Captain Moonlight: Tell me, Marquesa

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The Independent Online
THE Marquesa de Varela is a fabulously successful journalist who, with her warm charm, outstanding beauty and unrivalled range of contacts, has been the chief reason for the success of Hello], Britain's fastest growing magazine. The Marquesa, who has interviewed the Princess Royal, the Duke and Duchess of York, Mandy Smith and a host of other such celebrities, graciously allowed us 'to turn the tables' on her and welcomed me into her rented Knightsbridge home last week and spoke of her hopes and her fears, but always with a ready smile and low attractive laugh.

Marquesa, how on earth do you do it?

'I think I have a secret. I am very interested in human beings in general . . . I think beauty helps but what helps me more is that I am very open. I am what I am. I am not pretending to be this or that. People feel they have known me for a very long time, that has given me the opportunity to have so many friends, I have only to ring them and they will open doors. And also I think I am decent with people. I don't want to betray them. To be betrayed is, for me, one of the worst things that can happen.'

Right, that's enough of that. I know you Hello] aficionados would expect a piece about the Marquesa to be in the magazine's unique treatment of the question-and-answer format, but I don't have the space to go on nor, frankly, the stamina. But it's all true, about the sales, the charm, the laugh, and the famous interviews. It is impossible not to warm to the Marquesa. There is, however, one interview she didn't conduct: the one with the well-connected fraudster, Darius Guppy, for a reputed fee of pounds 75,000, which last week attracted an unprecedented reprimand from the Press Complaints Commission. And in such a nice magazine, too.

It may have said in the magazine that the Marquesa conducted the interview, but it was in fact done by a 'ghost writer' the Marquesa sometimes uses when she is too busy to do it herself. The Guppy interview was one of those she 'co-ordinates' and sets up: in Guppy's case, with a telephone call to a Guppy friend. The advisability of paying money to a criminal or his agents was a matter for the editor and lawyers. Money was something she preferred not to discuss too much: 'I don't pay, the company pays. The usual way to get features like ours is to pay money, and the same thing is done by newspapers in England.' Only that morning she had been in competition with an English newspaper over a baby: 'There is a market out there, people want good stories, and it's a business.'

And the Marquesa, born Maria Julia Marin, nickname Neneta, is a businesswoman, like her father and brothers. The Marquesa imported most of Uruguay's electrical wiring: 'I have wired the whole country]' After the failure of her second marriage, to the Marques, a friend had wanted to introduce her 'to very rich old men in New York. I said 'no'. I never wanted to think about it. It was just eeehhhaggh, you know.'

She took no money from her 'billionaire' husband: he just had to 'stay quiet, shut up' and let her keep the title, which has been most useful in her chosen career. She has three children; one in Spain was pregnant and getting divorced; but the Marquesa, unconventional and no longer a romantic, was not worried. 'I don't believe in marriage. I don't believe you can be happy being married.'

She had lived in a palace, but she was 'ten times happier on my farm in Uruguay in my nice pink house with a swimming pool'. She had some seven houses, flats and farms, but she was wearing an outfit which had cost dollars 7 from Macy's. (Don't rush: she changed for the picture.) She was about to have a fast-food lunch. It was important to be wealthy, but not fantastically wealthy. Hello] was an addictive froth, like a South-American soap opera. And now she was waiting to find out whom Pavarotti would be pictured with, the wife or the model.

Thank you, Marquesa, for giving us this interview.

'Thank you. Now I can get my hamburger.'

(Photograph omitted)

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