POLITICS: What is the truth about the Tories' young pretender?

IVAN MASSOW, it has to be said, looks good on paper. He is variously, the bright young hope of the modern Tory party, a multi-millionaire gay financial whizz kid who has been feted by William Hague, put in charge of his party's London policy and pressed into service by Steven Norris as his running mate for mayor.

A dozen or so adoring profiles have been written about Mr Massow's glamorous lifestyle, friends and business acumen. But as the Tory party recently found, sometimes what one sees is not what one gets. Close examination of the facts of Mr Massow's life is, in fact, likely to leave as many questions as answers.

There is much that is interesting and true about Mr Massow. Last year he took a salary of pounds 378,000 from his company, Massow Financial Services, which specialises in offering life insurance and mortgages to gay men. He commutes between a four-storey minimalist office block in Covent Garden, a flat in Mayfair, a cottage in Sussex and an historic house in Frome, Somerset. He has a four year-old racehorse, Kadlass, which recently came sixth in a maiden hurdles race at Taunton, although he was too busy to attend.

In the week, he schmoozes potential benefactors as chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts; at weekends he is a whipper-in for the East Sussex and Romney Marsh fox-hounds and joint master of the Cokeham Bloodhounds.

He recently pulled out of the race to become mayor for London and instead joined forces with the Tories' front-runner, Steven Norris. He briefly considered having a baby with the lesbian actress, Jackie Clune. Even his PA, Dominic Brant, is exotic: a would-be priest who has twice been British Powerlifting Champion.

In person, Mr Massow is liable to play down reports of his life and wealth, leaving the suggestion that newspapers have cultivated this extravagant profile. "There's no comparing me to Jeffrey Archer," he says. Archer, he adds, "has made a lot more money" and has "a different way of doing business".

But last week an article in the New Statesman raised more serious doubts, suggesting the 32-year-old financial adviser might not be as financially secure as his publicity claimed. This was swiftly rebutted by Mr Massow's major investor, and Massow himself says reports that he owns a pounds 15m stake in his company have been exaggerated. Recent valuations certainly make him a millionaire, though he says this is "just paper."

In the past year the firm, set up in early 1998 after eight years in which he operated as a sole trader, has had injections of pounds 1.5 million from two venture capitalists, one of whom recently valued it at pounds 8 million.

However, its first filed set of accounts, out last week, show the business made a pounds 700,000 loss last year and its turnover, despite media predictions that it would reach pounds 2.5m or even pounds 5m, was just over pounds 900,000. Mr Massow says this was the inevitable result of expansion and a move to a bigger office, and that his business plan predicts he will break even in three years. He adds that a large chunk of his own pay covered a tax bill which resulted from him ceasing to be a sole trader. The only other company listed to him was recently dissolved. That, he says, was just an internet venture he set up in his barn.

It is not clear which barn. For Mr Massow's three residences are not quite as described, either. His cottage in Brightling Park, Sussex, is rented from friends for pounds 60 a week. His Frome house is not a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion, as reported, but a Grade II* Georgian town house, which he bought in a derelict state and did up with the help of grants. He says it is worth pounds 100,000 less than it has cost him.

His Mayfair flat is rented, and is shared with Michael Portillo's biographer, Michael Gove, and a Tory councillor, Nicholas Boles. "It's like Tory Friends," Mr Massow says. "We all sold our flats for a good price a few months ago and we thought it would be a laugh."

Other "friendships" are apparently less cosy. "William knows I'm friendly with Peter Tatchell and he knows I'm friendly with Peter Mandelson," he said last week.

But friends of the minister gave a different version of events. A Labour source said Mr Mandelson met Mr Massow once for lunch, about six months ago, after Mr Massow took on the ICA chairmanship. Similarly, his claim to be "effectively in charge of what they call the `policy bible' for the London Tories is played down by Central Office. A spokesman for William Hague said Mr Massow had "a minor policy role."

Different versions of his recent tie-up with Steven Norris are also told by those close to the mayoral candidate. The Pink Paper, which interviewed Mr Massow last week, reported that "figures close to the leader" had hinted he should consider becoming Mr Norris's running mate, and that just before announcing his candidature Norris had rung Mr Massow to ask him to join his team.

When pressed, Mr Massow acknowledged that in fact he had approached Mr Norris first, though he said the politician did then call him at 8.30am before announcing his decision to stand. He also acknowledged that Steven Norris already had a running mate, Victoria Borwick.

But a few minutes later he added that he got on with Trevor Phillips "incredibly well.... He is second to Dobson and I'm second to Norris." He then went on to describe himself more than once as Mr Norris's "running- mate".

Without question is the fact that Mr Massow finds time, despite all the networking, politicking and business-building, to do serious work for two charities - The Samaritans and the mental health organisation Mind. But his final comment perhaps gave the best clue to his personality, and could raise a few eyebrows at central office. "What I do best is ideas," he said. "I'm not really a detail person."

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