The Duke of Westminster: a rich insight
He may have been unbelievably wealthy but the Duke of Westminster’s life was not a happy one
01 November, 2018 — By Gerald Isaaman
Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster
BEING ridiculously rich, reluctant or otherwise, is hard to conceive now or at any time when you own 330 acres of the capital city, initially a tax haven for 400 years, and today is worth a cool £9 billion.
So it is hard to have sympathy for Gerald Grosvenor, the mentally impoverished late sixth Duke of Westminster, whose vast wealth comes from owning huge slices of Camden and Westminster, notably Belgravia, and all the poshest Mayfair property you could imagine.
Yet after reading Tom Quinn’s account of the tragic yet seductive life of a feeble fellow whose gilded ancestors dating back to one of William the Conqueror’s foremost knights, Hugh Lupus, first Earl of Chester, you can only feel sad for such a debauched and unhappy life.
For Gerald Grosvenor, born three days before Christmas in 1951, was apparently super sensitive and shy from the start. That situation was made even worse when, aged seven, he was uprooted from an isolated rural life in Ireland and sent to a boarding school near Windsor.
Bullying was rife and pupils such as Gerald cried themselves to sleep at night, especially after being teased mercilessly about his Ulster accent.
Then, at 13, he failed to follow the Grosvenor family tradition of winning a place at Eton, and was sent to Harrow. But his time there proved equally awful, the more so when he returned from a holiday, aged 15, to announce that his father was now the Duke of Westminster having inherited the title from an uncle who had died childless.
He left Harrow with O-levels in just English and History plus a lifelong addiction to smoking.
“I think my unhappiness at school made academic work impossible for me… and late in life I realised my problems with girls… with not being able to have normal relationships with them – were also traceable to my school years,” he admitted.
Centuries earlier one estate worked had insisted: “These f****** Grosvenors can smell money ten miles away.” And loads of loot certainly became the root of Gerald’s nagging sense of failure that chased him to the grave two years ago.
Nevertheless, though Gerald felt “hopelessly at sea” with girls, he did fall in love and, aged 27, he married 19-year-old Natalia Phillips in 1979 – they subsequently had four children – the very same year he inherited his father’s dukedom and the family fortune as London’s largest landlord, then worth £500 million.
Shooting in the countryside, driving fast cars and offering philanthropic aid to some had become, along with farming, his way of coping with the dukedom doldrums of running the estate. However, a nervous breakdown en route only added to his perpetual despair and sorrow.
“He was the perfect example of self-doubt concealed by the traditional English stiff upper lip,” one of his friends explained. But at least the harrowing time he had at Harrow taught Gerald to remain reticent and strictly right wing, bearing his sufferings without showing signs of emotion.
He did work hard running the estate taking his responsibilities seriously – and also for at least 10 years of his life found solace in the arms of some of the world’s most beautiful and expensive escort girls.
He led two lives to ensure he had some of the fun he craved. “He adored this hidden life because the women he bought asked nothing of him except money and they were a million miles from the sort of women he was used to from his own background,” writes Quinn. “Even his obsession with escort girls became even more dangerous – the risk of exposure always present – he constantly found ways to polish his public persona…”
Here was a man, he insisted, leading a very ordinary life and wanting his children to live ordinary lives too, but as one of the Duke’s former office staff protested: ‘I’m afraid it’s all humbug. It’s all talk.”
Gerald summed his life up himself following his mental breakdown. “I think I am slightly like the king in the fairy story – the one with no clothes on,” he confessed.
“By which I mean I think I am respected as the head of the family business… but it’s impossible for me to gauge whether my colleagues at work are really thinking, ‘He’s only here because it’s his family money’.
He went on: “I do work hard and I do make a contribution. But I suppose you might say I am something of a reluctant billionaire!”Here is a soulful saga that is essential reading for all those unexpectedly hitting the jackpot and finding themselves drowning in their own good or bad luck.
• The Reluctant Billionaire: The Tragic Life of Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster. By Tom Quinn, Biteback Publishing, £20