Kit Hesketh-Harvey, renaissance man of opera, film and theatre, dies suddenly aged 65

 (Johnny Boylan/Shutterstock)
(Johnny Boylan/Shutterstock)

Kit Hesketh-Harvey, the British musician, composer and screenwriter, has died suddenly aged 65, The Independent has learnt.

The multi-talented entertainer, who performed for King Charles, enjoyed a prolific career that included writing the screenplay for director James Ivory’s 1987 film Maurice, starring a young Hugh Grant in one of his first onscreen roles.

He was the brother of Sarah Sands, journalist and former editor of the Evening Standard. His death comes as a double blow to the family amid an ongoing search for Ms Sands’ former husband, British actor Julian Sands, who went missing two weeks ago while hiking in southern California.

Ms Sands spoke of the shock over her brother’s death. She told The Independent: “Kit was dazzling - clever, original, funny, kind. The last time I saw him he was busy mapping out pilgrim routes across Norfolk; there was always the next adventure, the next joke. He gave and gave and gave.”

Known for his work on shows including The Vicar of Dibley, Hesketh-Harvey was married to the actor Katie Rabett, an original member of dance troupe Hot Gossip and former girlfriend of Prince Andrew, until the former couple’s recent, difficult divorce.

Born into a Foreign Office family in Malawi, Hesketh-Harvey was educated as a senior chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, then at Tonbridge School in Kent.

He studied English Literature while on a choral scholarship at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was also a member of the Footlights drama club.

 (Alan Davidson/Shutterstock)
(Alan Davidson/Shutterstock)

After leaving his role as a producer for the BBC’s TV and music department to work on Maurice, Hesketh-Harvey went on to study under Stephen Sondheim, during the American musical theatre giant’s visiting professorship at Oxford University.

Later, he worked with Richard Curtis on the BBC’s hit comedy series The Vicar of Dibley, starring Dawn French in the title role. With pianist Richard Sisson, also a member of Footlights, he formed the cabaret double-act Kit and The Widow, in a partnership that lasted 30 years before concluding in 2012.

He was passionate about opera and classical music, once writing for The Guardian in 2010 about how he had brought the last days of Monterverdi, considered the father of modern opera, to life with his production Monterverdi’s Flying Circus. His translation of Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow was transferred from Leeds-based company Opera North to the Sydney Opera House in 2011.

Interviewed by The Independent for a feature about his “dream home” in 1995, Hesketh-Harvey recalled his childhood spent on the shores of Lake Malawi, “fringed with rainforest, white sand and African fishing villages”.

Hesketh-Harvey outside the family home with his then-wife, Katie Rabett (Getty)
Hesketh-Harvey outside the family home with his then-wife, Katie Rabett (Getty)

Choosing a piano as his “luxury item”, he joked of how the family instrument of his childhood was lined with “112 of galvanised steel” to protect it from termites.

“It would be reassuring to have the ayah who looked after me when I was little,” She was a wonderful lady. Regularly drunk, she had no front teeth but saved my life after a snake bite by biting me with her remaining teeth and sucking out the poison.”

He is survived by his ex-wife, actor and academic Catherine Rabett, and his two children, Augusta and Rollo.

The Independent has contacted Hesketh-Harvey’s representative for comment.