So­cialite The who fell to earth

Stu­pen­dously rich (af­ter di­vorc­ing a casino bil­lion­aire), best friends with ev­ery­one, she led a gilded life. Then Fergie in­tro­duced her to the boss of the now shamed PR firm Bell Pot­tinger and it all started go­ing hor­ri­bly wrong . . .

Daily Mail - - News - by Richard Kay EDI­TOR AT LARGE

THE oc­ca­sion at Mer­chant Tay­lors’ Hall in the City of Lon­don was the 2015 gala din­ner for Chil­dren In Cri­sis, the char­ity founded by the Duchess of York in 1993 to fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion and child pro­tec­tion in coun­tries af­fected by con­flict.

It is an im­por­tant an­nual event for ‘ Cri­sis’, which de­pends on the gen­eros­ity of sup­port­ers, and Fergie, the char­ity’s life pres­i­dent, was there to say a few words and also to glad-hand her guests.

The duchess had added two of her friends to the guest list that night: PR com­pany boss James Hen­der­son and Heather Kerzner, vi­va­cious ex-wife of pint-sized South African ho­tels and casino mag­nate Sol Kerzner.

Ever since 2010, when her royal life reached its low­est ebb af­ter a news­pa­per ‘sting’ in which she of­fered to sell ac­cess to Prince An­drew, her ex-hus­band, in re­turn for £500,000, the Duchess had re­lied on Hen­der­son, chief ex­ec­u­tive of world-fa­mous PR firm Bell Pot­tinger, to re­build her rep­u­ta­tion.

‘James has sto­ically and stead­fastly stood by me ever since,’ Fergie told me this week. ‘He has been loyal and kind.’

And that kind­ness has been re­paid. Hen­der­son’s son Felix spent a win­ter sea­son work­ing as an as­sis­tant at the Swiss ski lodge she jointly owns with An­drew.

The Duchess has known Heather even longer: since 2000, which was soon af­ter the glam­orous Amer­i­can-born so­cialite be­came the fourth Mrs Kerzner and she and her hus­band — a bil­lion­aire 34 years her se­nior — moved to Lon­don and be­came fix­tures on the so­ci­ety and char­ity cir­cuit.

That mar­riage broke down ten years later, and by the time of Fergie’s event, Heather, by now a twice- di­vorced mother- of-two, was ready for love again.

Hen­der­son, mean­while, was go­ing through a dif­fi­cult sep­a­ra­tion from his wife Alexan­dra, with whom he has four chil­dren.

Though he and Mrs Kerzner did not know one an­other when they were in­tro­duced at the gala din­ner, pretty soon the two of them were in­sep­a­ra­ble.

By March this year, they were en­gaged. Heather was sport­ing a stun­ning Boo­dles ring on her fin­ger. and save-the- date in­vi­ta­tions to their wed­ding — a church ser­vice at fash­ion­able St Paul’s, Knights­bridge, with a re­cep­tion to fol­low at the hip Blue­bird restau­rant in Chelsea — were be­ing dis­patched to roy­alty, rock stars, ty­coons, mod­els and politi­cians.

Not long af­ter­wards, 48year- old Heather was mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant ges­ture of com­mit­ment to their re­la­tion­ship, in­vest­ing sev­eral mil­lions of her per­sonal for­tune buy­ing a 15 per cent stake in Hen­der­son’s PR firm.

But amid al­le­ga­tions it tried to stoke up racial ha­tred in South Africa while work­ing for a lu­cra­tive client, the com­pany — set up by Mara­gret Thatcher’s favourite ad- man Lord (Tim) Bell — has spec­tac­u­larly col­lapsed.

It has left Mrs Kerzner’s mul­ti­mil­lion­pound stake vir­tu­ally worth­less and James Hen­der­son, who quit as the firm’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, out of a job.

This week it was re­vealed their planned wed­ding had been called off, and Hen­der­son had moved out of his fi­ancée’s Chelsea town­house. It also emerged that Heather had hired a top lawyer to try to claw back money from the firm’s for­mer di­rec­tors. Quite pos­si­bly this could mean her su­ing the man she was due to marry on Novem­ber 25.

The po­ten­tial le­gal ac­tion is the lat­est chap­ter in a scan­dal that looks un­likely to die down any time soon, the furore hav­ing thrown up trou­bling ques­tions about the busi­ness prac­tices of one of the City’s favourite bluechip com­pa­nies.

But while its col­lapse is dev­as­tat­ing for Bell Pot­tinger’s part­ners and em­ploy­ees, it is noth­ing short of tragic for Hen­der­son, who has lost ev­ery­thing, and for Heather, whose life of gilded lux­ury may now come to a shud­der­ing halt.

Some in her cir­cle had been sur­prised not just by the speed of her romance with Hen­der­son but that the sassy and sexy woman had fallen for him in the first place.

With her en­vi­able whip­pet­thin fig­ure and glossy good looks, find­ing a man af­ter part­ing from Kerzner was hardly go­ing to be dif­fi­cult. She had been linked with sev­eral el­i­gi­ble bach­e­lors.

