Public relations nightmare as power couple call off wedding
WITH a guest list that included royalty, rock stars, tycoons, models and politicians, their wedding should have been the high society event of the year.
But, with the collapse in fortunes of the PR firm Bell Pottinger amid allegations that it tried to incite race hatred in South Africa, James Henderson, its former boss, and Heather Kerzner, his fiancée and wealthy socialite, have called off the ceremony.
The couple were due to marry in November in what would have been a glittering spectacle. The “postponement” is particularly embarrassing after Ms Kerzner, ex-wife of a hotel billionaire, invested a sizeable part of her fortune to buy 15 per cent of Bell Pottinger.
The modern day dowry and Mr Henderson’s stake that gave them 40 per cent of the company, is today virtually worthless. The firm is widely expected to close. A source close to the couple insisted the relationship was not in jeopardy by the loss of their investment or by the company’s possible demise.
“The wedding will go ahead next year,” said one source. “They’re still together. It’s just they’ve got a lot on their plate.”
The demise of the firm that once advised Margaret Thatcher, and the question mark hanging over this power couple’s relationship is as unfortunate as it is absurd. Set up in 1998 by Lord Bell, Mrs Thatcher’s former media adviser, Bell Pottinger was unafraid to represent controversial clients, including General Pinochet and Oscar Pistorius.
In 2010, Henderson merged his City PR company with Bell Pottinger. With offices around the world and multi-million pounds contracts advising the rich and powerful, the future looked promising.
Five years later, Mr Henderson was introduced by the Duchess of York, one of his clients, to Ms Kerzner at a charity fundraising party.
The glamorous 48-year-old New Yorker hobnobs with the rich and famous, including Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, Sir Philip Green, Boris Johnson, David Bailey and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.
Mr Henderson would have been aware of her taste for the finer things in life. Her first husband, whom she married aged 24, was a successful American banker. They separated and in 2000, she married Solomon Kerzner, a hotel tycoon 34 years her senior. Before their divorce in 2011, she had enjoyed the 82-year-old’s private jet and yacht, travelled to his luxury resorts in Mexico, Dubai, Mauritius and the Maldives and lived in the Bahamas, on a Buckinghamshire country estate and later in Holland Park, west London.
With that in mind, no doubt, Henderson this year booked a table for a Valentine’s Day dinner at Scott’s in Mayfair and proposed. Within days, gossip columnists began speculating about the London wedding of the year.
Before his resignation last year, Lord Bell had won a contract to represent Oakbay Investments, a South African company owned by the wealthy Gupta family. The deal, rumoured to be worth £100,000 a month, was to promote “economic emancipation”.
But, allegations of “dirty tricks” forced Mr Henderson to commission an independent report. It made damning reading. It alleged that the company had stoked up racial tensions and staff had set up fake Twitter accounts to target white businessmen, while journalists were “misled” or “undermined”.
The fallout was spectacular: Mr Henderson, who was not involved in the account, promptly resigned. The company was ignominiously thrown out of the PR trade association for bringing the industry into disrepute.
Mr Henderson and Ms Kerzner have not been available for comment. Jeremy Warner, Business: Page 2
The socialite, pictured clockwise from above, with Kate Moss in 2013, Ronnie Wood in 2012, the Duchess of York at Bell Pottinger’s 30th anniversary celebrations just two months ago and with photographer David Bailey in 2010
James Henderson and Heather Kerzner: what might have been wedding of the year is off for now