Focus: Poor little super-richkids

Allegra Versace Beck didn't ask to be born into a fashion empire. Her parents and uncle are to blame for the wealth and privilege she inherited on her 18th birthday last week. Katy Guest discovers why sons and daughters of the loaded find it so hard to be happy
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The skinny, kohl-streaked face of Allegra Versace Beck staring out from the papers on her 18th birthday last week provoked conflicting emotions: should we feel envy or overwhelming pity for the girl uncle Gianni Versace called his "little princess"? We all dream of wealth, but for Allegra - and many others in the same privileged position - it seems more of a nightmare.

Her birthday present was a 50 per cent stake in the Versace fashion empire, whose sales totalled £268m last year. Allegra's stake could be worth more than £130m if she sold it on, though this is unthinkable, at least for now, however uneasy she might be about her new life.

Allegra will tomorrow attend her first shareholders' meeting at the troubled company, which has falling sales and a pre-tax loss that has doubled to £13.4m. The inheritance is also tainted by sadness: it is the result of the death of her beloved uncle, shot seven years ago outside his Miami mansion. While Allegra is beginning to look almost as startling as her mother, Donatella, she is also a bookish teenager who likes to wear jeans, trainers and comfortable old cardies and wants to study acting after she finishes an English and drama degree at New York University. Mum has given her until the age of 25 to succeed as an actress. If she doesn't, it's back to the family firm.

Allegra was two days old when she attended her first Versace show. She has mostly avoided the cameras ever since. Described as "serious, sensible and bright", with her hair in pigtails and her nose in a history book, the teenager was devoted to Gianni. "I like to talk to Allegra," he said. "Because Allegra tells me the truth about Donatella." When he died she felt guilt, telling her mother that uncle would have been all right if only his favourite little girl had been with him. When the will was read, revealing her huge inheritance, she asked, aghast, "Why did Uncle Gianni choose me?"

Donatella made sure both her children talked to child psychologists after learning of their uncle's death in a TV newsflash between cartoons, but they will never have an ordinary life. Allegra keeps herself and her hobbies hidden from the press as much as possible and is always shadowed by a team of bodyguards.

The traditional role of poor little rich girl is not one many mothers would wish for their children. Last January, Allegra's near-contemporary Athina Roussell inherited assets from her grandfather Aristotle Onassis estimated to be worth £1.5bn. Allegra must hope not to follow her mother, Christina Onassis, who married a succession of 24-carat bounders before dying of heart failure when Athina was just three, her death thought to have resulted from a slimming pills overdose. "I want to forget the name Onassis," Athina once said. "It's the cause of all the problems."

Of course, it's not obligatory for a young heiress to end up tear-streaked and dribbling, toasting the disappearance of another husband with sleeping pills and flat champagne.

One wonders what kind of advice must be flying around at Annabel's nightclub in Berkeley Square where the young rich rub shoulders. And how it must differ from the tales of woe that circulate at the Priory in Surrey, where their less fortunate cousins rub their noses and sniffle into the hot water and lemon.

But some of them are doing something right. Richard Branson's daughter Holly, despite being worth about £50m, is now studying medicine at University College in London and living happily with friends in nothing seedier than a hall of residence.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of "The Donald" and the equally larger-than-life Ivana, is a business student who does jobs in the holidays despite her £52m fortune. "I've never been big into self-pity. I know how lucky I am," she says.

Ben and Zac Goldsmith, sons of the billionaire philanthropist and businessman Sir James, have thrown their not inconsiderable wealth behind environmental campaigns.

Ben helped to unite two wealthy dynasties last year when he married Kate Rothschild in Bury St Edmunds (between them they are worth around £300m). The 600 guests included Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Sir David Frost and Jemima and Imran Khan.

The pregnant bride arrived in a dress she had designed herself. The groom treated his ushers to a pint in the local pub before the service.

Brother Zac still works for a living as the editor of The Ecologist. He says: "I hate it when you see people who don't do a day's work, who have lots of cash, who make themselves feel good joining some crap charity. I just think: what problem are you solving?"

On the other hand, leaving one's children pots of money does seem a guaranteed way of ruining their lives. In the past year alone, Prince William's 22-year-old cousin the Hon Nicholas Knatchbull was sectioned under the Mental Health Act after absconding from a drugs treatment programme. The millionaire banker's daughter Angel Oliver admitted advertising for a partner, having ditched the latest in a long line of boyfriends who "could not deal with my wealth". The boyfriend of Paris Hilton, who is worth £17m, filmed them having sex and the footage became an internet sensation. Nicole Ritchie, friend of Paris and daughter of the singer, Lionel, was busted for possession of heroin and driving with a suspended licence.

