Wilbur Smith was 8 years old when he saw his father killing three man-eating Lions. They attacked the safari camp at night. Herbert Smith was awoken by the sound of a guide.

Herbert ran headfirst towards the pole of the tent as he walked out of his tent. Wilbur witnessed the blood gushing from Herbert’s face and realized that his father had only on a pajama shirt and was completely naked.

The lion then charged. Herbert held the torch beam with his left, and then raised the rifle with the right. Then he shot out from his waist as if it was a pistol. The lion was hit in the chest.

He brought the two lionesses down seconds later.

Wilbur Smith in his trophy-laden London home

Wilbur Smith’s trophy-laden London residence

This scene captures the essence of all bestsellers written by Wilbur Smith (who died at 88): bloodshed and sexual virility; gunfire, slaughter in Africa.

After selling more than 120,000,000 books in 30 different languages worldwide, he signed a contract in 2012 with ghostwriters. They produced many more novels that featured his characters from the plots he invented.

Many of his stories have been made into blockbuster Hollywood films, including Gold, Shout At The Devil and The Mercenaries starring Rod Taylor.

Smith may have inherited his inexhaustible gift for storytelling from his grandfather, Courtney Smith, a Victorian prospector in South Africa’s gold rush who commanded a machine-gun outfit during the Zulu Wars of the 1870s.

Courtney told of waking up to the barking and screams of Brainless, his enormous mastiff.

So, the owner of the house searched the darkness for a whip in order to choke the dog. After a while, the barking turned into a loud growl followed by a loud roar.

A bearer came hurrying with a lamp — and Courtney was confronted with a lion, slavering with blood. He had lost his dog.

The way Courtney told it, he looked at the ‘whip’ in his hand . . . and realised he was thrashing the lion with a black mamba, Africa’s most venemous snake.

Wilbur was raised with such powerful stories that his ears rang, and it was only natural that Wilbur tried to copy them.

The legacy of childhood diseases that left him with a host of chronic illnesses made his need to prove himself even more pressing. He was born with a severe cerebral malaria virus as a baby and was never expected to live. Later, he suffered from polio, which caused him to become paralysed.

Aged 15, he and his friend Barry took a pair of rifles and headed off in a ‘borrowed’ Jeep from the Smith cattle ranch in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia.

They drove the entire day and crossed the Kafue River, before they got out of their car to walk in search for a large-horned bullantelope known as a Kudu.

The teenage hunters failed to kill their prey — and as night fell, they realised they had no idea where their Jeep was.

They wandered around for the next two days before Herbert took off in his Tiger Moth biplane. Back at the ranch, Wilbur’s father silently took off his belt and thrashed the teenager.

Herbert had little regard for his son (‘He called me an idiot a million times’, Wilbur recalled) and scoffed at his ambitions to be a writer. He was instead offered a position in the tax department.

Wilbur Smith and wife Niso Smith Crime Thriller Awards in London, pictured in 2013

Wilbur Smith and his wife Niso Smith are pictured at the Crime Thriller Awards London in 2013, as seen in this photo.

Wilbur attempted to write his first novel after a short marriage with Anne Rennie.

His first attempt, ‘all radical politics and immature philosophy’, was rejected more than 20 times, before an agent told him to ‘write what you know’. When The Lion Feeds was the result. It opens with Sean Courtney, a young boy who is desperate to impress his father on a safari.

Herbert Smith didn’t read any novels and made no exceptions for his son. He did, however, keep an original copy of When The Lion Feeds in his car boot as a trophy for friends.

The first book in a Courtney series, this one was published 1964. Smith’s next bestseller, The Dark Of The Sun, follows a band of mercenaries during the Congo’s civil war of the 1960s — murderous, womanising, drunken men, pursued by the demons of their pasts — ‘Hired to kill, fighting to live.’

Smith spoke fast and persuasive dialogue, leaving the reader no doubt that Smith knew what men said after being freed from civilisation. Smith was also known for his vivid violence and almost sexual sex scenes. His admirers included Stephen King, who called Smith his favourite historical novelist: ‘The bodices rip and the blood flows.’

Smith lived in danger to study his books. He visited war zones, lived in shanty cities around gold mines and spent one season as a Japanese-flag whaler.

His passions were flying and scuba diving. For most of his adult life, he took three annual shooting safaris with the aim of killing three lions or three elephants. He loved to pose with his hunting trophies, seated on a leopard’s pelt and framed by a gigantic pair of ivory tusks.

Hunting fanatic: Wilbur with man-eaters his father shot

Wilbur, a hunter fanatic and his father shooting him with man-eaters

Success brought him colossal wealth, with his lifetime earnings from his 49 books estimated at more than £100 million.

By the time he was 70, he claimed to have so many houses that he had lost count — perhaps nine, including places in London, South Africa and Switzerland, as well as an island in the Seychelles.

However, wealth did not lead to family happiness. Jewell Slabbert’s second marriage brought a temporary happiness.

a third child: ‘If you’re going to go through life marrying every girl who drops her knickers for you,’ his father warned, ‘you’re going to be a very busy boy.’

Following his third marriage to the fan of his books, they separated from their three children.

‘They’re not part of me — they’ve got my sperm, that’s all,’ he said. ‘It’s sadder for them than it is for me, because they’re not getting any more money.

‘They did nothing to win my respect and, in fact, did exactly the opposite.’

The relationship he had with his wives in the past was also frosty.

He liked to boast that he once bumped into the second Mrs Smith in the street and didn’t recognise her: ‘She said: “Hello Wilbur,” and I said: “Excuse me, do I know you?” She said: “Yes, you gave me a baby once.” ’

He was married to Danielle Thomas for 28 years. She died in 1999 from cancer.

Wilbur Smith is shown in this June 20, 2011 photo in Rome. Smith died unexpectedly at his home in Cape Town, South Africa on November 13

This Rome, June 20, 2011, photo shows Wilbur Smith. Smith, who was unexpectedly killed at home in Cape Town (South Africa) on November 13, 2011, died.

A year later, aged 66, he was walking in London when, ‘I saw this nubile little Asian thing going down Sloane Street and I joined her in the bookshop’.

He introduced himself to her by directing her to the books where his titles were. He introduced himself to her as Mokhiniso Rahimova, a Tajikistani-born attorney who was only 39 years younger than him. One year later, they were married.

Niso, as he called her, ‘was young, and I was randy as a stallion in a ranch full of mares’.

Niso helped him to renegotiate his publishing contracts — the final one, signed in 2017, was worth £15 million — and he described her as his ‘most prized possession’.

‘I’m not proud of it but I’ve been married four times,’ he said. ‘Two of them died, the first one hates me and this one loves me, so I’ve covered the whole spectrum.

‘I’m lonely on my own. I need a woman by my side, someone I can talk to and respect, someone who pays me respect when it’s due and tells me when I’m being stupid, which is far too often.’

He continued to work until the last. He had just finished revising and writing his novel when he suddenly died at home in Cape Town.

‘My epitaph will be: Don’t grieve for me,’ he once said. ‘I did it all. All I wanted was it. Life has been good to me and I have everything I want — except immortality.’