- London, February 25,
'David, what on
earth would Mother think?'
By Olga Craig
FOR 68 years, Nicholas
Irving has lived in the shadow of his twin, the
historian and Hitler
apologist who was jailed
last week for three years. Here, he tells of the
trials of growing up with a brother who even at the
age of six was giving the Nazi salute.
has a broad sense of humour and -- says my
other brother John -- was pulling Olga
Craig's leg throughout this interview.
In case some of her stories end up
chiseled in stone like the "call me a mild
fascist" quotation, here are just a few
The only Jewish
publisher I know, George Weidenfeld
(who published my
Rommel biography and other works)
never dined with us; we don't keep kosher,
for one reason.
I have one Berghof table
spoon, known to us as "the birdie spoon,"
which gets used along with all the rest; a
gift from Henriette von Schirach
who nicked it from Hitler's table.
Irving with David's ill-fated oldest
daughter Josephine, 1965
German bomber destroyed a nearby house,
nor was there any salute, either then or
later; at six, neither Nicky nor I would
have known what such a salute was; nor of
course was our pram ever fired on by a
The "black man" incident
is pure fiction; Nicky was never, ever, a
passenger in my Rolls-Royce. He lived at
the other end of London. At school I did
not torment Hector Higgs, our
reputedly 200-year-old Latin teacher; he
tormented us. I managed to pull a violent
nosebleed the first time Higgs hit me, and
that bought me some immunity from future
The French teacher, M
Jacottet -- yes, I admit to making the
Meccano model (see picture).
The rest is an appalling
muddle by the journalist: I was out of the
country at the time Paloma's child was
born, so I cannot have visited the
hospital. The "invitations" story is a
the school elections in 1955 I did not
lead a "neo fascist party" -- I was the
Labour Party candidate. Okay, that's
gone fascist now too, but even
so. . .
Alas, I can imagine
Nicky peering out from behind his curtains
as the departing journalist walked down
the garden path up which he had just led
her, and cackling loudly.
Nicholas Irving leans forward, rubs his brow and
runs a hand over his bald head as though the
unconscious gesture might help him put his thoughts
in order. "It has been something of a trial being
David Irving's twin," he says, as he begins
to recount life growing up with the infamous
historian, reviled author and Hitler apologist.
"Let me try to explain my brother. Some years
ago, he invited his publisher and wife,
a Jewish couple, to
his home for dinner. He was rather bewildered when
the chap stormed out before the meal had even
begun. David simply could not understand why this
Jewish gentleman was offended when he sat at the
table to discover that it was laid with cutlery
embossed with the Nazi swastika.
David told the man that he had bought it in
Russia, that it originally came from Hitler's
bunker. Hardly surprising that the poor man stalked
off. David told me that himself. And to him it was
nothing more than a merry jape. He has a somewhat
warped sense of humour and he truly thought it was
Even as a child, David had a horribly malicious
sense of humour. He loved to play cruel pranks,
particularly on those in authority, says Nicholas.
"It has all been really distressing for me; we were
always so very, very different. As children, he was
always trying to drag me into his devilment. Like
the time, when we were six, that he gave
a 'Heil Hitler' salute
when a German bomber destroyed a nearby house. I
knew it was wrong, I wouldn't do it, but David went
right ahead. Anything to outrage, anything for
And as in youth, so in adulthood. David and
Nicholas Irving are not identical twins and there
is little similarity in their lives. David, whose
denial of the
Holocaust and insistence that the Nazi gas
chambers were a mere myth led to his incarceration
in an Austrian jail last week, is a
bombastic racist. The
home he shared with his girlfriend, Bente
Hogh, and their daughter, Jessica, 12, before
he went bankrupt, was a £1 million apartment
Even after he lost a £2 million libel
battle against the American academic Deborah
Lipstadt, who had accused him of Holocaust
denial, he still managed to rent a
£6,000-a-month Kensington home. Nicholas, by
contrast, is a balding, mild-mannered and
self-effacing former civil servant who lives in a
£70-a-week maisonette in a shabby council
block by the Barbican.
man David Irving once described as "balding and
the sort of person upon whom this
country depends", could scarcely hold more opposing
views than those of his brother. "I am the sort who
says good morning to everyone," Nicholas says. The
twins' older brother, John, [carving
Turkey, 1970, with Nicky in the background]
73, who is the chairman of Wiltshire's racial
equality council, has also
distanced himself from
As he settles into a dusty draylon armchair in
his cramped, one-room home, Nicholas, in his
military tie and checked jacket, surveys his domain
and says happily: "Spartan? It is. Just as I like
it. Marriage just didn't happen for me." His home,
that of a solitary bachelor who now spends much of
his time on his genealogical hobby, is a clutter of
Teetering stacks of pamphlets, books and folders
cover every surface. Even his single bed is
surrounded by boxes packed with books. In his
kitchen sit a cup and a microwave oven. A dog-eared
envelope marked "to be opened in the event of the
death of Nicholas Irving" is in a corner of the
"All my life I have thought of my relationship
with David as akin to looking after a sick
relative," Nicholas says. "I'm sad he's in jail for
three years, after all he's my brother, but I
thought he would get at least five. He antagonised
the court - but then he's been antagonising people
all his life.
