June 1, 2007— -- It's been an unlikely family reunion for Sir Benjamin Slade, the 60-something English aristocrat, ever since his search for an heir hit the reality television circuit.
Not just any heir will do. Sir Benjamin has been searching for the perfect candidate to take over his 13th century country mansion, worth about $15 million. So far, the likeliest applicant appears to be 26-year-old Isaac Slade, from Denver, who also happens to be the lead singer for the up-and-coming rock group the Fray.
"When we first heard from him, we didn't realize he was a proper mega rock star," Sir Benjamin said.
Isaac Slade, who contacted the millionaire after hearing about his search, may soon be a rock star with a formidable English estate. Slade and his 23-year-old wife, Anna, are currently visiting Sir Benjamin at Maunsel House. He could not be reached for comment, but England's Daily Mail reported him saying, "When we drove up the driveway I just thought, 'Oh my God -- this is amazing.' There's so much here and everything is beautiful -- it is difficult to take it all in."
Maunsel House, located in Somerset, deep in the English countryside, has nine bedrooms, a library, bar, ballroom and five reception rooms. It sits in the midst of 1,500 acres of land, on which there are 12 other houses, three lakes, and several hundred cattle.
So why move out? For one thing, a property the size of Maunsel House requires a tremendous amount of upkeep. Sir Benjamin rents the property for weddings and conferences, which brings in about $600,000 a year. That's enough, Sir Benjamin says, for Maunsel House "to wash its face." Sir Benjamin is as candidly eccentric as one would hope an English aristocrat to be. He is tired of dealing with the strict English heritage rules that govern what he can and cannot change on his historical property.
"They're always trying to accuse me of doing a crime," Sir Benjamin complained.
More pressing though, is the 40 percent tax he faces if he stays. As Sir Benjamin puts it, Gordon Brown is making him move out.
Sir Benjamin has no children but was determined to maintain the tradition of Slades-in-residence at Maunsel house. First, he approached his British relatives. They turned him down.
"They're very, very rich," Sir Benjamin said. "They're just interested in boats and helicopters and jetting around. They don't worry about funny old houses down in Somerset."
Sir Benjamin took the obvious next step for someone trying to conduct a very large search: reality television. "I'm Really a Royal" ran on the Discovery Channel last year. Since then, Sir Benjamin has heard from Slades and aspiring Slades across the world.
He has 5,000 distant relatives in the United States alone, thanks to a 15th century ancestor who left England for the New World. Pleased as he is to make their acquaintance, Sir Benjamin has definite requirements for his heir-to-be. For proof of lineage, first of all, there's a DNA test.And then there are certain other criteria.
"Gays aren't very good because they're not going to breed," Sir Benjamin said. "I don't like communists. And I wouldn't want any bleeding heart liberals either."
The meeting between Sir Benjamin Slade and Isaac Slade apparently went well. "He is a very successful, clever young man," said Sir Benjamin. "He doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't take drugs. They're all Christians in that band."
And that's not all he has going for him.
"I showed him all the cows, and he was very handy with the animals, actually," Sir Benjamin said. "His grandfather was a cowpoke."
Perhaps Isaac Slade is fated to inherit Maunsel House. According to Sir Benjamin, Isaac "looks like some of the portraits of the ancestors." Nevertheless, the competition isn't over yet.
"I'm going to see all these relatives in America, have a bit of fun first," Sir Benjamin said. "There's a party for 150 Slades in Maryland on the Fourth of July. I'm determined to go."
When he does finally move out, Sir Benjamin won't be moving far. He's commissioned a farmhouse just 200 yards down the road. Construction hasn't started yet because Sir Benjamin cannot find a builder.
"Did you know this country has a builder shortage?" he asked with a trace of surprise in his voice. Modern day real estate can be a minefield for the uninitiated.