| Sir James Goldsmith
(Billionaire, Financier, Maverick, Politician, Deep state operative?)
Sir James Goldsmith, billionaire financier who founded the UK Referendum Party
|James Michael Goldsmith
26 February 1933
|18 July 1997 (Age 64)
Cause of death
|Millfield, Eton College
|Financier, politician, businessman
| • Frank Goldsmith
• Marcelle Mouiller
| • Charlotte Goldsmith
• Jethro Goldsmith
• Jemima Goldsmith
• Zac Goldsmith
• Ben Goldsmith
• Isabel Goldsmith
• Manes Goldsmith
• Alix Goldsmith
| • Annabel Goldsmith (m. 1978)
• Ginette Lery (m. 1963)
• Doña Maria Isabel Patiño y Borbón (m. 1954–1954)
|Clermont Set, Committee for the Free World, Goldsmith family, Le Cercle
| • Finance
Sir James "Jimmy" Goldsmith was an Anglo-French billionaire financier and businessman. Goldsmith became a magazine publisher and a politician, and in 1994 was elected in France as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). He subsequently founded the short-lived eurosceptic Referendum Party in the United Kingdom.
Goldsmith was the inspiration for the character of the corporate raider Sir Larry Wildman in Oliver Stone's Wall Street.
On Goldsmith's death, Tony Blair stated:
- "He was an extraordinary character and though I didn't always agree with his political views, obviously, he was an amazing and interesting, fascinating man."
Margaret Thatcher eulogised:
- "Jimmy Goldsmith was one of the most powerful and dynamic personalities that this generation has seen. He was enormously generous, and fiercely loyal to the causes he espoused."
Early life and family background
Born in Paris, Goldsmith was the son of luxury hotel tycoon and former Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Major Frank Goldsmith and his French wife Marcelle Moullier, and younger brother of environmental campaigner Edward Goldsmith.
Goldsmith first attended Millfield School and then later Eton College, but dropped out in 1949 aged 16, after he had bet £10 on a three-horse accumulator at Lewes, winning £8,000. With his winnings he decided that he should leave Eton immediately; in a speech at his boarding house he declared that, "a man of my means should not remain a schoolboy." Later Goldsmith joined the army.
Goldsmith's father Frank changed the family name from the German Goldschmidt to the English Goldsmith. The Goldschmidts, neighbours and rivals to the Rothschild family, were a wealthy, Frankfurt-based, Jewish family, who had been influential figures in international merchant banking since the 16th century. James' great-grandfather was Benedict Hayum Salomon Goldschmidt, banker and consul to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. James' grandfather Adolphe Goldschmidt (1838–1918), a multi-millionaire, came to London in 1895.
His father fled from France with his family when the Nazis overran the country, and only just managed to escape on the last over-loaded ship to get away, leaving behind their hotels and much of their property. His father and grandfather had lived in great style, and there was little left of the family fortune by the time Goldsmith started out in business.
All big entrepreneurs have the stink of unpopularity around them. Whether it is through envy or sincere distaste, Donald Trump, James Goldsmith, Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Richard Branson have all become popular figures of hate.
During the 1950s and 60s Goldsmith's involvement in finance was more as a gambler than an industrialist, and brought him several times close to bankruptcy. His successes included winning the British franchise for Alka-Seltzer and introducing low-cost generic drugs to the UK. He was frequently accused of being a greenmail corporate raider and asset stripper, a categorisation he denied vigorously. He claimed that the re-organisations he undertook streamlined the operations, removed complacent inefficient management, and increased shareholder value.
Goldsmith started out in business after the tragic death of his first wife by taking on the management of a small enterprise selling a quack arthritis remedy in France. His father had set up the company with the initial intention that it would provide a career for the older son, Edward. But Edward had little interest in business and was more engaged with his pioneering environmental activism. After a publicity stunt involving an arthritic racehorse sales escalated and within a couple of years the staff had been expanded from two to over a hundred. Goldsmith took on the agency for various slimming remedies and branched out into the manufacture of generic prescription drugs. His acquisition of the distributorship for Slimcea and Procea low-calorie breads were the start of the shift of focus towards the food industry.
In the early 1960s in partnership with Selim Zilkha, Goldsmith founded the Mothercare retail chain, but sold out his share to Zilkha who went on to develop it with great success.
With the financial backing of Sir Isaac Wolfson, he acquired diverse food companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange as Cavenham Foods in 1965. Initially the group had an annual turnover of £27m and negligible profits. He added bakeries and then confectioners to the group, and then took over a number of wholesalers and retailers including small chains of tobacco, confectioner and newsagent shops. By rationalising the activities, closing inefficient factories, and improving the management practices, he steadily improved productivity. By 1971 the turnover was £35m and profits were up to £2m.
