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Lady Annabel, the ghost of Jimmy Goldsmith and two society clans
[October 17, 2006]

Lady Annabel, the ghost of Jimmy Goldsmith and two society clans

(Daily Mail Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) GUESTS from the more wellheeled echelons of British society will gather in London this month to watch Robin Birley, 48, eldest son of Lady Annabel Goldsmith, marry Lucy Ferry, 44, the wellconnected former wife of Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry.

After what will undoubtedly be one of the most glamorous events of the year, the wedding party will depart for a sumptuous champagne reception at Cliveden, the luxurious Berkshire former stately home notorious for its part in the Profumo scandal of the early Sixties.

On this occasion, however, it is another scandal that is likely to keep guests gossiping - an extraordinary tale of suspicion and deception which has left the wedding mired in unpleasantness and controversy and will mean the conspicuous absence of two high-profile guests.

One is the groom's father, businessman Mark Birley - who founded the legendary Annabel's nightclub in Mayfair in 1964 - and Robin's sister India-Jane. Both have fallen out with Robin and are no longer on speaking terms with him.

Caught in the middle is Lady Annabel, her loyalties torn between her former husband Mark Birley and her quarrelling two elder children.

All this, of course, comes at a time when Lady Annabel is also attempting to resolve domestic dramas with her children by her second husband, the tycoon Sir James Goldsmith: as the Mail revealed last month, there have been tensions on the Goldsmith side of the family after it emerged that Zac, 31, the second of her three children by Sir James, had been making secret visits to the home of socialite Alice Rothschild - visits that his wife Sheherazade was apparently unaware of.

The visits were also said to have come as something of a surprise to Zac's younger brother Ben Goldsmith, who is married to Alice Rothschild's elder sister, Kate. As a result, the brothers have had what has been termed 'heated discussions'.

What a mind-bogglingly tangled web of wealthy and beautiful people.

Certainly, even given the famously complicated affairs of the extended Birley-Goldsmith family tree, events of the past few weeks have proved particularly startling - and the situation, according to friends, feels as though it might unravel further at any minute.

For Lady Annabel, always a worrier, it is proving deeply distressing, not least because these domestic difficulties conjure up the ghosts of past disagreements. As a friend says: 'Annabel is very upset about it all. She feels that old family wounds created by her divorce and remarriage and the raising of a "second family" have been reopened, and she is trying desperately to mediate.

'As the Grande Dame of the family she is used to being able to pour oil on troubled waters, but frankly she is finding at the moment that her hands are tied. She feels rather helpless.' Little wonder that the atmosphere at Ormeley Lodge, the rambling Georgian house set in six acres on the edge of Richmond Park in South-West London, which has served as Lady Annabel's home for decades, is described as 'fraught' and 'tense'.

So how did events reach such a dreadful state?

For some weeks now, London society has been buzzing with rumours that Mark Birley, an entrepreneur - who as well as Annabel's founded a string of high-profile and glamorous London nightspots - had fallen out with his son Robin, and in doing so thrown the fate of a GBP50million business empire into disarray.

Their quarrel was initially deemed to be a 'business disagreement' over the running of Annabel's, which Robin had until recently been overseeing along with his sister, India-Jane.

In fact, the truth about their estrangement is much darker: Robin, it emerges, has used a private detective to investigate the background of his married sister's lover after she became pregnant by him. As we shall see, his decision to invade her privacy in this way has triggered an extraordinary - and disastrous - chain of events.

OF COURSE, the Goldsmiths and Birleys have always attracted their fair share of high-octane drama. After all, Lady Annabel was still married to Mark Birley, by whom she had three children, Rupert, now dead, Robin, and India-Jane, 44, when she embarked on a torrid affair with Sir James Goldsmith in the early Seventies.

Mark Birley, while a prolific womaniser himself, never quite forgave Goldsmith.

Lady Annabel went on to have three more children with Sir James - Jemima, now 32, Zac, 31, and 26-year-old Ben.

While an uneasy alliance existed between the two branches of the family, her two husbands, maintained an open animosity (one family friend recalls hearing Sir Jimmy shouting how he would 'do for Birley' on more than one occasion).

Undoubtedly, this proved difficult for the two sets of children. As one friend recalls: 'It helped that there was a gap in ages between the children, so they weren't in each other's pockets. But they knew the situation.

'They managed to be reasonably cordial with each other - there have been very jolly Sunday lunches all around the table at Ormeley Lodge - which is hugely important to Annabel.

But it has not been easy and one was always rather left with the sense that there was a faultline in the earth that could fracture at any time.'

This already delicately nuanced situation was complicated further by the fact that in some ways, Robin Birley felt closer to his stepfather, Sir James, than he did to his biological father, Mark.

HORRIBLY scarred at the age of 11 after being mauled by a tiger during a visit to the private zoo belonging to John Aspinall, a friend of Sir James's, Robin has always been a somewhat shy and diffident character.

'Robin's relationship with his father Mark has never been the easiest,' a source reveals. 'They care for one another but Mark is not the most warm of individuals. In many ways Robin got more day-today paternal affection from Jimmy, despite his bombastic ways, as he grew up. It was Jimmy who helped build up his self-esteem as a teenager after he was disfigured.' This 'paternal' triangle has long provided an undercurrent of strain between Mark and Robin Birley - undercurrents which have bubbled to the surface in recent times. Three years ago, with Mark increasingly frail and now confined to a wheelchair, Robin and India- Jane took over the day-today running of Annabel's.

The two siblings oversaw a refurbishment and relaunch of Annabel's - named after Mark's wife - of which their father was said to disapprove (it was, he is rumoured to have said, attracting the 'wrong' sort of guests, such as C-list celebrities Calum Best and Sophie Anderton).

