High life

High life

7 October 2017

9:00 AM

7 October 2017

9:00 AM

The death of the richest woman on this planet, as the tabloids dubbed Liliane Bettencourt, brought back some vivid memories, mainly of the gigolos I’ve known and their disgraceful pursuit of the fairer sex. Although my great friend Porfirio Rubirosa acted the gigolo at times — he married three of the world’s richest women, and two of the most beautiful for love — he was also a man’s man, a pistolero, an ambassador, a racing driver, boxer and polo player, and a great seducer of beautiful women. He died on 6 July 1965 at the wheel of his Ferrari.

After Rubi, the whole business took a nosedive. Thierry Roussel, French, effete and greedy as hell, took tens and tens of millions from Christina Onassis, and then dumped her for his regular mistress. Just as bad as Roussel — or worse — was Francois-Marie Banier. But before I get to that particular leech, a few words about a friend of mine who actually went through a Rockefeller fortune, the Marquis Raymundo de Larrain.

Raymond, as his real name was, was a marquis alright, but of his own making. His demonic charm seduced both very rich men of that persuasion and high-born women. He went after me like gangbusters in Paris when I was not yet 20, but once he got the message he remained a good friend until…well, I’ll tell you in a jiffy. Raymundo was birdlike, had impeccable manners, and out of the blue managed not only to become a ballet dancer in the Marquis de Cuevas (another dubious title) corps de ballet, but also a choreographer and a designer of ballets. He was Cuevas’s lover, but also the lover of a leading Parisian society hostess. He once told me that he was about to marry Douce Francois, a niece of the fabulously rich Arturo Lopez-Willshaw, assuming that she would inherit her uncle’s estate (he was gay and lived with Alexis de Rede). I warned him that Douce, a good friend of mine, was penniless, but he wouldn’t listen and introduced her to Rudi Nureyev in order to impress her. Disaster. Douce fell for Rudi and spent a lifetime pursuing probably the greatest dancer ever. Who was very gay.


After the dissolution of the Cuevas ballet and Douce’s rejection, Raymundo set out for New York. One night he took me and Cee Zee Guest, my girlfriend at the time, to meet Margaret de Cuevas, the granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller. She was a very old lady, lived in a huge Fifth Avenue apartment, and had her face painted all white, like a Kabuki dancer. She hardly spoke. The next thing I knew Raymundo had married her. She was 80 and he was 42. The ‘marriage’ lasted eight years and when Margaret died of natural causes, her children discovered that Raymundo was the sole beneficiary. But soon afterwards, he died of Aids, the fortune having gone up in smoke. This was in about 1988.

Back in Paris, in the meantime, a young, gay, good-looking hustler was about to make all of the above look small-time. François-Marie Banier was the son of a low-born Hungarian Jew who emigrated to Paris and, after working on an assembly line, slowly made his way up in life enough to afford a small flat on Avenue Victor Hugo. His son the arriviste was a bit more ambitious. He realised early on that the very rich and famous are easy prey if one does not kowtow in deference. He mocked, scorned and tried to humiliate those who couldn’t defend themselves — mostly old men and women — but also flattered, cajoled and amused those whose bank accounts were in the stratosphere.

His first protector was Salvador Dalí, a voyeur who was up for anything sexual as long as he didn’t have to partake. Banier then became the lover of decorator Jacques Grange, followed by a platonic friendship with the very aged widower Louis Aragon. Marie Laure de Noailles helped him to meet intellectuals and artists, and soon the young hustler was writing novels and taking pictures and painting on canvas. He got lots of publicity because of his contacts, but his talents were minimal, if they existed at all. His worse trait, apart from being as nasty as hell, was the name-dropping. He never once opened his mouth without uttering the names of Truman Capote, Princess Caroline, Prince Charles, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Mick Jagger, David Rocksavage (they owned a house together for a while), Andy Warhol…

Banier conned everyone but not Father Time. When he turned 40 — he’s 70 today — his hair began to fall out and he turned a bit simian. That’s when he decided to go for broke and went after the richest woman on earth, the L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. You know the rest. The older woman gifted her younger-by-25-years friend close to €1 billion euros, and at one moment even contemplated adopting him, which meant that he could have ended up with 25 billion big ones and by far the richest man in Europe. After her daughter sued, Banier had to give lots of it back but avoided the three-year prison sentence on appeal and got to keep€158 million. Plus a great art collection and various houses — all paid for by madame.

It just goes to show: we’re all in the wrong business.

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