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Goldsmith: colourful life

Industrialist Who led Anti-Europe Crusade

Sir James Goldsmith, who has
died of a heart attack, was a flamboyant billionaire financier. He retired from commerce and founded a political party to protect the United Kingdom from the tentacles of Europe.

He was an imposing, domineering, buccaneering and uncompromising figure in the world of business, attributes which he later, in the 1990s, brought to the political arena.

Sir James exuded an aura of arrogance and his decision to field more than 550 candidates under the banner of his Referendum Party in the 1997 general election, annoyed the Conservative Party.

His Referendum Party, which crusaded against further European Union integration, was a temptation for many Tory Euro-sceptics who frankly preferred his policies to those of their then leader, John Major.

At the election, the Referendum Party secured just 3% of the vote (810,231 votes). But significantly there were 17 seats where the Tories were runners-up and where the number of votes polled by the Referendum Party was greater than the majority of the winning party.

Successful Financier

Goldsmith at Eton

James Michael Goldsmith, who was born on February 26, 1933, had a German-born father and a French mother. He built up businesses in just about every country in Europe, amaasing fortunes of reputedly more than 1.5 billion.

His five homes included a hacienda in Mexico, a chateau in France, a mansion in Putney, south-west London, and a town house overlooking Hyde Park in central London. He also possessed a Boeing 757 jet, customised with two bedrooms, a kitchen and an office.

Sir James acquired his incredible wealth through a series of some of the boldest and most outrageous takeover bids ever seen. On the edge of bankruptcy half-a-dozen times during the 1950s and 1960s, Goldsmith transformed his fortunes with the takeover of Bovril in 1971.

He played for even bigger stakes in the takeover mania that gripped Wall Street in the 1980s. When he bid for Diamond International in 1981 he borrowed 660 million dollars when US interest rates were 20%. Goldsmith anticipated the crash of October, 1987, sold everything, and emerged with two to three billion dollars in cash.

Romantic Adventures

Goldsmith elopes with millionaire daughter

As a youth Sir James was a wild and penniless gambler. At the age of 20 he ran off with Isabel Patino, the daughter of one of the richest men in the world. But this romantic adventure ended tragically when Isabel died in childbirth.

His family life was complex and a source of envy. At weekends he lived with his second wife, Ginette, and their two children in Paris and during the week with Lady Annabel Birley, who would later have three children by him.

Later, after marrying Annabel he moved to America. Then there was a third: Laure Boulay de la Meurthe, a reporter for Paris Match and a member of the Bourbon family. She had two children by him.

Political Adventures

goldsmith & wife
Goldsmith with his wife Annabel

As he eased out of business, Sir James' interest grew in politics. He ultimately set his cap against Maastricht, and started to fund Euro-sceptics in Britain.

When he entered the European Parliament as a French MEP in 1994, he scorned the "sovereign power which has passed to 17 unsackable and unelected commissioners, the greatest transfer of power in peacetime, and it took place under a system of organised secrecy."

His decision to field hundreds of candidates in the 1997 election sent ill-disguised panic waves through the main political parties, who could no longer dismiss him as a crank with too much money, idly indulging his own prejudices with a no-hope one-issue political organisation.

His detestation of the Maastricht Treaty was total and uncompromising. And his appeal, particularly to British fishermen, who believed they were being robbed by the Common Fisheries Policy, was a source of great worry to the main parties.

Sir James himself stood at Putney against the former National Heritage Secretary, David Mellor. When Mr Mellor was defeated by Labour, there were acrimonious scenes at the count between the two men.

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