Controversial access to the Prince: Turkish businessman Cem Uzan and his wife Alara
Gaining access to Prince Charles never seemed to be a problem for the super-rich — even those who sailed close to the wind.
For those willing to pay enough money, it could be managed. One of these was Cem Uzan, a controversial Turkish billionaire.
First, Uzan approached a top PR consultancy, Bell Pottinger, letting them know he’d pay generously if they could help him.
‘Uzan wanted to play with the big boys and get alongside the Royal Family. He wanted the photograph and the Christmas card,’ said a director of the consultancy.
The agency then introduced Uzan to Charles’s assistant private secretary, who agreed to put him in touch with the prince’s valet, Michael Fawcett.
Prince Charles, of course, could not be seen to be openly ‘selling’ access to himself. But Fawcett had no such qualms.
So, on his master’s behalf, he told Uzan that his wife Alara could sit next to the Prince at a dinner, in June 2000, to celebrate the setting up of the Prince’s Foundation, the charity set up by the Prince to help promote architecture, urban design and design. There was just one condition: Uzan would donate £200,000.
It was agreed the payment would be made and Alara duly had her moment in the limelight. On the day after the dinner, photographs of both Uzans with the Prince of Wales were posted on media sites across the world.
The shady billionaire was understandably delighted: he’d secured the kind of publicity and kudos that money can normally never buy.
Dr Elena Allbritton, Robert Allbritton, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, the Duchess of Cornwall, Barby Allbritton, chairman of the Prince of Wales’ US Foundation and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales attend a reception and dinner for the Prince of Wales’ US Foundation in March 2015
Back at Buckingham Palace, however, Charles’s relationship with Uzan was raising concern. But no one dared take this up with the Prince. The Queen’s advisers already knew from experience that he’d ignore any warning.
Soon enough, in 2001, Uzan was back on Charles’s guest-list. This time, the Turkish billionaire found himself in Buckingham Palace’s picture gallery, rubbing shoulders with 120 super-rich American supporters of the Prince’s charities — and Uzan’s £200,000 contribution again secured his wife a seat next to Charles at dinner.
Had anyone done their homework, they would have discovered that the billionaire was now under investigation for racketeering, and two American companies were asking for the return of $2.7 billion.
The following day, the Uzans and the other guests travelled to Highgrove for dinner in the Orchard Room, where they were entertained by Shirley Bassey and Joan Rivers. In his speech of welcome, Charles thanked his valet for creating ‘such a fantastic evening’.
Some minutes later, Robert Higdon — the chief executive of the Prince’s charity foundation in America — was found hysterical in the garden.
‘Charles called them ‘donors’ and it should be ‘friends’,’ he wailed. ‘They think they’re his friends. I’m so embarrassed.’
Certainly, Uzan now counted Charles as a close friend. After all, he and his wife kept being invited back: the next time, it was for a five-day jamboree with fellow-guests who included Queen Noor of Jordan and King Constantine of Greece.
For $20,000 per couple, plus an unspecified donation, they had dinner with Charles and Camilla in the Buckingham Palace ballroom; lunch with Camilla at a polo match in Cirencester, featuring Charles and Prince Harry; drinks with Princess Margaret’s son Lord Linley in his furniture showroom; a day’s racing at Ascot; and dinner in a marquee at Highgrove.
Uzan had now spent a small fortune, but he’d more than achieved his goal.
By early 2003, however, his reputation could no longer be ignored. Accused of non-repayment of loans, he was sentenced to jail [in absentia] in the UK and America for fraud-related offences.
Over the years, while Charles was rightly praised for his charitable work, the pace of bidding for access to the Prince was contrived to become ever more frantic.
Buckingham Palace became increasingly alarmed. In the Queen’s opinion, Charles ignored the boundary between his charities and his constitutional position. Prince Philip was even more incensed: he charged his son with damaging the public’s trust by allowing the rich to buy access to him.
Another unsavoury exchange involved Manuel Colonques (pictured with wife Delfina at William and Kate’s wedding), the founder of Porcelanosa, a Spanish tile manufacturer
The glitzy fundraising also annoyed Prince Andrew. In his opinion, his elder brother was promoting himself in the name of duty, while spending huge sums of money on himself.