I came to know her when re­port­ing on so­ci­ety events. At her 44th birth­day party she told me that while she had met sev­eral ‘nice’ men, ‘it’s about find­ing some­one who can match your own life, rather than find­ing some­one with whom you can cre­ate a life’.

Her own life has seen her be­come the queen bee of Lon­don’s so­cial whirl, friends with El­ton John and David Fur­nish, Naomi Camp­bell, El­iz­a­beth Hur­ley, Trinny Woodall and Dasha Zhukova, who re­cently sep­a­rated from her bil­lion­aire hus­band Ro­man Abramovich.

Since her ar­rival here, Heather has rarely been out of the gos­sip col­umns, at­tend­ing this, host­ing that and al­ways dis­play­ing that mega- watt smile. No guest list was com­plete with­out Heather’s name on it.

But un­like many of the Euro trash that make up much of Lon­don’s party- go­ing crowd, Heather never flaunted her wealth, even though her life with Kerzner had been one of op­u­lent ex­cess.

There was the yacht, the pri­vate jet, the £25 mil­lion man­sion in Hol­land Park, West Lon­don, and homes in the Ba­hamas, the South of France and South Africa. Plus, thanks to Sol Kerzner’s pas­sion for buy­ing and de­vel­op­ing ho­tels, ac­cess to some of the most soughtafter re­sorts on the planet. Prophet­i­cally, she was once asked whether she would cope if she lost ev­ery­thing. ‘I’d like to think I could,’ she an­swered. ‘ob­vi­ously it’s fun to be able to buy a beau­ti­ful gown, but if I couldn’t af­ford it, I wouldn’t be less happy.’

Brought up in a blue- col­lar home in Al­bany, New York, her par­ents parted when she was just two. Money was tight. She re­calls her mother sewing back­packs and ‘stress­ing about pay­ing the rent and how she was go­ing to put food on the ta­ble’.

Heather, though, was bright and won a place at Columbia Univer­sity to read English, then worked in mar­ket­ing in New York for the pub­lish­ing com­pany Time Warner.

In 1993, she mar­ried a hand­some 6ft 6in for­mer col­lege row­ing star turned Wall Street fi­nancier, Char­lie Mur­phy, and they moved to Lon­don, where he worked for Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Mor­gan Stan­ley.

Heather, mean­while, got a place at ox­ford to study the­ol­ogy at Mans­field Col­lege. But the cul­ture shock of life amid ox­ford’s dream­ing spires proved too much. Af­ter a term, she dropped out and the cou­ple started a fam­ily. They had two chil­dren, Char­lie and Sa­van­nah.

AS Emerg­ing mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tional jet set, it was some­how in­evitable that Heather’s path would cross with Sol Kerzner, the brash South African ho­tel and casino mogul, who was rapidly ex­pand­ing his global busi­ness.

‘We were al­ways in the same place by chance,’ she said. ‘I was of­ten seated next to him at din­ners but I never looked at him in a ro­man­tic way.’

All that changed when Heather and her hus­band split up and she moved back to New York with her chil­dren, then aged three and one. Kerzner, a fa­ther-of-five who had al­ready been mar­ried three times, in­clud­ing to a for­mer Miss World, be­gan court­ing her.

With his ap­petite for ex­ple­tives (he liked to be­gin busi­ness meet­ings with the del­i­cate phrase ‘What the f***’s go­ing on’), Sol Kerzner

seemed an un­likely fig­ure for the in­tel­li­gent Heather to fall for. Sol was be­hind some of the world’s most over-the-top de­vel­op­ments: casi­nos with fake Mayan tem­ples, ar­ti­fi­cial vol­ca­noes and la­goons filled with sharks.

He cre­ated the no­to­ri­ous Sun City re­sort in South Africa — a fan­tasy jun­gle palace com­plete with its own wave-mak­ing ma­chine on the beach. De­spite global con­dem­na­tion of the then apartheid regime, he lured stars such as Frank Si­na­tra there to per­form.

His pri­vate life was as colour­ful as his busi­ness deal­ings. For his 50th birth­day he char­tered a jumbo jet and flew 150 friends to Mauritius. Dur­ing the flight, he re­placed the stew­ardesses with strip­pers. His first mar­riage ended in di­vorce in the early 1970s, his sec­ond wife com­mit­ted sui­cide and he split from third wife, beauty queen An­neline Kriel, af­ter five years.

This then was the man who on their first date took Heather not to a swanky restau­rant but to a hot dog stand in New York’s Cen­tral Park.

In­con­ve­niently, how­ever, Kerzner was also en­gaged to lon­g­legged beauty Christina Estrada, who just hap­pened to be one of Heather’s friends and who last year won a £75 mil­lion di­vorce set­tle­ment from her Saudi oil ty­coon hus­band.

Kerzner ruth­lessly dumped her and mar­ried Heather in front of two wit­nesses in a suite at his At­lantis re­sort in the Ba­hamas.