Matters came to a head last month when staff at the club were told that Robin had taken a six-month sabbatical to attend to other business affairs, leaving its management in the sole hands of India-Jane.

But Robin had not taken a sabbatical. Instead, he had been effectively banished from the club by his father and sister.

Step forward, then, India-Jane. Until now, the artist - known to her family as Jane - has managed to keep a relatively low profile. A self-confessed loner and somewhat bohemian character, she has preferred to maintain a certain distance from the rest of the family, choosing to settle in North-West London rather than join her siblings in the 'Sloane belt' of Chelsea and Knightsbridge.

Married to historian Francis Pike, the only element of her lifestyle worthy of remark until recently was that husband and wife chose to live in separate countries - she in England, he in Germany.

Eighteen months ago, however, it was India-Jane's turn to provoke a frenzy of rumour: despite previously admitting she 'wasn't able' to have children, she had become pregnant.

MOREOVER, it soon became clear that Francis was not the father of the baby son, who was named Eben when he arrived 16 months ago. That role had fallen to her lover, Robert Macdonald, a former voice tutor at the London Academy of Dramatic Art.

Aware that her situation was unconventional - to say the least - India-Jane revealed her lover's identity only to her closest family and friends, including her brother. Indeed, Robin Birley had met Macdonald on several occasions but they were not, it seems, natural friends.

Nonetheless, few might have been able to predict what happened next.

Anxious to protect the wellbeing of both his sister and the multimillion-pound family fortune, Robin took the extraordinary decision to employ a private detective to investigate the background of his sister's lover, Macdonald.

His fraternal instincts, he has insisted to friends, were well-meaning. As one says: 'In his own clumsy way he thought he was doing the right thing.'

Nonetheless, his decision was to prove devastating.

Sensing an opportunity to make money, the private detective presented Robin with false evidence, painting Macdonald as a conman who had duped women out of thousands of pounds.

In tearful taped testimony, several women claimed that Macdonald had persuaded them to give him money for a business venture, then had dumped them.

The testimonies, unbeknown to Robin, were completely false - he had been the victim of a scam which had led to him paying more than GBP200,000 over a year for further evidence of what he believed to be Macdonald's transgressions.

By this time, fearful for his sister's wellbeing, Robin had already allowed an intermediary to confront India-Jane with 'evidence' of her lover's deceitfulness.

She refused to believe a word of it - and the fallout was more or less immediate. Furious and upset, she severed all ties with her brother.

As a friend explains: 'She is incandescent. She feels it is an insult to her that, whatever his instincts, Robin would even consider snooping around her lover. She has always been very open with him about her domestic situation and for her this was the ultimate betrayal.' Her anger is compounded, it's understood, by her irritation at being left with the 'fallout' over Annabel's.

'India doesn't want to have to take full responsibility for the club in the long-term,' the friend reveals. 'She is not a businesswoman by nature, she is an artist. She enjoyed renovating the club, but running it is a different kettle of fish.

Then again, at the moment she isn't left with much choice. Her father does not want it to be run by either a stranger or a Goldsmith [at one point, there was a suggestion that Zac and Ben Goldsmith might become involved with the running of the club which bears their mother's name]. So unless he changes his mind it's down to her.' Mark, for his own part, has taken his daughter's side, leaving Robin effectively estranged from both father and sister. Last week Robin confessed himself 'in absolute despair' over the rift, and insisted he has acted only in the best interests of his sister.

Meanwhile, his mother, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, finds herself in the middle of a complex family triangle involving her former husband, her eldest son and her daughter. She is understood to have pleaded with both India-Jane and Mark to extend the hand of forgiveness to Robin, but to no avail.

Beyond that, there is little she can do. 'Annabel is also well aware that she does not want to be seen to be taking sides,' says a friend.

'India- Jane is quite capable of cutting her off, too, and she does not want to be put into a position where she is estranged from her grandson, India-Jane's son Eben.

And, as if this were not enough for her to cope with, Lady Annabel is also having to deal with ongoing turbulence in the Goldsmith branch of the family, namely the suggestion that Zac has been enjoying 'private time' with a young lady who is not his wife.

That that someone is Alice Rothschild, 22-year- old sister of his brother Ben's wife Kate, has only complicated matters further.

While Zac has insisted to his wife that the meetings with Alice were merely business related, the situation has nonetheless caused tension with Ben.

'Ben is "appalled" by his brother's behaviour,' a source close to the family reveals. 'He has told him that, whatever is going on, he has behaved arrogantly and that if he continues to do so it could cost Zac his dream of being prime minister one day.

'He knows that this will hit a nerve because, while Zac would never publicly admit that is his ambition, Ben knows that's what he wants.' Zac's sister Jemima Goldsmith, meanwhile, is trying to keep her distance.

'Jemima doesn't want to get involved,' a friend says. 'She just shrugs her shoulders about it all and says she's in no position to judge Zac after her own marriage to cricketer Imran Khan failed.' While Jemima has also tried to comfort her mother, she is also exasperated by her half-brother Robin's recent behaviour. 'Her view is that while of course it's very hard for her mother, it is down to Robin and India-Jane to sort things out between them.'

Much easier said than done, of course: the Birleys and the Goldsmiths do, after all, have one thing in common - an immensely stubborn and proud streak.

Under the circumstances, Robin's wedding cannot have come at a worse time.

Understandably, Lady Annabel is anxious that the family put on a united front on the big day, yet even with the matriarch's undeniable influence, this seems unlikely.

Certainly, the final turnout for this particular society event will prove instructive indeed.

Copyright 2006 Daily Mail. Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Europe Intelligence Wire.

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