‘Charles cannot see beyond the horizon,’ complained one palace official ‘He’s working hard but clearly cannot understand the conflict with propriety.’
The phrase ‘rent-a-royal’ began to circulate. Anxious to put a stop to this, the Queen’s private secretary suggested that Charles bring in new guidelines for dealing with the donors. His advice was ignored.
Some years later, after three high-profile fundraising events, Whitehall put its foot down. Sounding exasperated, a senior civil servant called Charles’s private secretary, Sir Michael Peat. Trading on the allure of the royals was open to corruption, he told him, so Buckingham Palace was no longer for sale.
From then on, the Prince would no longer be able to sell seats at dinners in a royal palace to the highest bidder. Instead, donors would be asked to buy a table for around £20,000 — with an unwritten understanding that they’d also make a hefty donation. Even so, it was soon business almost as usual, with billionaires flocking from all over the world to become Charles’s ‘friends’. And the Prince, in turn, benefiting not just from their donations but also their lavish ‘favours’…
Just before William and Kate’s wedding, Prince Charles agreed to meet President Barack Obama in Washington. The Foreign Office, however, refused to provide a private jet, and insisted that he fly on British Airways.
His foreign travel costs, a civil servant pointed out, had increased over the previous year by 18 per cent, to nearly £2 million — paid for by taxpayers.
Charles, however, was furious at being downgraded to an airline. So he asked his staff to call up Robert Higdon, the head of his charity foundation in America, to rustle up a private jet. This wasn’t the first time Higdon had been required to tap up the Prince’s rich American donors.
‘It was quite normal,’ he said, ‘for me to call and ask people like Joe Allbritton, [an American banker] ‘Can we borrow your G5?’ The gift of their plane gave legitimacy to folk from Texas and Colorado.’
Allbritton agreed to fly his Gulfstream empty across the Atlantic — at great expense to himself — in order to collect Charles and transport him to Washington. Then, after returning him to Wiltshire, the jet flew back empty to Texas.
When asked to justify the flights, a Clarence House spokesman replied: ‘In the current economic climate, it was felt that it was right to accept the Allbrittons’ offer.’
Joe and his wife Barbara Allbritton did not go unrewarded. They duly took their places in Westminster Abbey for William and Kate’s wedding.
To secure one substantial donation, the Prince accepted an invitation to the wedding of the daughter of another rich businessman, as well as inviting him to Highgrove. Afterwards, Nemir Kirdar, an Iraqi-born banker, gave Charles and Camilla a free holiday on his luxury yacht in the Mediterranean.
Indeed, the Prince had long become accustomed to his free cruises. In August 1999, he flew to Greece with William and Harry to board the Alexander, then the world’s third largest private yacht, at the invitation of Yiannis Latsis — a foul-mouthed Greek shipping billionaire whose fortune, some claimed, was based on black marketeering and bribery.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales during a visit to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, a rehabilitation centre for orangutans in Malaysia
To buy such a cruise privately would cost around £1 million, and Charles had recently accepted £1 million from Latsis for his Youth Business Trust.
Another unsavoury exchange involved Manuel Colonques, the founder of Porcelanosa, a Spanish tile manufacturer. In 1998, Charles had hosted a party at St James’s Palace to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary, and another to thank the company for a donation to the Prince’s Foundation.
One further donation later, Colonques was allowed to invite 250 guests to Buckingham Palace for a dinner captured by a ¡Hola! photographer. The pictures were then spread over 36 pages of the magazine, in which Charles appeared to be promoting Spanish tiles.
‘Ask Manuel if I made him look good,’ Charles said through an interpreter, at yet another dinner.
The following year, the manufacturer provided tiles for the Prince’s kitchen and bathrooms at Birkhall, and thereafter for other royal homes.
In May 2001, at Charles’s suggestion, Porcelanosa exhibited an Islamic garden at the Chelsea Flower Show with cypresses, fruit trees, a marble fountain, terracotta pathways and 70,000 handmade mosaic tiles.
That same year, the Prince flew to Spain to open a new wing of the company’s factory and attend a dinner for 452 people. In return, the company agreed to install an extended version of the Islamic garden at its own expense at Highgrove.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales listen to traditional throat singers as they attend an official welcome ceremony at Nunavut Legislative Assembly during a three day official visit to Canada
‘We gave the garden to him, and he repaid us with a dinner for our clients,’ company director Pedro Pseudo admitted.
