Pub­lic re­la­tions night­mare as power cou­ple call off wed­ding

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Steve Bird

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

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