In June 1971 he launched a bid for Bovril which was a much larger company with a diverse portfolio including several strong brands (Marmite, Ambrosia, Virol and Jaffajuice), dairies and dairy farms, and cattle ranches in Argentina. It was run by the third generation of the founding family and Goldsmith concluded that they were clueless. The bid was strongly contested and Goldsmith was fiercely attacked by the financial press. The directors tried to induce Beechams and Rowntree Mackintosh to make rival offers, but in the end they both withdrew. After the successful bid, Goldsmith sold the dairies and farms to Max Joseph's Express Dairies group for £5.3m, and found buyers in South America for the ranches. Sales of other parts of the company recouped almost all of the £13m that the acquisition had cost him. Some years later he sold the brand names to Beecham for £36m. Later he took over Allied Distributors, who owned a miscellaneous portfolio of grocery stores and small chains, including the Liptons shops. He set Jim Wood (who had been responsible for imposing systems and business discipline on the sweetshops) to work on rationalising the operations of these shops, and disposing of those that did not fit into the overall business logic.
As journalists began to question his techniques of dealing with the funds and assets of publicly quoted companies, Goldsmith began dealing through private companies registered in the UK and abroad. These included the French company Générale Occidentale and Hong Kong and then Cayman Islands-registered General Oriental Investments.
In early 1973 Goldsmith travelled to New York to assess the US business opportunities, followed by a tour round Central and South America. He took the view that the UK economy was due for a downturn and began aggressively liquidating many of his assets. In December that year, in the midst of financial chaos, he announced that he had acquired a 51% controlling stake in Grand Union Supermarkets, one of the oldest retailing conglomerates in the US. He set Jim Wood - who had revitalised his British retail operations - to work on rationalising the operations of the chain, but he ran into continuous obstruction from both unions and management.
During the 60s and 70s Goldsmith had had backing from the finance company Slater, Walker, run by Jim Slater. When Slater, Walker crashed and had to be rescued by the Bank of England in 1975, eyebrows rose when it was handed to Goldsmith for its final dismemberment through his private companies.
Goldsmith was knighted in the 1976 resignation honours – the so-called "Lavender List" – of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. In early 1980, he formed a partnership with longtime friend and merchant banker, Sir Roland Franklin, who managed Goldsmith's business in the Americas. From 1983 until 1988, Goldsmith, via takeovers in America, built a private holding company, Cavenham Forest Industries, which became one of the largest private owners of timberland and one of the top-five timber-holding companies of any type in America. Goldsmith and Franklin identified a quirk in American accounting whereby companies with substantial timberland holdings would often carry them on their balance sheets at a nominal valuation (as the result of years of depreciation). Goldsmith, a reader of financial statements, realised that in the case of Crown Zellerbach the underlying value of the timberland assets alone, carried at $12.5m on the balance sheet, was more than the target company's total market capitalisation. With this insight, Goldsmith began raids that left him with a holding company owning huge tracts of timberland acquired at virtually no net cost.
Additionally, in 1986 Goldsmith's companies reportedly made $90 million from an attempted hostile takeover of the Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Company, although he regarded this profit as an inadequate consolation for the failure to carry the bid through to a successful conclusion. The management of the company coordinated a virulent campaign against Goldsmith, involving the unions, the press and politicians at state and federal level.
Goldsmith had always looked older than his years, but his appearance deteriorated markedly during the period of the takeover battle for Goodyear, and in 1987, he was diagnosed as suffering from diabetes.
Goldsmith retired to Mexico in 1987, having anticipated the market crash that year and liquidated his assets. However he continued corporate raiding, including an attempt on British-American Tobacco in 1989 (for which he joined Kerry Packer and Jacob Rothschild). He also swapped his American timber assets for a 49.9 percent stake in Newmont Mining and remained on the board of Newmont until he liquidated his stake through open-market trades in 1993. He was precluded by the original purchase of Newmont from acquiring a controlling shareholding in the company. In 1990, Goldsmith also began a lower-profile, but also profitable, global "private equity style" investment operation. By 1994 executives working in his employ in Hong Kong had built a substantial position in the intermediation of global strategic raw-material flows.
Studies of public filings have found signs of the same Goldsmith-backed Hong Kong-based team taking stakes in operations as diverse as Soviet strategic ports in Vladivostok and Vostochny Port, and in Zee TV, India's dominant private television broadcaster later sold to Rupert Murdoch. A large Hong Kong-linked and Goldsmith-funded stake in one of the world's largest nickel operations, INCO Indonesia, was also disclosed in the 1990s, showing Goldsmith's ability to position capital before a trend became obvious to others. The Group was also a major backer of the Hong Kong based and Singapore listed major raw material player Noble Group, with low-profile long-time Goldsmith protégé Tobias Brown serving for many years as the company's non-executive chairman. Although little is known about the somewhat enigmatic Brown, he is widely credited with orchestrating the Goldsmith investments in the Far East, which have created more than a third of the family's wealth.