"Take the driving incident, for example," he
says. A few years ago David was driving his
Rolls-Royce with Nicholas in the passenger seat
when they were overtaken by a small, battered car.
David honked his horn and yelled at its driver.
When the car stopped and its irate driver got out,
David turned to his twin and said: "I'm
not being overtaken by a
black man." Then, Nicholas recalls, David
said simply: "You sort him out."
David Irving's latest claim to infamy was to
enter Austria, the country of Hitler's birth, from
which he was barred in 1989 after he asserted that
the Auschwitz gas chambers never existed. "I mean,
what part of 'you cannot come here' didn't he
understand," says Nicholas.
"Overshadowed by David? Oh, yes, all my life,"
he says without a hint of envy. "I liken it to
John Masefield's poem Cargoes. David is the
stately Spanish galleon, dipping through the
tropics, that grounds on the rocks and sinks. Me,
I'm the 'dirty British coaster with the salt-caked
smoke stack'. And that's what I prefer." Throughout
their 68 years, while David has striven to shock,
Nicholas has sought anonymity.
"The only time I came first was when I popped
out of the womb at 5pm and David 10 minutes later.
He was supposed to be first, but we shifted before
the birth. When I was born I had the umbilical cord
around my neck - I've often wondered if that was
David trying to hold me back. It was always a great
source of annoyance to him that I was first. He
thought he should have been. And," Nicholas adds
with another weary sigh, "so he should. He is,
after all, the bright one."
The twins, the last of four children, were born
in 1938 and grew up during the Second World War.
"There was nothing unpatriotic about David's views
then," says Nicholas. "But, like now, he liked to
shock, to scandalise. When the house down the road
was bombed and he gave his Nazi salute, he egged me
on to do it, too. I remember him saying: 'Like this
Nicholas, click your heels together like this.'
Another time, when we were little more than two,
our double pram was fired upon by a bomber. The
nanny dragged us into the hedge. I was petrified.
David, of course, wasn't. I don't think he's ever
been scared of anything in his life. Then, of
course, there was the time he chose Mein
Kampf, Hitler's book, as his school prize. Yet
for all that, our best friends were another pair of
twins, friends of the family - and they were
At school, David, unlike Nicholas, was something
of a loner who specialised in playing malicious
pranks on teachers. "David was incredibly clever
but instead of doing homework he would be up in his
room plotting ever more cruel pranks." The twins'
Latin teacher was an elderly man suffering from
sciatica who needed to relieve the pain by leaning
on things every few moments when he walked.
1955 M Jacottet, Brentwood School's French
teacher, conducted his last lesson. Mr DJC
Irving constructed a Meccano model of the
teacher which was concealed under a towel on the
shelf behind the teacher. Its mechanism mimicked
all the teacher's idiosyncrasies; don't ask who
took the photo. [click for hi-resolution
"David worked out where he would stop and he
would take the peg out of the blackboard so that,
when the master leaned on it, he and it crashed to
the ground. Then there was our French master. David
spent hours making an intricate model of him that
tapped a pencil as was his habit and left it on his
desk to humiliate him." When pupils were allowed to
stage mock elections, David
led a neo-fascist party.
Sibling rivalry, on David's part, was never
resolved. "If I was dancing with a pretty girl he
would cut in," Nicholas says, "just because he
could I suppose. He always felt he had to be
It was an obsession clearly illustrated when
David's first grandchild was born in 2000.
The family had begged him to visit his daughter,
Paloma - one of four from his failed marriage to
Pilar, a Spaniard - and her child, but he
pleaded the pressure of work. "I went to see my
niece and new baby and David walked into the ward.
He went hysterical, kept shouting: 'What is he
doing here?' He was furious I had seen the baby
Two male nurses had to drag him out. That was
the first time I began to think David was losing
it. After his bankruptcy he was insufferable. He
saw it as an interference with his 'next big
project'. He was furious that he couldn't afford
staff." It was the sort of attitude David had
displayed all his life. During the 10 years that
Nicholas was an Army officer, before joining the
civil service, his brother's first book was
Fellow officers wanted to meet him, but when
Nicholas invited his twin to a mess cocktail party
he turned up hours late. "He specialised in that,"
says Nicholas. "I've lost count of the times he has
invited me for dinner and not turned up."
Since David Irving's imprisonment, Nicholas has
tried to avoid the media coverage. "My big fear is
that a spell in jail will only make him more angry
and resentful," he says, "that he will come to a
tragic end. But then David never wanted the little
life: he embraced the big, the exciting, the
shocking. I see what he does and listen to his
outrageous views - none, I think, are genuine,
merely designed to cause controversy - and I shake
my head in despair.
"I want to say to him: 'David, what on earth are
you doing? And what on earth would Mother think?'
Irving imprisoned in Austria: dossier:
mock election at Brentwood school in 1955:
photos of David Irving and other