Set­tling in Lon­don soon af­ter their wed­ding, Heather be­gan rub­bing shoul­ders with an in­ter­na­tional crowd, ex U.S. pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and his wife Hil­lary, South Africa’s for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela and Hol­ly­wood stars like Robert De Niro.

Life was good and very, very lux­u­ri­ous. Their neo- Ge­or­gian home, close to the Beck­hams, Si­mon Cow­ell and Rob­bie Wil­liams, was stuffed with ex­pen­sive art­works: four enor­mous Warhols of the Queen dom­i­nated one room, a Cha­gall was hung over a fire­place and a Dufy on an­other wall.

Then there was the live-in house­keeper, the chauf­feur to whisk her to her girly lunches and a gar­dener who came ev­ery six weeks to change all the flow­er­ing plants for fresh ones. For her 40th birth­day party, Kerzner booked the Dorch­ester ho­tel and hired singers Donna Sum­mer and Natalie Cole as the en­ter­tain­ment.

The fol­low­ing year, her 41st birth­day cel­e­bra­tion at Annabel’s night­club, was no­to­ri­ous for the fra­cas be­tween ac­tor Hugh Grant and PR man Matthew Freud.

Around this time, Sol liked to joke that he had never gone out with a woman in her for­ties be­fore. It turned out to be omi­nously pre­scient, and not long af­ter­wards the cou­ple sep­a­rated. Heather filed for di­vorce cit­ing un­rea­son­able be­hav­iour.

The break-up hit her hard, but af­ter a gen­er­ous set­tle­ment and the sale of the mar­i­tal home, Heather soon bounced back. She threw her­self into char­ity events. It was at a Mas­ter­piece art fair party she or­gan­ised that the Duchess of Cam­bridge’s brother James Mid­dle­ton met his TV pre­sen­ter girl­friend Donna Air.

With a close friend, Heather set up a strate­gic mar­ket­ing busi­ness and be­gan widen­ing her cir­cle. She was a guest at Tory Party balls, put her name to a let­ter to the news­pa­pers con­demn­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence in war zones and be­came a pa­tron of the Amos Bur­sary, which funds ed­u­ca­tional chances for young Bri­tish men of African de­scent.

She re­mained sin­gle, but it was that Fergie-or­gan­ised in­vite to the Chil­dren In Cri­sis gala din­ner that was to change her life.

By all ac­counts, the en­counter with James Hen­der­son was, on both sides, a Soon af­ter their en­gage­ment, she was rocked by the death in New York of Char­lie Mur­phy, the fa­ther of her chil­dren. He’d jumped to his death from the 24th floor of the Sof­i­tel ho­tel in Times Square.

Mean­while, Heather was soon be­com­ing a fa­mil­iar fig­ure at Bell Pot­tinger events. At its sum­mer party in June at Lan­caster House, next door to St James’s Palace, Heather glided eas­ily among the guests, in­clud­ing politi­cians such as David Davies, Nigel Farage and Vis­count As­tor (Sa­man­tha Cameron’s step­fa­ther), me­dia fig­ures like ITV’s Robert Pe­ston and, of course, the Duchess of York.

But within weeks, the com­pany’s sud­den col­lapse af­ter it was ac­cused of fo­ment­ing racial ha­tred in South Africa was dev­as­tat­ing for Heather, who has ‘huge af­fec­tion’ for her ex-hus­band’s na­tive coun­try.

‘I would never in­vest in a com­pany that would do any­thing to harm South Africa or its peo­ple,’ she de­clared. In­deed, I un­der­stand she only made her in­vest­ment af­ter the com­pany had ter­mi­nated the toxic con­tract in South Africa.

BUT the de­ba­cle threat­ened to over­whelm her re­la­tion­ship with Hen­der­son, with some won­der­ing if it can sur­vive, es­pe­cially af­ter she called in dis­pute res­o­lu­tion lawyer Dan Mor­ri­son.

To­day, close friends in­sist they re­main ‘ very much in love’, but that it would be ‘crazy’ to con­tem­plate a wed­ding with so much tur­moil in their lives.

Yes­ter­day, Hen­der­son told me that the wed­ding was not can­celled but post­poned.

‘We are still en­gaged but we are giv­ing each other a bit of space,’ he said. ‘ Heather is go­ing to the States for a few weeks to see fam­ily and I am based at my home in Sus­sex while I take stock.

‘She’s tak­ing le­gal ad­vice with a view to see what the op­tions are, which is quite rightly what any­one who has lost a lot of money in a short time would do.’

For her part, Fergie, who has suf­fered so many per­sonal set­backs, tells me she is ‘ there’ for Hen­der­son as he has been for her.

‘I know what it’s like to be where James is,’ she adds.

In 2004: With then hus­band Sol

Wed­ding post­poned: Heather Kerzner and James Hen­der­son

So­cial whirl: Clock­wise from top left, Heather with Fergie, who in­tro­duced her to her fi­ancé, Joan Collins, Kate Moss and Sharon Stone

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