But although you might not think it to listen to some people, there are worse things in life than inheriting an enormous fortune. An acquaintance of mine only learnt the family estate was not going to be his when he saw it for sale in an estate agent's window. Another's parents gave him for his 18th birthday a long and detailed invoice. It began with "nappies" and came to approximately £35,000.

Some wealthy parents - notably of the self-made variety - disinherit their children for magnanimous reasons. Bill Gates plans to leave most of his £40bn fortune to charity. "I won't leave a lot of money to my heirs because I don't think it will be good for them," he says. His two children will receive a mere £6m each. Lady Beaverbrook overcame the dilemma by leaving the bulk of her £15m to a cats' and dogs' home.

Peter de Savary, the property developer, plans to spend his fortune before it ever has a chance to corrupt his children. "I've had to create whatever I've created from nothing," he says. "I believe, in the words of Andrew Carnegie, that to die rich is to die disgraced." The reaction of his five lucky daughters has not been recorded. Anita Roddick has also told her two daughters they won't be inheriting the Body Shop millions. "Every penny I have earned will be given away to human and civil rights activists," she says. "What I love about my kids is they've got one huge dose of what real thinking is, what real life is. They're not rich bitches snorting cocaine every time they go into a bloody club, they're not in bloody Hello! magazine. They work. They're real."

Perhaps Allegra Versace Beck will persuade her minders to live in halls of residence. She might defy mother and sell her stake in Versace before swapping high-fashion threads for dreadlocks and tie-dye. Maybe the only eccentricity she's inherited from Donatella is a genetic predisposition to over-apply mascara. Gianna Versace used to see his unassuming 11-year-old niece as the calming influence in the family. Now that the little princess is in charge of her own destiny, she has a chance of happiness. Not 100 million chances, but one at least.

So how would you spend £100m?

If Allegra Versace Beck cashed in her assets she would have at least £100m. Malcolm Doney asked experts - and dreamers - how best to splash the cash

Tomas Carruthers, Chief executive of Interactive Investor website

The dollar's going to weaken, so I'd go for non-dollar assets, say in sterling or euros: bio-tech and nano-tech industries and property. New Zealand is a good place to buy.

If I was Allegra, I'd buy some fun property in say Manhattan or St Tropez. For me, though, I'd buy in Switzerland, which is very good long term and protected from the dollar decline.

Edwina Pitcher, Student, the same age as Allegra

I'd travel - up to the moon, bottom of the sea, and round the world in 80 days. And I'd go on archaeological digs in Egypt. I'd buy the Reading festival and have it all year.

I'd like a castle with suits of armour. Or maybe a few islands around Menorca. Oh, and a guitar amp.

On reflection, having that amount of money would be such a burden. I'd set up a foundation to help lots of charities.

Tom Naylor, Won £15.5m on the Lottery

I'd buy a yacht like the one that Abramovich feller from Chelsea has. A crew, too - you don't want to be sailing the damn thing yourself. The great thing about having a lot of money is there's no stress. My reaction as soon as I saw we had the winning numbers was, "the rest of my life is sorted. No need to worry about where the next pound's coming from." And it really has been like that.

Stuart McGreevy, Chairman of the Transformational Business Network

£5m-£10m would provide for a family. £10m-£20m would make a huge difference to orphaned HIV children. £10m-£20m in micro finance schemes would lift two million people out of absolute poverty. £20m-£50m in small/medium enterprise would improve the livelihoods of 2.5 million people. Then £20m-£25m to a flagship project, maybe in eco-tourism, banking or ethical clothing.

Sam Murphy, Gardener and retired telephone engineer

I'd give a list of relations, about 20 in all, a million each. I could buy a three-bed, two-storey house with a bit of garden. I'd like my own garden. You'd have to give the rest away, wouldn't you? Intermediate technology helps people in developing countries make simple devices to improve their lives. And I'd keep a few bob back for emergencies like Sudan.

Jonathan Rendall, Author of 'Twelve Grand: The Gambler as Hero'

You only gamble when you're skint - it's a way of turning £2 into £4. Money would remove the incentive. But then gambling is a sort of affirmation you exist. When you win it's the most marvellous thing - so I'm sure I would gamble. That could be my downfall. No, that's not right. I'd pay off my debts, with bonuses for the people who've helped me. I'd get my foot on the property ladder.