Whoa! Riding master gets hitched to the richest bride in the world

Athina Roussel-Onassis, 20, is worth £1.5bn. Her wedding yesterday was not a modest affair. David Randall reports
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The Independent US

As high society weddings go, they don't come more rarefied than this. Yesterday, on a private estate in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the richest young woman on the planet married a bronzed, handsome Olympic medallist at an event so exclusive that 500 security guards were in attendance.

But beneath the glitz (the dress alone cost £20,000) and the sparkle (1,000 bottles of champagne stood on ice at the £40,000-a-day reception venue), there were enough lurking subplots to fuel a whole season of Shakespearean tragedies.

For this is not your average little rich girl getting wed. Her name is Onassis, and, for inheritance purposes, there is only one of those left in the world. On her 18th birthday in 2003, Athina Roussel-Onassis collected $2.7bn (£1.5bn), and next month, when she reaches 21, she inherits sole control of her own financial destiny and the chair of the fabulously rich Onassis Foundation. Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of speculation that the groom, Alvaro Afonso de Miranda, 32, known as Doda, is as smitten with Athina's worldly goods as he is with the 20-year-old herself.

And hovering over the reception, like a coachload of Banquo's ghosts, are the spectres of past Onassis marriages. There is Aristotle himself, shipping tycoon grandfather of Athina, whose first marriage ended when his wife found him in bed with Maria Callas, and who then married Jackie, the widow of John F Kennedy.

And then there is Christina, daughter of Aristotle, who had four husbands, the last being Athina's father Thierry Roussel. He carried on carrying on with his mistresses, nicknamed her Thunder Thighs; they divorced after three years, and Christina died a year later of a heart attack.

Athina was raised in Switzerland with her father and his new wife in an atmosphere that grew ever more legally fraught. To date, there have been 95 lawsuits between Roussel and the trustees of Athina's fortune. Those trustees relinquish power over the Onassis Foundation in January, when Athina is 21. So it would not be a surprise if the Brazilian magazine Veja proved correct in saying that the couple signed a prenuptial agreement protecting all assets acquired before marriage.

The couple met in 2002 at a riding centre in Belgium. She is a keen rider who hopes to represent Greece at the 2008 Beijing Olympics; he was the winner of an equestrian bronze at the Sydney Games. A year later, Onassis moved to Sao Paulo, where she shares a 10,650 sq ft apartment with Doda and Viviane, his six-year-old daughter from his previous marriage. The couple reportedly have a discreet lifestyle. Her new father-in-law, Ricardo Miranda, said: "She is not a stuck-up woman. She is a very intelligent woman who speaks Portuguese and likes to watch soap operas."

But protestations of ordinariness are hard to swallow when they involve someone whose pram was a £6,000 Ferrari, and who, as a teenager, inherited the Aegean island of Skorpios, the Metropole Hotel in Monte Carlo, and no fewer than 217 bank accounts. Athina was said by Forbes in 2003 to have homes in Paris, Mayfair and St Moritz.

And it was in the opulent setting of an estate in Sao Paulo's upscale Morumbi district where Doda was due to take her as his wife. For her part, she will be the third-generation Onassis woman to marry young, and to a man significantly older than herself.

But the couple do seem to have retained some contact with reality. Instead of gifts, they asked that guests make donations to a local children's centre.

Whether the bride's father was there is another matter. She won a battle with him for control of a multimillion-dollar personal inheritance and he had questioned Doda's motives. By late last night, there was still no word on whether he had arrived to see the latest member of the Onassis dynasty embark on the road to happily ever after. Judging by previous family attempts, it is a street whose rockiness may in part be due to the fact that it is paved so clutteringly with gold.