The richest Rothschild of them all

By Zoe Brennan

Nat Rothschild is at the centre of a political storm after alleging Shadow Tory Chancellor George Osborne solicited a donation from a Russian oligarch.

Click on the links below to read our stories about the scandal or read on for a profile of the Oxford graduate and millionaire.

Nat RothschildParty boy: Nat Rothschild has shed his wild side to earn a fortune

As the young man spoke, silence descended. Gathered around the table at this high-powered lunch in central London earlier this month were the elite of the British business world.

Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays bank, Sir David Arculus of the O2 telecoms giant, and Ian Davis, the global managing director of McKinsey consulting company, put down their knives and forks to listen.

The unassuming man – 20 years younger than the assembled company – delivered a considered and incisive view of global markets with a gravitas that belied his youth.

One witness says: “It was incredibly impressive. He waited for his moment, and then came across as calculating and powerful. I think everyone was taken by surprise. “I found it impossible to square what I knew of his previous wild-child existence with the man who sat before us.”

The man in question was Nat Rothschild – the 35-year-old scion of the wealthy banking dynasty, one-time black sheep of the family, and now a rising star in his own right.

Earlier this month, the New York Times highlighted his extraordinary metamorphosis from playboy to hedge fund prince, and tipped him as “a kingmaker in his own right, and an investor who some say may become the richest Rothschild of them all”.

An extravagant assertion – but not without some plausibility. Rich-list compiler Philip Beresford says: “He has been on my radar for some time. He jets around the world empire-building, keeping in touch with his deals via the latest satellite communications. He has the years on his side and the right connections.

“What he needs is one of those historic opportunities like the ones seized by his ancestors. If he gets that golden moment, he could be the richest one of his generation.”

Nat is in line to become the fifth Baron Rothschild and inherit around £500million from his banker father.

But now, thanks to a complicated web of private equity investments in the Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and his partnership in Atticus Capital, a hugely successful £7billion hedge fund, Nat is set to exceed the fortune he will be bequeathed with his own earnings.

His wealth has been accrued in his role as the adviser to Oleg Deripaska, one of the richest oligarchs in Russia and the owner of the aluminum giant Rusal, which recently merged with two other companies to create the world’s largest aluminum company.

And, although discreet in his business deals, privately he lives the life one would associate with a Rothschild. His best friend is Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, and he is currently rumoured to be dating the young film actress Natalie Portman.

An accomplished skier, his principal residence is in Klosters, Switzerland, and he uses his Gulfstream jet to travel between his other homes in Paris, Moscow, London, New York and Greece.

Nat is a generous and gregarious host, who lavishes his guests with vintage champagne and wine from the Rothschild vineyards – but he no longer raises a glass himself: that would be to lapse into the libertine existence he has left behind.

For his rise is all the more noteworthy given the fact that it once appeared that Nat Rothschild – sadly like several of the dynasty before him – was self-destructing.

In 1996, one of Nat Rothschild’s cousins, Amschel, hanged himself at the age of 41. He had just been asked to fill a leading position in the family bank in London. Four years later, another cousin, Raphael de Rothschild, died in Manhattan from a heroin overdose. He was just 23.

For some years it appeared that Nat Rothschild, too, would follow in their blighted footsteps. From an early age, he appeared an unlikely dealmaker.

A contemporary at Eton remembers him as “a rather scruffy and unpredictable boy with a rebellious streak, who you would never have tipped to make a big success of his life”. At one stage during his Eton career, Rothschild was sent to live with a master, in a vain attempt to rein him in. The friend says: “He seemed the classic example of a boy born into huge privilege, weighed down with parental expectations, but who resisted any type of conformism and resented authority.”

He adds: “To be honest, aside from his name, he’s the last person I would have expected to end up running his own hedge fund – but then perhaps that’s what’s made him so successful. He has a willingness to take risks, to seek out the extreme, to act impetuously.”

While at Oxford, Rothschild soon became infamous for his excesses. He was a member of the notorious Bullingdon Club, the debauched all-male drinking society with a reputation for drug-taking and wanton vandalism, which counts David Cameron among its former members.

Indeed, Rothschild once pushed a portable toilet down a steep hill – with a friend still inside.

An Oxford friend remembers: “We were at Wadham together. Nat was rarely out of black tie, he would drink and party through the night, and then sleep through the day in his formal suit, much to the dismay of his history tutors.

“He’s not blessed in the looks department, he’s got carrot-red hair and freckles. But Nat is very charming and has a penchant for fast cars.

“At college, he was known as a babemagnet – at parties, the beautiful girls would flock to him like bees to honey. That’s what the name Rothschild does for you. Women seem to find it a very powerful aphrodisiac.”

Favoured girls would be asked back to his father Jacob’s lavish country estate, where the young lothario reputedly slashed their car tyres so that he might detain them long enough to seduce them.

