Going for Broke? She's Already Hawked the Family Silver (without Telling Her Husband). So Why IS Pushy Still So Desperate for Cash?

Daily Mail (London), September 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

Going for Broke? She's Already Hawked the Family Silver (without Telling Her Husband). So Why IS Pushy Still So Desperate for Cash?


Byline: CHRISTOPHER WILSON

SHE loves money - the feel of it, the smell of it. A former private secretary once told me how she crams wads of banknotes into her handbag while secreting more bundles of them in drawers and behind cushions.

So is it any surprise that the cashaholic Princess Michael has now been labelled the Del Boy of the Royal Family?

For the undercover reporter from a Sunday paper she was ready to do a hard sell: speaking engagements at [pounds sterling]25,000 a pop, and a similar fee to open a shopping centre in Dubai or to lend her name to the publicity for a (fictional) villa in Sri Lanka.

And as the Mail revealed on Saturday, she will do almost anything to sell Nether Lypiatt - the Grade 1 Gloucestershire mansion on the market with a [pounds sterling]6 million price tag - including parting with most of its contents as part of the deal.

Her indiscretions have caused much embarrassment in royal circles. But what the Princess's revelations tell us, more than anything, is how hard up she is for that muchloved cash.

In the past Coutts, the royal banker, has been kind but firm when royal overdrafts hit seven figures. Once, called in by their bank manager, the Michaels resorted to drastic remedies.

While the Prince retired to his study to do sums on the back of an envelope, Marie-Christine simply bundled up some of the family silver (his family silver) and dispatched a courtier, Michael Barratt, to Geneva to flog it.

Poor Prince Michael never knew until it was gone.

These days Coutts has no doubt been informed of Marie-Christine's industriousness as an author and Michael's prowess as an international businessman.

But her books, which take an age to produce and now require special efforts to ensure she cannot be accused of plagiarism, bring kudos, but little cash.

MEANWHILE, for ten years the Prince has been trying to keep his end up by cosying up to the Russians - a dangerous game.

Four years ago it emerged that he had got to know Boris Berezovsky, a tycoon accused of complicity in a [pounds sterling]600 million scam to defraud the Samara region of Russia and who took the wise precaution of absenting himself, probably for ever, from Russian soil.

There have been other, similarly unfortunate, introductions - a dabble in charitable events in Estonia brought HRH into close contact with the property speculator Michael Wynne-Parker, a man twice banned from giving financial advice or serving as a company director in the UK A decade ago the Prince appeared on the Larry King TV show in America, extolling the virtues of a mail- order company that sold items which were, supposedly, 'By Royal Appointment'.

These ranged from a [pounds sterling]1,300 sofa down to a [pounds sterling]3 teabag: the Queen is said to have been highly unamused, and the Prince swiftly walked away from that high-profile gaffe.

In all their ham-fisted business dealings nobody is accusing the Prince and Princess of anything underhand; simply that they fail to exercise the prudence that should come naturally to people in their position.

It is years ago since it was said of Princess Michael that she would go anywhere for a hot meal (and once did, opening a Little Chef restaurant), but these particular royal leopards seem unable to change their spots.

Because he speaks the language so fluently (we are told), Michael still hankers after something big in Russia.

But the truth is that his business interests encompass a startling hotchpotch of moneymaking schemes that never seem quite to command the income needed to match the couple's extravagant life.

For a time, Michael lent himself out to an American public relations company, Burson-Marsteller. In return for a [pounds sterling]3,500 sweetener, he would attend a lunch and act as if he were interested in the business being conducted under his nose.

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