Duchess to host cage-fighting tourney

The Duchess of Northumberland, no stranger to controversy, is to stage a televised cage-fighting tournament in the grounds of the 1,000-year-old Alnwick Castle, The (London) Sunday Times reported.

On October 21, the Northern Free Fighters and Team Shotai Kai will slug it out, not in an aircraft hangar, a dingy social club or a smoke-filled pub, but in a stunning glass atrium usually reserved for elegant weddings, silver anniversaries and 60th birthday parties.

This is not, however, a last-ditch fundraiser to pay the heating bills. Her husband, the 12th Duke of Northumberland, was ranked joint 248th in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune calculated at £315 million. Proceeds from the event will go to the Help for Heroes charity.

It is, instead, the result of the 52-year-old duchess’ improbable love of martial arts.

"I’ve been doing boxing for years and it’s great," she said. "Particularly after a bad day. You can thump away at something, imagine it’s whoever has annoyed me in the last meeting and it’s really satisfying. I’ve got a fairly good jab but the rest of it is not great."

From boxing she has progressed to kickboxing and fighting with sticks, a discipline she describes as "tricky."

Her plans to stage extreme fighting at Alnwick, 30 miles (48km) north of Newcastle, have caused upset in some quarters. Two years ago, several volunteers walked out in protest during a smaller cage-fighting event.

"They said it wasn’t what the garden was about," she said. "But excuse me, they couldn’t have been more wrong. The garden was built for every age group and sector of the community. It isn’t exclusively for 50-year-old-and-over women who like flowers."

Alnwick made headlines in 2005 when, with permission from the Home Office, it opened a poison garden stocked with specimens of cannabis, opium poppies, magic mushrooms, tobacco and the coca plant, the source of cocaine.