Highgate ‘vampire hunter’ dies half a century after supernatural panic gripped community
PUBLISHED: 17:30 24 April 2019 | UPDATED: 09:08 26 April 2019
Sex magic, dead foxes, vampires and an Old Bailey trial – Highgate’s David Farrant, who died earlier this month, lived a colourful 73 years in and out of the headlines.
Although he always disavowed the term “vampire hunter”, David, who was born in Highgate before moving to Muswell Hill, became inextricably linked with the paranormal hysteria around a potential “Highgate vampire” that got its fangs stuck into the community during the early 1970s.
After writing to the letters pages of this newspaper in February 1970, he became an infamous local figure whose antics divided the community, not least when he was jailed for vandalising Highgate Cemetery in 1974.
The charge – of desecrating tombs at the famous burial ground – is one he has always denied.
He claimed he was simply investigating sightings of a strange “tall figure” in the cemetery, and that much of the vandalism appeared to have been committed by so-called satanists.
After a high-profile Old Bailey trial, however, he was sentenced to five years behind bars. He served three.
David's first letter led to a number of salacious claims covered in these pages – then-Ham&High editor Gerry Isaaman once explained the paper “played the story for laughs” – as others began to write in with outlandish claims about the “grey figure” in the cemetery.
This didn't end his fascination with the occult and paranormal –even into his 70s he held talks and wrote widely on the phenomena that had defined his youth.
His presidency of the British Psychic and Occult Society continued too, and it was in that capacity that he wrote again to this paper in 2006, in order to deny hosting a “Hallowe'en orgy” at an undisclosed Barnet location.
He explained in his letter: “I have been accused over the years of being many things by the media and others including being a 'satanist', a 'blackwitch', 'a sex mad witch' ad infinitum. I would just like to point out that I am none of these things.”
According to the article, David told us reports of an orgy were wide of the mark: “It was part of a Wicca ceremony where two people made love under a satin sheet watched by the rest of us.”
David had become a Wiccan High Priest during the 1960s, and continued to practise throughout his life.
In a self-published autobiography in 2009, he laid his early 1970s activities bare – discussing what the Ham&High's reviewer called “such dodgy stuff”.
But, remembering her husband, David's third wife Della paints a different picture.
She said: “People imagine him as a man with a stick and crucifix,” Della said. “And although an awful lot was written about him over the years – many many documentaries, radio, the press – behind that was a very kind, loving and somewhat shy man. He didn't deserve the flak he got.”
And, Della adds, behind the unusual beliefs and mysticism was a different David.
“He was very much a people person, dedicated to new ideas, always interested in how the world works – not just the supernatural.”
She said that for her husband, it was not quite a life with no regrets, and perhaps at times he had bitten off more than he could chew.
She said: “He recogised we all do silly things. No regrets isn't quite true – he certainly looked back at the prankster side of things as a kind of youthful hi-jinks.”
Almost half a century after the media frenzy, reports of David becoming reclusive were misplaced, too, Della said. She told this newspaper: “He wasn't reclusive – he nurtured a lot of friendships in Highgate, people who were around and remained loyal to him during his troubles before and during prison.
“And he was very loyal both to people and to places.
“He could never fathom moving from Highgate and Muswell Hill.”
According to his wife, David was fonder of Pythons than he was of ghouls, even befriending one.
She said: “Graham Chapman was very good friends with him. They felt quite a bond. both having been through the press a bit.
“They'd share a whisky.”
David Farrant is survived by two sons – Jamie and Danny – and his wife Della.
Share your memories by writing to email@example.com