Goldsmith was married three times, and allegedly coined the phrase "When a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy." However, the phrase was actually coined by Sacha Guitry. His first wife, whom he married when 20, was the Bolivian heiress Doña María Isabel Patiño y Borbón, 17-year-old daughter of tin magnate Antenor Patiño and the 3rd Duchess of Dúrcal. When Goldsmith proposed the marriage to Antenor Patiño, Patiño is alleged to have said, "We are not in the habit of marrying Jews", to which Goldsmith is reported to have replied, "Well, I am not in the habit of marrying Red Indians." This story, if true, is typical of Goldsmith's humour. With the heiress pregnant and the Patiños insisting the pair separate, the couple eloped in January 1954.
The marriage was brief. Rendered comatose by a cerebral haemorrhage in her seventh month of pregnancy, Maria Isabel Patiño y Goldsmith died in May 1954; her only child, Isabel, was delivered by Caesarean section and survived. She was brought up by Goldsmith's family, and was married for a few years to French sportsman Arnaud de Rosnay. On her father's death, she inherited a large share of his estate. Isabel has since become a successful art-collector.
Goldsmith's second wife was Ginette Lery, with whom he had a son, Manes, and daughter, Alix. In 1978, he married for the third time; his new wife was his mistress Lady Annabel Birley; the couple had three children, Jemima (born in 1974), Zacharias (born in 1975) and Benjamin (born in 1980). Zac Goldsmith and Jemima have both become much reported upon figures in the British media; in 2003 Ben married heiress Kate Emma Rothschild (born 1982), daughter of the late Amschel Rothschild and his wife Anita Guinness of the Guinness Brewery family. Speculation about Goldsmith's romantic life was a popular topic in the British media: for example, in the press, there were claims that James Goldsmith was the father of Lady Diana Spencer, due to his friendship with Diana's mother, Frances Viscountess Althorp, and later with Diana.
After his third marriage, Goldsmith embarked on an affair with an aristocratic Frenchwoman, Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, with whom he had two more children, Jethro and Charlotte. He treated de la Meurthe as his wife and introduced her as such during the last years of his life. Goldsmith died at 64 of a heart attack brought about by pancreatic cancer.
Father of Diana?
Sir James Goldsmith was known for his many romantic relationships and for the various children he fathered with his wives and many girlfriends. On 24 August 2004, the Australian magazine New Idea alleged that Goldsmith was rumoured to be the father of Diana Princess of Wales:
- Now we really have heard it all - Princess Diana and Jemima Khan were sisters. Yes, that's the hot news igniting bushfires all over Australia with the 'revelation' in this week that both women were fathered by swashbuckling tycoon Sir James Goldsmith.
- In the case of Jemima, there is no dispute. Born on January 30, 1974, she is acknowledged as being the daughter of Sir 'Jams' and his amply bosomed wife Lady Annabel. In fact, she's the spitting image of her dad.
- But Diana? The magazine quotes an 'aristocratic source' as saying that at the time of her conception, her mother Frances Shand Kydd - then Viscountess Althorp - was going through a 'very bad patch' in her marriage to Johnnie Spencer (or Viscount Althorp as he was then).
- The source is quoted as saying: 'Her husband was drinking heavily and was beastly to her. She knew James Goldsmith and the rumour was that they had a brief fling. At that time, it's fair to say Goldsmith was a sex maniac.'
Goldsmith and the media
Sir James Goldsmith is known for his legal attack on the magazine Private Eye, which referred to him as "Sir Jams" and in Goldsmith's Referendum Party period as "Sir Jams Fishpaste". In 1976 he issued more than 60 libel writs against Private Eye and its distributors, nearly bankrupting the magazine and almost imprisoning its editor Richard Ingrams. Buccaneering businessman Tiny Rowland helped fund the legal defence of Private Eye against Goldsmith's libel writs, as detailed in Ingrams' book Goldenballs! The publisher of the magazine Anthony Blond, an old friend of Goldsmith, remained on good terms during this period.