As part of this arrangement, Colonques asked for — and received — an invitation to William and Kate’s wedding. In the run-up to the ceremony, he boasted that he’d provided the tiles for their personal bathrooms.
When Charles created the Prince’s Trust in 1976, it was relatively easy to raise enough finance to keep it going. But he couldn’t stop there: over the following years, he created more and more charities, often on little more than a whim.
At one point there were 24 of them, each with its own chairman and unending appetite for funds.
Some of the charities failed to raise sufficient money, while the Prince’s Trust, which employed 300 staff in a splendid Nash house opposite Regent’s Park, spent an excessive amount on administration.
Unspoken at charity meetings was the fact that Charles’s work had been weakened by duplication.
For example, in 1987 he’d launched Inner City Aid, a self-help project founded in partnership with the architect Rod Hackney. On the same day, he’d also founded the Prince’s Youth and Business Trust. Both charities targeted the same disadvantaged groups.
And after a trip to Japan, he established the Prince’s Trust Volunteers, without realising a similar organisation already existed. Sycophancy prevented anyone from challenging Charles to ask: ‘I wonder, Sir, if that’s a good idea?’ They knew how sensitive he was to confrontation.
‘It was difficult to say ‘No,’ Tom Shebbeare, who oversaw all the Prince’s charities, admitted to a friend, ‘because the automatic punishment was that he would find someone else to say ‘Yes.’
Sensible rationalisation would have reduced the charities to just four — for the arts, business, the environment and the Prince’s Trust — but that, Shebbeare was all too well aware, would have been an insult to Charles.
The Prince, as he and everyone knew, loved being able to say: ‘all my charities I’ve created’.
The empire came close to running out of control — or as Shebbeare told a friend: ‘There was a lot of muddle.’
Persuading the Prince to reverse a poor decision, however, was never easy. It was best attempted by putting on an elaborate act. First, one had to be the last person to talk to him on a chosen subject, by remaining in the room after others had left.
In 2007, during a dinner at Windsor Castle (pictured), Charles was told that the Marquess of Bute was about to sell Dumfries House, a Palladian mansion in Ayrshire
Then, graciously thanking His Royal Highness for the opportunity of a private moment, the adviser would preface his presentation with an offer to interpret His Royal Highness’s wishes with a wholly unthreatening offer of help: ‘Sir, might we do the same by a slightly different route?’
In 2007, during a dinner at Windsor Castle, Charles was told that the Marquess of Bute was about to sell Dumfries House, a Palladian mansion in Ayrshire.
It was far from anywhere, boarded up and located in a coalfield. But the Prince was immediately enthusiastic about buying it — though he’d never seen it.
To purchase the dilapidated old house and its Chippendale furniture would cost £43 million, but he refused to dip into his own pocket (his annual income was by then £15.1 million.)
No, the answer was to create yet another charity, which immediately took out a staggeringly large loan of £40 million.
Next, Charles and his valet started targeting rich donors from Saudi Arabia, Latvia and Kyrgyzstan and both sides of the Atlantic. Implicit in the request for donations was the opportunity of a lunch or dinner with Charles. The donors were also assured that a sizeable donation would be rewarded with a room, bench, garden or fountain named in their honour.
Few, if any of them, ever visited Dumfries. But none of the donors believed their money was wasted.
By then, there was a pattern to Charles’s fundraising events. If they were held in someone else’s home, the hosts were told the food he would like.
If he chose lamb, they were instructed to contact Barrow Gurney, the suppliers of organic meat produced on the Duchy of Cornwall’s farms.
The richest person present would be seated next to Charles — ‘Look, I think you should write a cheque for this,’ the heir to the throne would murmur. During the meal, each guest was given a pledge card. After listening to Charles give a speech about Dumfries, many wrote down ‘£5,000’.
Then a frisson would go round the room when people noticed that the Prince was ostentatiously examining each card. Suddenly, pens were retrieved and £5,000 became £50,000.
To bring in additional money, the indispensable Fawcett became manager of Dumfries and the house was let out for weddings and conferences, put into use as a hotel and promoted as a tourist attraction.
Paying guests were greeted by a retinue of servants — maids for women and valets for men — who unpacked their suitcases, ironed their clothes and filled the well-furnished rooms with flowers. It was, they were told, the full ‘Sandringham experience.’
