This is the first biography of Eric Walker, the Kenya pioneer who built Treetops Hotel and was host to Princess Elizabeth in 1952 on the night her father died. Of all Kenya’s early settlers, he was surely one of the most eccentric. His life took him from Oxford and a stint as Lord Baden-Powell’s secretary to the Royal Flying Corps and prison camp in Germany, where a German girlfriend from before the war helped him to escape. He served also in the Crimea, supporting the White Russians against the Reds and witnessing many atrocities during the Russian revolution. Thereafter he returned to England and became engaged to the Earl of Denbigh’s daughter.
Needing money to get married, Walker smuggled liquor into America during Prohibition while his fiancee Lady Bettie worked as social secretary at the British embassy in Washington. All went well until Walker shot and badly wounded a corrupt state trooper who was trying to steal his whisky. Fleeing to Canada, he made his way to Kenya and opened the Outspan Hotel in 1928, followed soon afterwards by Treetops Hotel in the forest.
Walker saw military service again during World War Two and the Mau Mau emergency, but otherwise spent the rest of his life as a hotelier. Besides Princess Elizabeth, his guests included all sorts of famous names and Hollywood stars - everyone from Joan Crawford and Charlie Chaplin to his old boss Lord Baden-Powell, who retired to the Outspan and died there. A house on the Walkers’ farm later featured as the Adamsons’ in the film Born Free. His story will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, James Fox’s White Mischief, or Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame-Trees of Thika.
Nicholas Best grew up in Kenya and was educated there, in England and at Trinity College, Dublin. He served in the Grenadier Guards and worked in London as a journalist before becoming a fulltime author.
His comic novel Tennis and the Masai was serialized on BBC Radio 4 and has recently been a best-seller in the Amazon Top 100. The Greatest Day in History, his account of the 1918 Armistice, was a Waterstone's recommendation of the month and has been translated into many languages.
In 2010, Nicholas Best was long-listed for the inaugural Sunday Times-EFG Private Bank award of...
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