The libel actions arose from a piece that the Eye published following the disappearance of Lord Lucan after the murder of his children's nanny. The article stated (incorrectly) that Goldsmith had participated in a meeting called by John Aspinall (zoo owner) after Lucan's disappearance, and further claimed that the meeting amounted to a conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice by hampering the police enquiries. Goldsmith certainly was acquainted with Lucan as a fellow regular at Aspinall's gambling club, the Clermont Club, but it is not clear how close they were (but apparently on good enough terms for Lucan to ask him for a loan of £10,000 the previous year, and for Goldsmith to counter with an offer to make him a gift of that sum). The matter was made more serious by an action being brought for criminal libel in addition to the civil suits. This was an obsolete statute that had not been used for over fifty years with vague terms of reference relating to libels "so serious as to risk the public order", and Ingrams was initially confident that the judge would dismiss the case. He became extremely anxious when Mr Justice Wein indicated that he favoured criminal proceedings - which carry a jail sentence rather than just the award of damages as in the civil actions.
Goldsmith also pursued vendettas against other journalists who queried his methods, including Barbara Conway who wrote the Scrutineer column in the City pages of the Daily Telegraph. In November 1977, Goldsmith made a notorious appearance on The Money Programme on BBC television when he accused the programme of making up lies about him and stormed off the set.
In 1977 Goldsmith bought the French weekly L'Express and between 1979 and 1981 published the UK news magazine NOW! which failed to survive. Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street featured a British billionaire financier, Sir Lawrence Wildman. This character was modelled on Goldsmith as stated by the film's director Oliver Stone in the DVD special feature documentary and the director's commentary as Sir Lawrence Wildman is introduced.
Goldsmith, like his friends Lord Lucan and John Aspinall, believed Britain had been victim of a socialist conspiracy and that communists had infiltrated the Labour Party and the media. In the mid-1990s, Goldsmith was a financial backer of a Eurosceptic think tank, the European Foundation. In 1994 he was elected in France as an MEP, representing the "Majorité pour l'autre Europe" party. Goldsmith became leader of the Eurosceptic "Europe of Nations" group in the European Parliament. He then founded and funded the Referendum Party in the UK, on the lines as "Majorité pour l'autre Europe", which stood candidates in the 1997 General Election. Goldsmith mailed five million homes with a VHS tape expressing his ideas. It has been suggested he planned to broadcast during the election from his offshore pirate Referendum Radio station.
In the 1997 election, Goldsmith stood for his party in the London constituency of Putney, against former Conservative Party minister David Mellor. Goldsmith stood no chance of victory, but the declaration of the result was memorable — Mellor lost his seat to the Labour candidate and was taunted by Goldsmith who clapped his hands slowly along with others on the polling stage chanting "out, out, out!" aggressively in response to Mellor's critically dismissive comments towards Goldsmith's vote yield in his concession speech.
Goldsmith's electoral performance at Putney had been, however, reasonably insubstantial, in an English electoral culture in which it is notoriously difficult for new political parties or maverick politicians to break through overnight: the 1518 votes did not deny victory to Mellor, who lost by 2976 votes; moreover they amounted to under 5% of those voting and were not sufficient for Goldsmith to retain his candidate's deposit of £500. Mellor correctly predicted that the Referendum Party was "dead in the water", and it effectively died with Goldsmith who died two months after the election. The seat was regained by the Conservatives in the 2005 General Election by Justine Greening MP.
- The Lucky Gambler: Sir James Goldsmith Is a Billionaire Buccaneer, Time Magazine, 23 November 1987
- James Goldsmith U.S. Senate Speech – Nov. 15, 1994
- "Communist Propaganda Apparatus & Other Threats to The Media", by Sir James Goldsmith – a booklet containing his statement to the Media Committee of the Conservative Party at the British House of Commons, 21 January 1981.
- Richard Ingrams, "Goldenballs!" London: Harriman House, 1993. ISBN 1-897597-03-7.
- "The Mayfair Set", a 1999 BAFTA Award-winning documentary series by Adam Curtis describing buccaneer capitalists in the Thatcher years, focusing on James Goldsmith and other members of the Clermont Set.
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|“All big entrepreneurs have the stink of unpopularity around them. Whether it is through envy or sincere distaste, Donald Trump, James Goldsmith, Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Richard Branson have all become popular figures of hate.”
- Billionaire: The Life and Times of Sir James Goldsmith by Ivan Fallon
- Document:Tiny Rowland – portrait of the bastard as a rebel
- "BBC Obituary"
- The Telegraph
- Obituary, National Review, 1 Oct 1997
- Document:Tiny Rowland – portrait of the bastard as a rebel
- "Flamboyant Goldsmith Dies of Heart Attack"
- Ketupa.net (media industry resource) article on Goldsmith
- "End Game for Slater", Time magazine 10 November 1975
- "I would be a better mistress than a wife" By Frances Hardy, Daily Mail
- "Christies" Lot 21, Christies
- "Richard Ingrams' Week: We can't go on blaming the system for drug problems" by Richard Ingrams, 16 August 2008, The Independent
- "Focus: Here was a king with no country"
- "Were Diana and Jemima sisters?"
- "The JMG Foundation"
- UK Parliamentary election procedures