MPs wondered whether Camilla’s hair, clothes and jewellery should REALLY be tax-deductible following the death of Charles’ beloved grandmother in 2002
The death of Charles’s beloved grandmother in 2002 left tax officials with a headache
The death of Charles’s beloved grandmother in 2002 left tax officials with a headache.
Ordinarily, they would have asked for millions in inheritance tax on her jewels, antiques and art collection — including a Monet worth £50 million.
But they were told that the Queen Mother had given the lot to her daughter and grandchildren in 1993. And, by law, gifts made seven years before death are not liable to inheritance taxes.
Suspicions were raised, however, when her entire collection of jewels was found still in her own cupboards.
In the end, the Inland Revenue decided not to challenge this. The settlement, however, worried some MPs.
As a result, the National Audit Office undertook the first official investigation of some of the family’s accounts. And it concluded that there were ‘obscurities and potential conflicts of interest’ in the scant accounts of the Duchy of Cornwall — which in 2004 was providing Prince Charles with an income of £11.9 million a year.
The Public Accounts Committee then launched an investigation.
One aspect that bothered them was the sale, for £2.3 million, of trees — planted for Charles on duchy land — to the duchy itself. In this circular deal, the Prince pocketed the money without paying any tax.
Free of any scrutiny, his advisers had also boosted his income by moving money from the duchy’s capital account to the revenue account, refusing to detail the reasons. Yet everyone understood the real purpose of the manoeuvre: Charles wanted more money, not least to pay his staff.
The majority of staff members, however, made little dent in his vast income. In the duchy’s accounts, 94 out of 124 staff members were described as ‘official’ employees, meaning they could be claimed as expenses against tax.
MPs also wondered whether it was justifiable to claim Camilla’s personal upkeep — including her hair, clothes and jewellery — as a tax-deductible item. After all, she undertook very few public duties.
Questioned about these matters, Charles’s private secretary Michael Peat resisted giving detailed answers. The duchy’s arrangements had been secret for 700 years, he said, and outsiders had no right to know about them. The MPs were unconvinced.
Extremely irritated, Charles authorised his spokesman to describe the committee’s report as a ‘travesty’ and ‘fundamentally wrong’. Fortunately for him, he had a powerful ally: Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Questioned about these matters, Charles’s private secretary Michael Peat (pictured in 2005) resisted giving detailed answers. The duchy’s arrangements had been secret for 700 years, he said, and outsiders had no right to know about them
‘He does not deserve to be the target of these shoddy and underhand tactics,’ said Mr Brown.
After that, Charles’s income kept rising. The 2008 stock market crash failed to affect him: the year before, his advisers had sold off most of his shares.
That year, Charles increased his staff to 146, including nine media specialists, and 11 gardeners at Highgrove.
By 2009, when the vast majority of Britons were suffering in the wake of the financial crash, his income was £17.1 million.
In 2013, the Public Accounts Committee grilled the Prince of Wales’s principal private secretary over corporation and capital gains tax exemptions enjoyed by Duchy of Cornwall estate. Austin Mitchell, a Labour MP on accused the Prince of ‘dodging around’ for tax purposes
Charles had, by then, had enough. Soon afterwards, he used the Human Rights Act to prevent anyone having access to his tax returns.
Queen cringed when Charles’ valet Michael Fawcett – who became his ‘Rasputin’ – was mentioned… but in the Prince’s eyes he could do no wrong
Michael Fawcett, Prince Charles’s valet, carrying luggage off a Royal flight
To sell seats at his fund-raising dinners in royal palaces, Charles relied heavily on two men who disliked each other intensely.
One was his valet Michael Fawcett and the other was Robert Higdon, the head of his charity foundation in America. And it was the valet who unquestionably had the upper hand.
At fund-raising dinners, he’d stand behind Charles, waiting for a royal click of the fingers to signal that his boss needed something.
He knew precisely how to please him. When the Prince arranged to have a dinner for donors in Hong Kong, for instance, Fawcett shipped over a full set of eighteenth-century china and glasses from England. He also brought a set of special bells used by Charles to summon his staff.
In his guise as a valet, he travelled everywhere with his master. Such was the trust that Charles invested in Fawcett that the valet became his Rasputin, empowered to outflank everyone at court.
