Captain Arthur Edward "Boy" Capel CBE (December 1881 – 22 December 1919) was an English polo player, possibly best-remembered for being a lover and muse of fashion designer Coco Chanel.
Born in Brighton, Sussex, Capel was the son of Arthur Joseph Capel, a British shipping merchant, and his French-born wife, the former Berthe Andrée A. E. Lorin (1856–1902). He had three sisters: Marie Henriette Teresia Capel; Mary Josephine Lawrence Edith Capel; and Berthe Isabelle Susanna Flora Capel (married Sir Herman Alfred de Stern, Baron Michelham, the son of Herbert Stern, 1st Baron Michelham).
In the obituary of one of Capel's daughters, he was described as "an intellectual, politician, tycoon, polo-player and the dashing lover and sponsor of the fashion designer Coco Chanel". There are hints in biographies of Chanel about Capel's reputed (illegitimate) connections with the Capel Earls of Essex, but no connection has been established.
Capel’s father and grandfather were born in Kent. His paternal grandfather served in the navy, marrying and starting a family in Waterford, Ireland, during his service. His grandfather joined the coastguard service, following his navy service, and was posted to the coastguard station at the Sizewell Gap in Suffolk.
An alumnus of Beaumont College, he was a shipping merchant and already an apparently wealthy self-made man by 1909. Capel was killed in an automobile accident on Monday 22 December 1919, allegedly en route to a Christmas rendezvous with Chanel. He was buried with full military honours at Fréjus Cathedral on 24 December 1919. A roadside memorial was placed at the site of the accident, consisting of a cross bearing the inscription: "A la mémoire du capitaine Arthur Capel, légion d'Honneur de l'armée britannique, mort accidentellement en cet endroit le 22 décembre 1919."
Capel and Chanel
His affair with Chanel apparently began in 1909, when he became acquainted with the then 26-year-old mistress of his friend Étienne Balsan. Capel financed Chanel's first shops and his own clothing style, notably his blazers, inspired her creation of the Chanel look. The couple spent time together at fashionable resorts such as Deauville, but he was never faithful to Chanel. Their relationship lasted nine years, and even after Capel married he continued his affair with Chanel until his death in late 1919.
Marriage and children
In 1918, Capel married the Honourable Diana Wyndham, née Lister (born 7 May 1893—died 1983), a daughter of Lord Ribblesdale and widow of Captain Percy Lyulph Wyndham (killed in action, 1914), who was the half-brother of Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster. Diana's elder sister Laura was married to Lord Lovat, and another sister to Sir Mathew Wilson, 4th Baronet: after Capel's death, in 1923 Diana married Vere Fane, 14th Earl of Westmorland.
Capel had two daughters:
- Ann Diana France Ayesha Capel (28 April 1919 – 4 May 2008). Ann was married three times and had children with her first two husbands. In 1940 she married her first husband, George Ward (1907–1988), who in 1960 was raised to the peerage Viscount Ward of Witley. Ann and Ward divorced in 1951. She had two children with him: a son who died unmarried in his parents' lifetime at the age of 40, and a daughter. On 7 August 1951 she married Richard Thurstan Holland-Martin (born 26 December 1907 — died 24 January 1968), by whom she had two sons: Barnaby Robert (born 1952) and Giles Thurstan (born 1955 — died 4 May 2008); they divorced in 1966. Ann Capel's third and final husband was Peter Higgins.
- June Capel (born 1920 — died 26 September 2006), later Lady Hutchinson of Lullington. June was born after her father died, and he was apparently even unaware of her conception. Thus, he made no provisions for her in his will, and the will had to be contested to ensure that June got her fair share of her father's fortune (most of it subsequently stolen by a lawyer, according to Lady Hutchinson's obituary). In 1948 June Capel married Franz Osborn, by whom she had a son Christopher. Her second marriage took place in May 1966 to Jeremy Hutchinson, QC (born 28 March 1915). Hutchinson was the former husband of actress Peggy Ashcroft. and was created a life peer on 16 May 1978 with the title Baron Hutchinson of Lullington, of Lullington in the County of East Sussex.
Arthur Capel's descendants include the Honourable Mrs Patrick Tritton (actress Georgina Ward (1941-2010) daughter of his elder daughter Ann) and grandson Christopher Osborn, by his younger daughter June, Lady Hutchinson.
- French actor Olivier Sitruk played Capel in Coco Chanel (2008), a French-Italian-British television film, starring Shirley MacLaine as an elder Chanel.
- Alessandro Nivola played Capel in the film Coco avant Chanel (2009), starring Audrey Tautou as Chanel.
- Anatole Taubman played him in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009).
- Timothy Dalton played him in the film Chanel Solitaire (1981).