An escort girl recently claimed that in 1994, Rothschild asked her to supply drugs and strippers to a party at the Rothschild stately home, Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, which is now run by the National Trust.

She said: “They were very precise in what they wanted – three slim black girls in stockings, suspenders and high heels. They also wanted the girls to do extras.”

When Nat embarked on a romance with Kate Moss’s friend, model Annabelle Neilson, his family must have cast a jaded eye over his latest choice, whom he had met on a beach in India. They were even more horrified when, aged just 23, he eloped with her to Las Vegas, and married her.

“It was a huge shock to Jacob and his wife, Lady Serena,” says a close family friend. “They expected him to date models and sow his wild oats – but marrying Annabelle was incredibly impetuous and obviously against the advice of the family lawyers. They were just appalled.”The girl’s party trick was to climb onto the dining table in her tiny dress and stilettos and dance amid the crystal and silver. Rather vulgar, I’m afraid. Nat’s parents predicted it would end in tears, and it did.”

For a while, the couple appeared to live a gilded life, gracing the pages of glossy magazines – partying in Cannes with friends such as supermodel Elle Macpherson, designer AlexanderMcQueen, and “It” girl Tamara Beckwith,or sunning themselves in the Caribbean.

After just three years of partying – and cataclysmic rows – the couple divorced and Neilson reportedly received a generous financial settlement in return for rescinding the dynastic name and signing a confidentiality agreement.

At that moment, alone in New York and, according to friends, “a mess”, Rothschild took stock of his hitherto aimless society life.

Those close to him say that he suddenly found something repellent in his lifestyle. He decided to turn his back on partying and step up to his name.

To that end, he joined the merchant bank Lazards in London and then moved to New York. There Nat met Timothy Barakett, a young investor who was trying to raise money for Atticus, his new hedge fund (basically, a private investment fund open only to selected individuals and following a complex investment strategy).

He asked Barakett for a job, but was turned down. The men stayed in touch, though, and two years later, Barakett took Rothschild on, giving him the title of director of business development – a position in which he was, of course, able to open doors for his partner. At the time, they were Atticus’s only two employees. But not for long.

Since its inception, the fund has grown an incredible 30 per cent a year and now has £7billion under its management. Success has brought huge rewards: in 2005, Rothschild was paid just over £40million.

According to insiders, he made even more than that last year. “He has had an incredible evolution, and he has done it on his own,”Barakett told the New York Times. “It’s not aboutfamily connections. He has a knack for identifying talented people and interesting investments.”

Those close to Rothschild believe he is haunted by the desire to live up to his father Jacob’s accomplishments, and is determined to enhance the family name.

He has recently joined his father in a business venture, JNR, which invests in Russian companies. There is a plan to float it on the London Stock Exchange next year, with some valuations approaching £2billion, making Nat’s share worth £300million.

Like many Rothschilds before him, he is an avid collector of contemporary art – one of his favourite pieces being a life-sized canvas of a decapitated bikini-clad woman by the British artist Julian Opie.

When on business in America, he lives in a breathtaking, minimalist Manhattan town house, which is about to be featured in Men’s Vogue. The property is littered with giant flat-screen TVs and expensive boys’ toys, with lacquered sliding panels hiding any mess. Modernistic touch screens control the music, heat and televisions, and an outdoor shower graces the rooftop terrace.

Only the wine cellar betrays his old-money heritage, with the family connections to Chateau Mouton and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.

Some 670-odd backlit bottles are cradled inside a series of top- of-the-range glass- doored refrigerators, jeroboams of Pierre-Jouet champagne jostling for space with the finest vintages from Bordeaux.

David Chipperfield, his architect, says:”Normally you build a house around somebody, around that person’s rituals. But Nat isn’t a person who necessarily stays in the house that much. His life is much more eccentric, much more erratic.”

In fact, he rarely spends more than four days in the same place, flying in his elaborately equipped private jet from Siberia, to Switzerlandvia Greece, to New York – but always retaining a link to Britain.

Indeed, the dramatic centrepiece staircase of his five- storey New York house is fashioned out of English oak, while outside – rather incongruously – is a traditional moss- covered English country house garden.

There is only one thing missing, of course: a wife to share in his success.

After his disastrous marriage, Nat has shunned any long-term commitment, but he has reportedly had flings with Jonathan Aitken’s daughter, Petrina Khashoggi, and Ivanka Trump, and is now seeing 25-year-old Natalie Portman – who is about to star as Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl – taking her on a discreet date to Wiltons restaurant in St James’s.

Just how has it suddenly gone so right? A friend from Rothschild’s early days says: “It seemed that he suddenly discovered a way to harness his rebellious streak to his advantage, and he was off like a rocket. “The next thing you know, he’s got his own private jet and is a master of the corporate universe. “It’s as if he just can’t help making money.”

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