For that reason, the Queen had no time for him. Observers at a dinner in Holyrood noticed that she cringed when his name was mentioned. In Charles’s eyes, however, he could do no wrong. If Fawcett took against one of the charity donors, the Prince would echo his judgment.
One casualty was John Studzinski, a sophisticated and generous American-born investment banker. Invited to a lunch at St James’s Palace, he’d given a finely worked speech about raising funds for the homeless. Afterwards, Charles told an organiser, ‘John shouldn’t have made the address, because Michael says that he doesn’t give me enough money.’
The Prince also gave Fawcett a free hand in organising entertainment for the super-rich donors. The valet’s taste, however, tended towards the vulgar.
During one performance, the Irish dancer Michael Flatley was accompanied by a troupe of female dancers who whipped off their robes to reveal skimpy bikinis, with violin music apparently coming from speakers concealed in their bikini bottoms.
Aides noted that Charles didn’t comment on such tawdriness; his valet was too valuable. But then so was Robert Higdon. In 2001 alone, he’d raised $2,622,981 for Charles’s charity foundation — though at $716,000, his combined salary and expenses were unusually high.
‘I became Mr Cash Cow,’ he recalled proudly. Any competitor for Charles’s attention, however, aroused Fawcett’s antagonism, even one who was useful. ‘I was the new enemy,’ said Higdon.
Since he arranged the donations from Americans, he wanted to be the one who supervised their visits when they came over to meet Charles. But Fawcett, he complained, wanted to push him out, and they argued bitterly.
‘He not only provided bad food and horrible sweet German wine but deducted the cost of the food from my raised money,’ said Higdon. ‘And he organised the dinners like a Barnum & Bailey circus.’
The two men also quarrelled about where guests should sit. Fawcett would ignore Higdon’s plans, and place women of his own choosing next to Charles — either because they were particularly good-looking or because they’d promised significant cash.
Minutes before the American guests arrived, there would often be farcical scenes. Each man would grab at name cards on the Prince’s table to move them either nearer to his seat or further away. In the case of Eva Rausing, the American wife of the Swedish billionaire Hans Rausing, their argument became particularly unseemly.
Higdon had originally persuaded Rausing to support Charles’s charities. At one American dinner, however, he’d discovered that Fawcett had placed her next to Charles, apparently in exchange for a donation of £500,000, thus outdoing the American woman whom Higdon had promised could sit next to the Prince for $250,000.
‘He’s one of the most horrible people I’ve met in my life,’ Higdon complained of Fawcett.
As for Higdon himself, Charles found it hard to warm to him. ‘But the Boss and the Blonde kept me because they knew the money I was bringing in,’ said the American, who worked for the Prince for 14 years.
H e developed a great affection for the blonde — Camilla. She ‘has more self-confidence than anyone I know. Unlike Charles, who is doubtful and whiney, she’s so tough. She never questions anything,’ he said.
‘Charles and I had a dysfunctional relationship. He would phone on Thanksgiving and Sundays, which was disturbing. We did laugh a lot. But Charles never said thank you.’
In the late Nineties, after Higdon fell blind-drunk from a boat in St Vincent in the Caribbean, it became clear that he was an alcoholic. Charles, however, was reluctant to fire such an outstanding source of income, and Higdon resumed his job after treatment.
He was finally fired in 2011. Shortly before, according to Higdon, he’d been taken aside by Charles’s accountant Leslie Ferrar.
‘You know, Robert,’ she told him, ‘people are very uncomfortable about you and your relationship with Prince Charles.’
She went on to say that Higdon’s familiarity with the Prince had crossed the line; he acted like a friend, while in reality he was a servant.
‘You’re out of your mind,’ exploded Higdon, who remains bitter about Charles’s lack of gratitude for all the millions he raised.
As for the Prince’s staff, he called them ‘mean, vicious . . . the most horrible people I’ve ever worked with.’
REBEL Prince: The Power, Passion And Defiance Of Prince Charles by Tom Bower is published today by William Collins, at £20. © Tom Bower 2018. To order a copy for £14 (30 per cent discount), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P free on orders over £15. Offer valid to March 31, 2018. Plus, get an additional 5 per cent off this title when you redeem through MyMail.co.uk