A suave waistcoated gent opens the door of the white stucco house in one of South Kensington’s smarter streets. I proffer my hand but he simply coughs: “Lady de Rothschild will receive you upstairs, sir.” Where were you brung up, Gerard? You don’t shake hands with butlers.
Manners matter here. I am to meet the American plutocrat-ess who has become Britain’s most influential political hostess. Climbing past modern masters I am confronted by a statuesque grand dame. Ah, she looks more the part: “How do you do, your ladyship.”
“I’m Victoria, Lady de Rothschild’s personal assistant,” she announces, more cut glass than Dartington. “Lady de Rothschild shall be down shortly.” Can I crawl under that priceless persian rug in shame, I wonder.
“Would sir care for chocolate brownies with his tea?” Jeeves inquires solicitously. “Baked freshly this morning.” Indeed sir would. Mmmm. Maybe this “I’m one of the wealthiest people on the planet” lark isn’t so bad.
Luckily Lady R is detained on yet a higher floor — poor deary, must be bushed managing all these staff — affording me snooping scope in the study. Head for the photos. Here she is with her great friends Bill and Hill (she threw a party for the Clintons in London recently) and there’s a sweet one greeting her (casually dressed) new best friend Tony, the prime minister. Poor Bono and Henry Kissinger make do with the cheap frames at the back. Oh, look, her neatly typed itinerary: Commons to see Tony Baldry MP, lunch at Harry’s Bar, view the forthcoming autumn collection of . . .
“Oh, Lady de Rothschild, didn’t see you there, charmed.” This time there is no mistake: huge smile, outrageously expensive blonde hair and fabulous long legs winningly packaged in a short Yves St Laurent skirt: the classic American beauty. And for 48, she looks disgustingly youthful (maybe money can’t buy love, but it can buy time). Still, she pays a high price: she doesn’t touch a yummy brownie.
Even in her own right Lynn Forester, as was, is not short of the odd few hundred mill. She made her money setting up her own company which secured licences for broadband radio in the US in the 1980s. (Later she became an adviser to President Clinton and helped to fund his third way project.) In 2000 she married Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, 71 (the Clintons let them spend their wedding night in the White House)(1). Hubbie bumps along as the chairman of a merchant bank. Why do the rich always marry the rich? “I think,” she says huskily, “Evelyn wanted a partner rather than a parasite. Part of our happiness is we are both strong people who know we love each other.”
So you have to be part of the club to be trusted. Scary. But don’t dare call Lady R right wing: she says she would like to become a Labour fundraiser (she is already one of the Democrats’ most successful ever money-milkers).
So with those leftie views does she feel guilty about being so wealthy? “No, it’s not about being a limousine liberal. I work hard not only for myself, but for others, and I would fight to the death to preserve our way of life.”
Much later, before going to bed, she e-mails: “Wealth is not the enemy. Greed is.” Hmm. I thought you needed one to get the other. She is devoid of that British cringe about money: it’s fine to have servants, you are providing employment. Her youngest son, 15, attends an “elite school” in New York where his best friend is a Caribbean truck driver’s son on a scholarship “and he is going to make it”.
In Britain she has been impressed that immigrants become peers. Americans, even Democrats, believe in self-creation. It is the dream to come from nothing and make it big.
She has lived the dream. When she divorced her first husband in 1993 she hung onto the millions she had made and added more. A friend had challenged her: “How do you ever expect to fall in love between Gate 18 and Gate 9? You will be the world’s richest woman and nobody will love you.”
But she refused to change. In 1998 she flew to a conference in Scotland with her bag carrier Kissinger (he had a seat on her board). He introduced her to the head of the banking dynasty, “the miracle of my life”, who was smitten.
“I think Evelyn fell in love with me when I told him, ‘I’m so impressed how you have risen above the stature of your birth’.” She has provoked whispers in stuffier salons for (shock!) sending invitations minus her title. “Well, I did ask Evelyn to take my name,” she laughs infectiously. “I don’t pooh pooh the title because I’m proud of my husband, but it’s derivative. I don’t need it to be out there to say, ‘This is who I am’.” Just so.
