Her vision of what a home should be was moulded by growing up in her parents’ farmhouse. It was, she says, ‘full of antiques, faded textiles and rugs, all with that air of scruffiness so essential to an English country house’. Meanwhile Glebe Place was a beautiful creation, layered and warm. ‘Everything I bought I tried to make original and unusual in its own right,’ she says.
‘Obviously it’s heartbreaking to be moving on from a home you love,’ says Benedict Winter, head of sale at Christie’s, ‘but Alexandra has a real passion for interiors… She’s a doyenne of style. Her travels and her personal, rather quirky taste are very much in evidence here.’ Winter picks as his personal favourite lot the coveted John Fowler waste-paper bin: ‘So chic!’ When I look it up, I see the estimate is £300-£500 (albeit for three).
‘I don’t miss any of that excess, that crazy, super-charged lifestyle,’ says Tolstoy. She spoke to a therapist who told her that people who remain hopeful of regaining their former status are the ones who struggle to be happy. She is thrilled to be setting up a new home, where her new furniture will be painted with folk-inspired stencils and the walls are a strong ochre. ‘I feel more focused here. A smaller house is just simpler to live in. I think of Sergei in France surrounded by hundreds of the silver art deco decanters he collects… It bogs you down, all that stuff.’
She used to have a private chef who would make them fresh blinis, sushi, anything they wanted for breakfast; now her Instagram feed shows cornflakes. There are some things she misses. ‘Of course I would love to be able to afford to take my children skiing,’ she says. She recently sold a diamond necklace, a Cartier Rivière, so she could buy a second-hand Aga. But she adds: ‘It’s a release, in a way. Owning jewellery like that is stressful, it’s a liability. I don’t want to wear it and it’s the only thing I had left.’ Apart from her taste and her style, which, of course, can never be lost – although it can be sold.
‘I’m glad I lived that life,’ she says. ‘I learned that if you’re unhappy you’re unhappy, your emotions are the same whatever your financial circumstances. It’s very tempting to be judgmental of rich people. Lots of people are. The assumption is that a rich person is a bad mother, not engaged, absent, frivolous… These are really bad, unfair assumptions.’
Well, someone had to speak up for those poor misjudged oligarchs. Millions wouldn’t. Perhaps it could only be somebody who has had it all and moved beyond it.
Christie’s London, A Private & Iconic Collections auction. Alexandra Tolstoy: A Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler Interior. Online 4 November for bidding and browsing, until 25 November (christies.com)
Follow Alexandra on Instagram: @alexandratolstoy