He was the classic entrepreneur, the man who made millions from the pink pound. At the height of his success, Ivan Massow's personal fortune from selling mortgages and life insurance to gay men was estimated at £30m.
Now he is unemployed, homeless and threatened with bankruptcy, bitterly regretting a disastrous franchise deal with the Swiss insurance giant Zurich. But he has no intention of wallowing in self-pity: next month, he will launch a £13m damages claim against the company for negligence, misrepresentation and breach of contract.
In the claim, to be heard at the High Court at Bristol next month, Mr Massow will allege that entrenched prejudice at Zurich caused the collapse of his business - and forced him out of the gay financial sector. "I am effectively suing them for homophobia on a massive scale," he said yesterday. "They completely destroyed my credibility as a financial adviser to the gay community."
He accuses Zurich - which previously traded in the UK as Allied Dunbar - of bumping up premiums for gay men, refusing life assurance to gay couples and requiring gay clients to undergo HIV tests. Mr Massow, a former chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, is demanding £13m to cover the loss of business, and further compensation for damage to his professional reputation.
He built his fortune in the 1990s by selling insurance and mortgages to gay men when no one else would. At the height of the Aids panic, insurers routinely refused cover to gay men, or increased their premiums by as much as 600 per cent. Mr Massow became an outspoken crusader for gay financial rights, singling out Allied Dunbar for particular criticism. At one stage he plastered the streets of Soho with posters offering insurance cover "For the life you don't want Allied Dunbar to know about".
But in May 2003, Mr Massow stunned his competitors by announcing that he was going into partnership with the very same company he had once criticised in public - by then trading as Zurich.
At the time, Mr Massow justified the move by saying Zurich's attitudes had altered. He now claims that the company's policies had not changed and describes the franchise agreement as "a terrible mistake". He says he discovered that insurance applications from gay men were "loaded" with extra premiums, while the company's mortgage application forms forced same-sex couples to register as "Mr and Mrs". "Their policies on gay men are still completely out of line," he said.
Mr Massow says he now believes that Zurich had no interest in doing business with the gay community, and pursued the franchise deal in order to access his client database.
Hélène Barnes, a spokeswoman for Zurich, refused to comment on Mr Massow's allegations, but said that the company would "vigorously defend" itself in court. "We take allegations of discrimination very seriously and employ robust procedures to ensure full investigations are carried out and appropriate action is taken wherever necessary," she said.
BIOGRAPHY: Financial times of a maverick
1967: Born Ivan Field
1979: Adopted by John Massow
1983: Leaves school with one O-level in metalwork. Finds work as filing clerk in insurance firm
1990: Founds Massow Financial Services, targeting gay clients. "Comes out" as a Tory, and escorts Lady Thatcher to Conservative Party conference
1999: Named chairman of the Institute for Contemporary Arts
2000: Defects to New Labour over Conservatives' support for Clause 28
2001: Merges financial services business with Rainbow Finance to create Rainbow Massow, the biggest gay financial consultancy in UK
2002: Rainbow Massow goes bust. Sacked from ICA after describing conceptual art as "craftless tat". Relaunches Massow Financial Services. Launches gay business website Jake.org
2003: Announces franchise deal with Zurich. Launches short-lived independent campaign to become Mayor of LondonReuse content