Declared one of the five most influential businesswomen in Europe, she once grabbed a tycoon’s lapel and asked: “Don’t they do Armani in Seattle?” She displayed similar independence when she “dated a lot” between marriages. “I bought these big sapphire earrings specially. I wanted to be clear I didn’t need their money.”
Were they all plutocrats? She looks puzzled. “Oh yes, they were.” Not many women could marry into the Rothschild dynasty and have the smart set joking: is he marrying for her money? Her background is “white picket fence New Jersey” but she always liked lolly. Aged 16 she went on holiday to Israel and stuffed her case with jeans, which she flogged for a fortune. In 1984 she realised communications was the next big industry, so quit her corporate law firm for a job in mobile phones.
Five years on she persuaded Motorola to buy her a stake in a small Puerto Rican company, which she later sold back for £50m. This was chicken feed compared to her broadband coup, when she sold for megabucks.
Not a typical London hostess, then. She makes other ladies who like to be the nexus of power, glamour and gossip seem decidedly Bernie Inn to Rothschild’s Gavroche. Only an outsider would dare go head to head with Lady Frost’s summer party — and leave Frosty with the dull old things who play pro- celebrity golf on cable.
But it would be chauvinistic not to acknowledge that Lady R is more concerned with her in-tray than canapés. She says this of the Rothschilds, but it might be of herself: “The art, houses and parties are important, but it’s their industry that keeps them going.”
Most Clintonistas are shunned by President Bush, but he realised he could work with the impeccably pro-business Rothschild. He appointed her to his commission investigating the big question: why does the world hate America? “September 11 changed my view of business, frankly.” Made it seem unimportant? “No, but now I have the opportunity to put something back. I’m interested, not as a philanthropist, but as a businesswoman, about Third World development.” She is about to make a major announcement about a daring initiative in dusty parts.
But until the poor have money, how can they cut us a deal? “Capitalism has got to become the solution, not the problem. Aid alone won’t lift people out of poverty.”
She admits to being “shocked” to learn how America — or as she broadens it “the West” — was hated. “There is a perception, though not often a reality, of exploitation.”
Her worship of Blair springs from his proselytising kinder, gentler western values than Bush. She was a delegate at the recent London conference on the third way. “Tony Blair became the beacon to which all these nations turned.” Why? “The power Blair has established in America is extraordinary. He is the only world leader who can seriously influence Bush.
“Tony Blair has a higher agenda. And peace in the Middle East is a pretty big chit. I feel so proud of him . . .”
Suddenly she ceases gushing. “I’m going to halt. One thing I’ve learnt is you do fine in Britain until you go into politics, then it really is bang, bang,” and she leaps up and imitates a maniacal shoot-out.
Meantime, she is raising dosh for the Outward Bound Trust. Prince Andrew, “a friend”, invited her onto the board. I’ve always thought Outward Bound was about cold showers and yomping, but she is able to give it a funky twist. “In New York I endured the first urban course. We had to survive for 24 hours on $20,” a stern test for a Rothschild.
Every fortnight she returns to New York to see her teenage boys. “Nothing is more important than their happiness,” she says, adding: “I am happy my eldest is working for Senator Clinton and my youngest for Mayor Bloomberg.” (They are both still at school.) The Forester-Rothschild marriage is a love match but their life sounds exhausting. Still, I really like Lady de Rothschild, who brings much needed American oomph to Britain. She tips Hillary for president in 2008, but if she goes into politics, our Lynn could make it pretty big herself. And then, if I promise to behave, I might have an excuse to return for another chocolate brownie.
See ‘Rothschild Goes to Labour’s Aid’
(1) The fact that President Clinton let the newly wed couple consumate their vows in the White House is more than just a measure of the Rothschild’s power. It may also have an esoteric significance: in so far as Washington is said to be at the centre of a great web of ley lines. Many of the capitol’s monuments are said to be located on the conflux of many of them, with the White House itself at the very centre of a vast grid of lines. Ed.