ARISTOCRAT the Hon Simon Howard - owner of the famous Castle Howard estate, near Malton - has forcefully denied rumours that he is splitting from his second wife.

The millionaire personally rang the Evening Press to scotch rumours circulating locally that his marriage was in trouble.

Mr Howard wed Marks & Spencer heiress Rebecca Sieff at a plush ceremony in the chapel at Castle Howard in June 2001. The couple have three-year-old twins, Merlin and Octavia.

He telephoned hours after we contacted his press office to inquire about the rumours.

In an exclusive statement to the Evening Press he said: "First off, there's no truth in it. This is getting very boring. We've heard these rumours for some time. It's just little people with little minds without anything better to do than gossip. We're fed up with it. We are very happily married; we are not splitting up. There is absolutely no truth in the rumours. People really should check their facts before they open their mouths."

Mr Howard, the third son of Lord Henderskelfe - a former BBC chairman - married his first wife, Countess Annette Compton, at Malton Register Office in November, 1983. He announced his intention to divorce Annette, known to friends as Scruff, in May 1999.

According to a local source, at a recent staff meeting Mr Howard began his address to his employees by asking them to dismiss rumours about the breakdown of his marriage.

The couple are said to have recently returned from holiday and were described as "very happy".

Updated: 10:38 Wednesday, April 27, 2005