Larger than life - even in death

Louise Jury on Sir James Goldsmith, supreme juggler of kin and business writes

The guest-list at Jemima Goldsmith's wedding to former Pakistani cricket captain Imran Khan said as much about her father as you could wish to know.

Sir James's mistress and second ex-wife were on it, for a start, as was his wife Lady Annabel's first husband, Mark Birley, a Mayfair club owner and old friend of Sir James.

Lord White, a business friend of many years' acquaintance, received an invitation even though his daughter claims Imran Khan fathered her love child.

Diana, Princess of Wales, a close friend of father and daughter, was invited but was unable to attend. Even if she had, there would have been a warm welcome from the Goldsmiths for Mark Shand, the husband of Sir James's niece Clio and brother of Diana's rival, Camilla Parker Bowles. Camilla's sister, Annabel Elliott, was there too.

Sir James Goldsmith was often regarded as the maverick outsider, the part-Catholic, part-Jewish, Anglo-French corporate raider.

He issued 63 writs for libel against Private Eye magazine after it accused him of sheltering the fugitive Lord Lucan who disappeared following the murder of his nanny.

Among his best friends was John Aspinall, the eccentric zoo owner.

Yet Sir James's connections also took him right to the heart of power and influence.

Carla Powell, wife of Lady Thatcher's adviser Sir Charles Powell, and Lord McAlpine, former Tory party deputy chairman, were among his supporters when he launched the Referendum Party.

He was a larger-than-life man who produced a larger-than-life family of eight children by four women, an arrangement as idiosyncratic as his business and political interests. He juggled them all.

His first great love was Isabel Patino, a Bolivian heiress with whom he eloped to international front-page-headline scandal. But she died giving birth to his first child 43 years ago.

Isabel, so named after her late mother, flew from her home in Mexico to be with her father last week.

He went on to wed his former secretary Ginette Lery in 1958 who bore him two more children, Alix and Manes.

But within six years he had wooed Lady Annabel, the then wife of Mayfair club owner Mark Birley - who none the less stayed friends with both. Sir James and Lady Annabel wed in 1978 and have three children, Zachariah, who is widely expected to take over his remaining business interests, Jemima and Benjamin. But within months of the marriage, Sir James began an affair with Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, a French magazine editor. "When a man marries his mistress he creates a job vacancy," he once remarked. She shared his life until he died, bearing him a further two children, Charlotte and Jethro, and - intriguingly - living in the other half of the Paris mansion which was also home to Ginette Lery and family.

His brother, Teddy, an environmentalist, described Sir James as a "natural tribal polygamist". Yesterday, none of th family was available for comment on the death of the man who had hidden how seriously ill he was from the world until his last few days. It is understood he was diagnosed as having terminal cancer shortly before Christmas last year, but only Lady Annabel and Ms Boulay de la Meurthe were informed.

Disregarding his health, he insisted on spending what would be the final months of his life fighting the gruelling general election campaign, sinking pounds 20 million of his own money into securing a referendum on Europe.

His remaining fortune, estimated at pounds 1.5 billion, including five homes in four countries, is expected to be shared among his families. It is hard to imagine the shrewd business operator having left anything about their future financial security to chance.

Patrick Robertson, founder of the Euro-sceptic Bruges Group who became Sir James's spokesman, said everything about his affairs had been in order for a very long time - "permanently in order". Sir James Goldsmith never did anything by halves.

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