Sir Benjamin Slade was quite clear about what sort of person he wanted to live in his manor house and share his 2,000-acre Somerset estate. “Good right-wing, hunting, shooting types,” he told The Times this week, with a love of fine wine and $23,000 a month to pay their way.

So I feel a bit of an impostor as I sit in front of his roaring log fire, sipping tea and asking if he thinks I might be suitable material as a tenant of Maunsel House. We haven’t discussed money yet, but I have confirmed that I am not a Marxist — “that’s good” — and that I enjoy wine, although I usually don’t spend more than a tenner on a bottle. “I prefer a bit better,” he says, “but in difficult times we have to sample everything.”

Then there is the hunting. The bar where we are sitting is crammed full of stuffed birds and furry creatures. “You could be a possible,” he says, eyeing me uncertainly. “We’re looking for like-minded people. It is no use people who are anti-hunting, shooting, fishing coming here.”

I have shot clays a couple of times, but I have never killed anything, I confess. Is that going to count against me? “It is a bit. But if you’re hungry enough, you’d shoot the old snipe wouldn’t you?”

Um, maybe. I mention that I had spotted some peahens as I walked up the drive through the park. “You don’t shoot them,” he says firmly. “They’re part of the team.”

Would I have to pluck and skin what I kill? “No! We’ve got staff.” How many staff would I get for 20 grand? “Probably the housekeeper, the gardener, the maintenance man.”

Tea for two: Slade with the author, Damian Whitworth.

Slade is a 74-year-old aristocrat (a 7th baronet) who never appears anywhere in print without being called “eccentric”. This is a man who has advertised for a wife who can provide him with an heir, reached for a gun at the sighting of a big cat and declared war on beavers. Now, after Covid-19 destroyed his country-house wedding business, he is looking for a tenant to cover costs until the property can once again be used for ceremonies and receptions of up to 400 people.

I had been told that he would be available “after four”. To me that means turning up shortly after 4pm, but it is more than an hour before Slade appears. He lives close by in a farmhouse and keeps Maunsel House, near the village of North Newton, free for events. It is emblazoned with Virginia creeper in all its autumnal glory, and sits in 98 acres of park, where geese roam free.

He doesn’t exactly apologize for his lateness, but he does check that I have a cup of tea. He is accompanied by 14-year-old Bully, a very sweet and friendly but ferociously malodorous Jack Russell. “You’re a smelly dog,” Slade tells him fondly after I have been forced to abandon politeness and turf the pungent Bully off my lap. “We’re going to brush your teeth this evening.”

Slade expands a little on the worldview he is seeking in his new estate-mate. “Got to be Brexiteers really, haven’t they? Got to run our own country as badly as we want to, haven’t we? We don’t want the Germans running it. They tried that in the First and Second World Wars.”

I try to change the subject. “It’s very cozy in here,” I say. This is not 100 per cent true. The low-beamed bar room has a splendid fire, but the quaintness is undermined by the 80 firearms on display, including vintage rifles, Kalashnikovs and an SLR (self-loading rifle), which is apparently like those used by US Marines.

I take it he’s a collector. “What I try to collect is money,” Slade says. “Guns sell beer. At most weddings I’ve seen the bride and the bridesmaids out there waving the rocket launcher around, and the Tommy guns. That’s good for business.”

He has been raided four times by the police, he says. After one occasion he was fined $2,600 for possessing a gun without a license and not properly securing another gun. One raid came during a wedding. Would my family be safe here? “Oh yes, they’re all deactivated.”

Hunting … for a mate. Slade in the trophy room, with one of the many guns in his collection.

A few years ago he was photographed in the papers waving the SLR about and claiming that a panther had been seen on the estate by one of his staff. “They’re all over Exmoor. They’re all over everywhere, aren’t they?” I don’t know, are they? “Oh, yeah. Bloody zoos let them loose in the Sixties and they bred up.”

On another occasion he caused outrage when a beaver was spotted on land near Woodlands Castle, another of his properties where he hosts weddings in Somerset (he also has a shooting estate in Northumberland). He put up “Wanted dead or alive” posters and offered a $1,300 reward.

Now he says he likes beavers and would like to release them on his land on the Somerset Levels. He also says he would allow gypsies to stay on the land, and it is not clear where this story is going until he says that the beavers would cause a big flood “and that would be the end of the gypsy problem”.

Slade expands a little on the worldview he is seeking in his new estate-mate. “Got to be Brexiteers really, haven’t they? Got to run our own country as badly as we want to, haven’t we? We don’t want the Germans running it. They tried that in the First and Second World Wars.”

He later tells a distasteful joke about gay ghosts. He has a record of causing offense. Last year he was ordered to pay $195,000 after he lost a sexual discrimination case brought by two women former employees at the castle who accused him of forcing them out of their jobs after they got pregnant. He is appealing against the ruling and says he’d be prepared to go to the European Court of Human Rights “as it makes anybody very reticent about employing females”.

