Rothschild Heir Reputation Ruined After £700m Investment
Even at 76, with untold wealth and the holder of a rare Order of Merit from the Queen, Lord Rothschild has continued to dream.
It is a father’s dream: that his only son Nat might one day lead the world’s most enduring banking dynasty to new heights, repairing an old family schism and burnishing its blue-chip image to even greater brilliance.
Today Jacob Rothschild is a bitterly disappointed, even angry man, as his son and heir fights to save his own dwindling reputation and, with it, the first soiling of the proud Rothschild name in centuries.
Nat himself can hardly believe what has happened. A mere tick of the dynastic clock ago he was widely seen to be on course to be the richest of all the Rothschilds.
Helped by the pulling power of his name, he was hailed as a financial genius, a young man — once a wild child but now drinking nothing stronger than Coca-Cola — with a unique networking ability to bring billionaires together to make deals.
His private £5 million Gulfstream was criss-crossing the globe for 750 flying hours a year. That was before he decided to raise £700 million from investors — ‘big players only’ he airily informed one relatively minor figure who expressed interest — to plough funds into an Indonesian coal-mining company called Bumi that a City contact had drawn to his attention.
By July, 2010, Bumi’s £10 shares had been absorbed into his own FTSE-quoted cash vehicle, a shell company called Vallar, which was then renamed Bumi plc.
For Rothschild’s new Indonesian partners, the Bakrie family (one of whom is currently standing for election as president of the country), the deal offered the back-door prestige of being quoted on the London Stock Exchange — quite a prize to businessmen in a part of the world not noted for the transparency of its corporate culture.
Yesterday, after acrimonious disagreements and accusations in the Bumi boardroom, and Nat Rothschild having dramatically stood down as a director, his investors were showing a loss of three quarters of their money with the share price slumping to around £2.50.
Nat Rothschild’s fierce letter of resignation from the board arrived on Monday from an address in St Peter Port on the low-tax Channel island of Guernsey, where one of his corporate offices is registered.
Meanwhile, an internal investigation into allegations of financial impropriety at Bumi has expanded to include alleged threats and the hacking of email systems to snoop on exchanges of messages at boardroom level.
The company chairman Samin Tan claimed that Rothschild indicated he’d had ‘access’ to his emails and had been reading them.
Rothschild’s response was to declare that the allegations were ‘untrue and defamatory.’ Attention has also been drawn to the level of expenses paid to directors.
And he did not just fall out with the Bakrie family. Senior British industrialists he installed as independent directors to safeguard UK shareholders’ interests also had their disagreements with him.
Sir Julian Horn-Smith, former deputy chief executive of Vodafone, who is senior independent director of Bumi, asked Mr Rothschild to step down because of his ‘disruptive behaviour’ on the board.
The crisis has been a shock to Nat Rothschild’s overblown ego, especially as many feel his reputation can never fully recover, and one top City banker was quoted in The Times this week as saying that ‘Nat Rothschild will never raise another dollar from anybody’.
Another puts it this way: ‘His name has become toxic in the City of London.’
Now, his father Lord Rothschild, a figure of great integrity who was once a shoulder to cry on over lunch for a distraught Princess Diana, is the one who needs consoling, says a City friend.
To add insult to injury, it is NM Rothschild, the family bank from which Jacob Rothschild split three decades ago to found his own highly successful investment trust, that has been called in by Bumi plc to sort out the mess.
The last time there were tensions between Lord Rothschild and his son — he also has three daughters — it was because Nat was virtually running wild, drinking and partying to excess.
Nat has never denied an escort girl’s story that she was asked to provide strippers and drugs to a party he threw in 1994 at Waddesdon Manor, the magnificent Rothschild family seat in Buckinghamshire where Presidents Reagan and Clinton, as well as Lady Thatcher, have stayed, and which is now run by the National Trust.
According to the girl: ‘They were very precise in what they wanted — three slim black girls in stockings, suspenders and high heels. They also wanted the girls to do extras.’
In those days, just down from Oxford, Nat enjoyed his wildchild reputation with almost as much pleasure as, in recent years, he has relished being seen as a pivotal figure in the world of billionaire finance.
True, he spent not far short of £1 million on his own 40th birthday party last year in Porto Montenegro, in the tiny Balkan state, but most saw this as more of a classic networking bash — the invitations even included helpful details of where guests could park their private jets.
And Porto Montenegro, of course, is a development on the Adriatic coast in which he has a considerable personal investment.
But his most satisfying parties in recent years have been of the kind of gathering in Corfu on the £80 million yacht of his good friend and business associate Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch, which ended in a spectacular and very public fall-out with his old Oxford Bullingdon Club friend George Osborne, now Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was to reveal a side of Nat Rothschild which those publicly pillorying him now would do well to consider.
For when Nat heard that Osborne had been repeating details of a private conversation with Peter Mandelson, who was also there, he in retaliation famously claimed that Osborne and the Tory party fundraiser Andrew (now Lord) Feldman had solicited a contribution to party funds from the Russian tycoon. Osborne issued an immediate denial, but considerable damage was done.
Fast forward three years to a lunch party in 2011 near St Tropez. One of the guests, on being invited by old friends, explained he had Nat Rothschild staying with him, and could he bring him along? And Rothschild came — but not for long.
As one of those guests recalls: ‘We’d barely sat down to lunch when he breezily said he was off. I can’t even remember whether he ate anything. I can only imagine we weren’t important enough.’
And one figure close to him says: ‘Nat’s mind is always turning over deals. He used to be fun — more than that — but these days, apart from the odd girlfriend, his closest companion seems to be his St Bernard dog.’
Girlfriends there have certainly been, including the actress Natalie Portman and, most recently Florence von Preussen, a slim, attractive scion of the Guinness family.
He was also married for three years to Annabelle Neilson, model friend of Kate Moss.
Acquaintances find a somewhat unsettled sense about him.
He has homes in Paris, Moscow, New York and Greece but seldom spends more than a few days at a time in any of them.
The home where he spends most time during the winter is his sumptuous penthouse in Klosters. He was introduced to the Swiss ski resort by Canadian mining and property magnate Peter Munk.
While his father Lord Rothschild continued to live in Britain — holding board meetings in the basement kitchen of the London townhouse in St James’s he uses as an office — six years ago Nat took Swiss citizenship and became a tax exile.
His reputation already was that of a young man with the ability to make big money fast.
This was the point at which the personal fortune of the son and heir was poised to overtake the personal fortune of the father. This year’s Sunday Times Rich List places him 73rd with a personal fortune of £1 billion. His father is 192nd with a mere £465 million.
Over in Klosters his life is remarkably low-key. One place where he is a regular is the village’s only pizzeria, Alberto’s.
Carol Thatcher’s partner Marco Grass is his ski instructor, while his highly-supportive mother Serena — she and Jacob have been married 51 years today — is a regular winter guest. His peaceful life there is in stark contrast to the battle raging over Bumi.
But the dismay Lord Rothschild feels at the way the unseemly hostilities over the running of a public company have engulfed Nat cannot be underestimated.
‘He is furious with him — they are barely on speaking terms,’ says a family friend. ‘No Rothschild has ever before been involved in such a mess.’
Old Etonian Nat, of course, bears the name of his 19th-century ancestor Nathan Rothschild, who arranged the finance that helped the Duke of Wellington win the Battle of Waterloo.