"BEFORE all else I am a human just like you are".

Looking at the slender hand-drawn note, it's hard to think it was written by a Russian Princess to an adoring fan just over a century ago.

It's even harder to work out why the same Princess, who was famous throughout Europe for her work as an actress, would be buried in a Norman church in Shoreham.

But thanks to the work of husband and wife team John and Jeanette Simpson, the story of Princess Lydia Bariatinsky is being shared far and wide.

From relatively humble beginnings as the daughter of a local police chief in Kiev, Lydia's quest and drive to be an actress took her to Moscow where she became a national star.

During this time she met and married Prince Bariatinsky, the cousin of Tsar Nicholas II.

It was a marriage that shocked many in elite Imperial circles at the time, partly because of her occupation but also because of alleged affair with the playwright Anton Chekov.

The couple moved to St Petersburg and founded a theatre which became famous for hosting avant-garde work.

The pair also held liberal views at the time - founding a newspaper which was closed down after a year for publishing anti-Tsarist views.

The couple were forced to leave Russia and ended up touring Europe, where Lydia continued to perform and wow audiences.

In 1909 then settled in London and it was then that the Russian Princess first got a taste for Sussex and the South Downs.

By then she was a major international star, with her picture appearing in magazines across Europe.

Her notoriety was in part to her performance as the lead in the first theatrical version of Anna Karenina, a show that made a record-breaking run of more than 300 shows until it was cut short by the outbreak of World War One.

Lydia was never afraid of using her celebrity for political reasons - and she became a regular campaigner for the suffragette movement.

During this time, she also began to separate from the Prince and the couple divorced in 1911 after the intervention of Rasputin.

But she loved her homeland - so when war broke out, she began raising money to support some of the injured soldiers on the Eastern front.

In 1917, she returned to Russia to work as a volunteer in the relief effort with her then partner (and playwright) John Pollock. 

But the the revolution came - meaning Lydia and John had to run for their lives to avoid being caught up in the red terror.

They made it to England in 1919 and married shortly after.

It was while she was on a trip to the south coast to visit a friend that she died in a rented home in Carlisle Road, Hove.

Her grave is in Old Shoreham in 1921 in the grounds of a church that is named after the patron saint of Russia.

Nearly 90 years later, it was this monument that triggered a quest for John, 70, and Jeanette, 72, to find out more about the forgotten Princess.

Speaking from their home, surrounded by memorabilia relating to her life, John, who is treasurer of the St Nicholas PCC, said: "Quite a lot of local people know that there is a Russian princess buried in the churchyard but nobody knows much about her.

"We look after the website for the church and we were looking to write a few paragraphs on the site about the grave and the person in it.

"We found ourselves finding more and more material, so much in fact that four years ago we gave a talk in the church about her life. To our amazement it sold out, so we did another one and it kept on going.

"With everything we found there wasn't time to fit it in to a 90 minute talk and so we thought it must be turned into a book."

The Simpson's quest has taken them up to London, to visit the flat in Belgravia where the Princess lived during the early 20th Century, and into various record offices around the country.

John admits they have become experts in sourcing information online, using a combination of Jeanette's O-Level Russian and an online translation programme.

They have also financed trips to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia; Pallanza in Italy; and St Petersburg to get the bottom of key parts of the Princess' life.

During the years they have amassed hundreds of pieces of memorabilia, including postcards, fan mail, theatre programmes and a copy of the newspaper run by Lydia which was shipped to Shoreham from Armenia.

It's been a journey fraught with adventure - and one that left John unable to walk for months.

He said: "Not many people can claim to be up-ended which chasing after a Russian princess while locked up in an Estonian castle.

"But I fell over while we looking for some documents in Tallinn and ripped my quadriceps, which left me unable to get around for a few months."

It meant John had to write some of the book while on a hospital bed in the couple's lounge in Shoreham.

But it did not deter them. And,after the pair footed the bill for publishing costs, the 350-page has now been printed.

Jeanette said: "It's best not to think about how much this has cost us.

"It's something we wanted to do and now we have the history written down.

"That's why we went to St Petersburg on holiday for a week only to come back exhausted after working our socks off.

"We're going back there again in a few months, only this time we will do the tourist bits that we didn't get round to."

The title of the book is taken from Rostand's play La Princesse Lointaine, which became one of Lydia's biggest stage hits. 

John said: "This book has the dual aim of ensuring that the grave is properly maintained and that Lydia's contribution to the English and Russian stage is not forgotten. 

"Any profits from the sale of this book will be divided between a fund for the maintenance of Lydia’s grave and the Friends of St Nicolas’ who maintain the beautiful ancient church in whose shadow she rests."

John and Jeanette Simpson will deliver a talk on Princess of Dreams: the life and times of Lydia Yavorska, Princess Bariatinsky at Shoreham Library on January 19, starting at 7pm. Tickets are £4 and copies of the book are available to buy on the night.