The judge called him “arrogant and misogynistic”, I point out. “Misogynist!” he says, outraged. “I didn’t like to say, ‘I’ve got five mistresses. And three of them are active.’ I love women.” Does he still have three mistresses? “No, had to slow down a bit. I’ve got one-ish.” Does one-ish mean more or less than one? “I don’t know, I’ll ring them up and ask them. I collect old masters and young mistresses.”

His marriage, in 1977, to Pauline Myburgh ended in 1991. A subsequent partner “ran off with the handyman”, he volunteers. For several years he was with Fiona Aitken, who later married the Earl of Carnarvon. “That bloody dog-napper. She ran off with my dog.” Sir Jasper was originally owned by Slade’s mother-in-law, who had bequeathed the dog its own trust fund, and he was furious.

Maunsel House, draped in Virginia creeper.

I tentatively mention that through Downton Abbey, which is filmed at her home, the Countess of Carnarvon has put Highclere Castle on the map. “Julian Fellowes came along and did Downton Abbey and if Downton Abbey had come down this way we would have been equally as well off. We were trying to do a deal with Netflix and then Covid came along. And also I had some porn tycoons who wanted to rent this place, which is quite hysterically funny.”

A few years ago he advertised for a wife: “You must have a shotgun certificate, be able to run two castles, an estate and a grouse moor. Must be able to breed two sons … A little private capital and income would be helpful. A large fortune would be more helpful!!”

He says he would not use the word “breed” now. Sadly, the right woman has not materialized. “I just spent a lot of time interviewing very amusing people. It’s quite good because it keeps you in the picture and annoys all my friends. They’re my age and their wives are past their sell-by date and the shit’s hit the fan, and I’m out there partying and having fun. I work hard and I play hard and I have an interesting life.”

He froze his sperm 20 years ago. “All good stuff — 80 per cent wrigglers.” Now he wants to unfreeze it. “Some lady said she wanted to try it out.” To create an heir? “Hopefully.” He says that there is also a continuing frustration about locating the banked sperm. “Another story.”

We set off on a tour. Parts of the house date back from the 13th century, and there was a home on the site much earlier. It is claimed that Chaucer lived there, and Slade contends that the Wife of Bath was based on a local woman whose husbands mysteriously disappeared. “Bridgwater police have still got the file open.”

This house has been in his family since 1771, although as the younger son of a younger son he didn’t grow up here. His brother died in an accident when Slade was 12, and his parents died in fairly quick succession. “I was orphaned at 15.”

He went to Millfield School, where it had been hoped that he could be helped with his dyslexia, but he hated it. He went to Australia, starting out on sheep stations before moving into business. “I went there with $118. I made three fortunes, lost two and came back.” He was a stockbroker, then invested in shipping containers and aircraft.

Slade in 1979.

He bought the manor house from an aunt and gradually built up the estate. The home is a warren of rooms filled with paintings and antiques. We pass a portrait of Charles II, who “bonked one of my great-great-great-great-grandmothers”. That was Barbara Villiers, one of Charles’s mistresses. Slade also claims to be descended from George IV through one of his mistresses.

The bridal suite is the “King’s Room”, and has a massive carved four-poster bed, eight and a half feet wide. “It has magical qualities. We’ve had five people who on their wedding night have done the business and then nine months later a child pops out.” He goes to a rope in the corner of the room and pulls it. A bell rings high up in the ceiling. “When they get their rocks off they can ring the bell.”

Alfred the Great is reputed to have passed through. “We had King John. We had John o’ Gaunt, who was running the country. We had Queen Matilda. Haven’t had any since.”

The library is full of armor, much of it replica, dozens of hats for guests to play around with, a stuffed bear who usually takes his place in wedding line-ups, but no books. “They got nicked in 1838.” He bought back six tons of them from another branch of the family a decade ago, and has plans to persuade Slades from around the world to cough up for a new library.

Slade wants a tenant to be “a party person”. But we’re not supposed to be having parties. “One can entertain if one’s clever about it. We’ve got 12 acres of gardens. So they could be anywhere, couldn’t they? And how are they going to prosecute that?”

And would he be part of that socializing? “Yeah, definitely. That’s the whole thing: have fun. And I’ll introduce you to everybody around here. We like new faces, new ideas.”

He has come close to securing tenants, including a group of doctors. If he can’t find one family group, he’d like a series of people to come down and stay. “That’s what they did in the last war.”

If I did have the money, which we both know I don’t, would I be the right sort? I tell him I don’t think we’d see eye to eye on quite a few things. “We like lively debates,” he says. “You’d be ideal.”

So there you go, you can have lively debates with Sir Benjamin Slade for just $23,000 a month. If you’re lucky, he may even confide in you about the whereabouts of his wrigglers.