Also known as Lady Neidpath, Feilding is not a scientist, but spends a six-figure sum of her own money each year to explore the inner workings of our mind: how we think; where creativity comes from; and how we can harness this knowledge. Through her charitable trust, the Beckley Foundation, she instigated the first scientific trial in 35 years to use LSD on human subjects. Based in Beckley Park, the Oxfordshire estate where Feilding has spent all her life, the foundation’s remit is to push for drug policy reform and fund research that will delve into the altered states of consciousness induced by meditation, deep breathing and powerful psychoactive drugs such as LSD. Even trepanning, the ancient practice of drilling a hole in the skull, is a line of modern inquiry as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. It is research that – in the UK at least – no one else appears willing to back.
“We are on the verge of making real breakthroughs,” she says.
Why would an English Lady want to spend her money on high-risk projects with poor-to-zero financial returns? Feilding’s fascination with consciousness started at an early age. Interested in spirituality through her Roman Catholic upbringing, she was sent aged 16 to India to visit her godfather, a Buddhist monk. She went on to study mysticism and comparative religion at Oxford University and dabbled with drugs throughout the Sixties. But her interest in the medical applications of such substances sprung from a friendship with Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who invented LSD, and who pushed for the medical benefits of the drug to be investigated. Hofmann died this year aged 102, shortly before the foundation published his last book, Hofmann’s Elixir: LSD and the New Eleusis, a collection of his essays and lectures.