in the United States, he said.

The aristocrat said he had no firm links to the musician, but added that he planned further research to examine their lineage.

The musician was not immediately available for comment.

"He could be the answer to our dream," Sir Benjamin said. "He doesn't drink much, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't do drugs - he's not your typical rocker. Better still, he and his wife want to start a family, which is just what this house needs."

Slade said he suspected the singer is descended from relatives in Worcestershire, central England, who founded the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art, at University College London.

"They were very artistic ones, so I think it's likely he's related there. We're trying to check our family trees at the moment," he said. "My branch of the family were only interested in fighting, hunting, drinking and killing the French."

Sir Benjamin's interests have been more eccentric. He collects Elvis Presley memorabilia, and a Presley teddy bear was mauled by a guard dog last year when it was displayed at a museum.

In February, Sir Benjamin made it known that his dog Jasper, who reportedly has a 100,000-pound (150,000 EUR US$200,000) trust fund, was available to serve as best man at gay civil partnership ceremonies at Maunsel House.

The musician, whose "How to Save a Life" album has sold more than 5 million copies in the United States, invited his namesake to a recent London concert, before returning Wednesday to spend two nights at the mansion. The home is on Britain's heritage register, a list of buildings protected through tight controls on renovation or structural changes.

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