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James Goldsmith

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Title: James Goldsmith  
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Subject: List of people from Richmond upon Thames, Edward Goldsmith, 1976 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours, Montjeu, Alistair McAlpine, Baron McAlpine of West Green
Collection: 1933 Births, 1997 Deaths, British Anti-Communists, British Billionaires, British Businesspeople, British Conspiracy Theorists, British Expatriates in France, British Expatriates in Mexico, British Expatriates in Spain, British People of French Descent, British People of German-Jewish Descent, British People of Jewish Descent, Businesspeople from London, Businesspeople in Confectionery, Cancer Deaths in Spain, Corporate Raiders, Critics of the European Union, Deaths from Pancreatic Cancer, Goldsmith Family, Jewish British Politicians, Knights Bachelor, People Educated at Eton College, People Educated at Millfield, People from Paris, Private Equity and Venture Capital Investors, Referendum Party Politicians
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James Goldsmith

Sir James Goldsmith
Photo of Sir James Goldsmith
Born James Michael Goldsmith
(1933-02-26)26 February 1933
Paris, France
Died 18 July 1997(1997-07-18) (aged 64)
Benahavís, Spain
Cause of death pancreatic cancer
Nationality French and British
Alma mater Millfield, Eton College
Occupation Financier and politician
Known for Finance, Eurosceptic politician
Spouse(s) Doña María Isabel Patiño y Borbón (Jan 1954-May 1954; her death; 1 child)
Ginette Christiane Léry (1956-1978; 2 children)
Lady Annabel Goldsmith (1978–1997; 3 children)
Partner(s) Laure Boulay de La Meurthe (2 children)
Website .comsirjamesgoldsmith

Sir James Michael "Jimmy" Goldsmith (26 February 1933 – 18 July 1997), a member of the prominent Goldsmith family, was an Anglo-French billionaire financier, tycoon, [1] and latterly a magazine publisher and politician. In 1994, he was elected to represent France as a Member of the European Parliament and he subsequently founded the short-lived eurosceptic Referendum Party in the United Kingdom. He was known for his many romantic relationships and for the various children he fathered with his wives and many girlfriends.

Goldsmith was the inspiration for the character of the corporate raider Sir Larry Wildman in Oliver Stone's Wall Street.[2] On his 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;" while Margaret Thatcher had said: "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."[3]


  • Early life and family background 1
  • Career 2
    • Environmental campaigning 2.1
  • Personal life 3
  • Goldsmith and the media 4
  • Politics 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life and family background

Born in Paris,[4] Goldsmith was the son of luxury hotel tycoon and former Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Major Frank Goldsmith and his French wife Marcelle Moulier,[5] and younger brother of environmental campaigner Edward Goldsmith.

Goldsmith first attended Millfield 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 (equivalent to about £257,000 in 2015 values). 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."[6] Goldsmith was later commissioned in the British Army.[7]

His father Frank Goldsmith 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's great-grandfather was Benedict Hayum Salomon Goldschmidt, banker and consul to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. James's grandfather Adolphe Benedict Goldschmidt (1838–1918), a multi-millionaire, came to London in 1895.[4]

His father had had to flee 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.


During the 1950s and 60s Goldsmith's involvement in finance and as an industrialist involved many risks, and brought him several times close to bankruptcy.[8] His successes included winning the British franchise for Alka-Seltzer and introducing low-cost generic drugs to the UK. He has been described in the tabloid press or by those with a contrary political agenda as a greenmail corporate raider and asset stripper, a categorisation he denied vigorously. He claimed that the re-organizations 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 an 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,[9] 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 (including 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.[9] 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-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 (supermarket), 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 received backing from the finance company Slater & Walker and when that company crashed having to be rescued by the Bank of England in 1975, eyebrows were raised when it was handed over to Goldsmith's control by Jim Slater for its final dismemberment through his private companies.[10]

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. Franklin 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 only $12.5m on the balance sheet, was worth more than the target company's total market capitalisation of around $900m. With this insight, Goldsmith began raids that left him with a holding company owning huge tracts of timberland acquired at virtually no net cost. 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 Additionally, in 1986 Goldsmith's companies reportedly made $90 million from an attempted hostile takeover of the Goodyear Tire 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 had been 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, 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.

Environmental campaigning

In a surprising development, Goldsmith became an active campaigner on environmental issues during the last few years of his life. His book The Trap (1994) outlined the challenges facing mankind. He was particularly critical of modern intensive agricultural practices and of nuclear power. These issues had been a lifelong passion of his brother Edward, but Goldsmith had shown little interest publicly in the topic during his business career. The book received a generally hostile critical reception, including attacks from the European Commission, Chris Patten, Brian Hindley of the Centre for Policy Studies, John Kay and Norman Macrae. Goldsmith replied to the various arguments that had been levelled against him in The Response which was published the following year.

Personal life

Goldsmith was married three times, and assumed by some to have coined the phrase "When a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy." However, the phrase was actually coined by Sacha Guitry.[11] 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 by his wife María Cristina de Borbón y Bosch-Labrús, 3rd Duchess of Dúrcal. When Goldsmith proposed the marriage to Don Antenor Patiño, it is alleged his future father-in-law repied, "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."[4] 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 comatosed by a cerebral haemorrhage in her seventh month of pregnancy, Maria Isabel Patiño de 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.[12] Isabel has since become a successful art-collector.[13]

Goldsmith's second wife was Ginette Léry, 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 and Jemima have both become much reported upon figures in the media; in 2003 Ben married heiress Kate Emma Rothschild (born 1982), daughter of the late Hon. Amschel Rothschild and his wife Anita Guinness of the Guinness Brewery family. Jemima was in a relationship with comedian Russell Brand during 2013 and 2014. 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 the family friend Lady Diana Spencer, due to his friendship with Diana's mother, and later with Diana.[14]

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.

Sir James Goldsmith died at 64 of a heart attack brought about by pancreatic cancer.

Goldsmith and the media

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. This story is detailed in Ingrams' book Goldenballs! The publisher of the magazine was Anthony Blond, an old friend; Blond and Goldsmith themselves remained on good terms.

The libel actions arose from a piece that Private 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 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, 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 a common law offence that had not been the basis of a prosecution for over fifty years, with a precedent which required a criminal libel to be "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 then carried 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; he expressed the hope that she would "choke on her own vomit".[15] 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 while giving no opportunity for the program makers to respond to his live 20-minute rant.[16]

In 1977 Goldsmith bought the French weekly L'Express and between 1979 and 1981 published the UK news magazine NOW! which failed to survive.[17] 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 believed Britain had been victim of a socialist conspiracy and that communists had infiltrated the Labour party and the media.[18] In the mid-1990s, Goldsmith was a financial backer of a Euro-sceptic think tank, the European Foundation. In 1994 he was elected in France as a member of the European Parliament, 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.[19]

In the 1997 election, Goldsmith stood for his party in the London constituency of Putney, against former Conservative 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.[20] Mellor correctly predicted that the Referendum Party was "dead in the water", and it effectively died with Goldsmith's death two months after the election. The seat was regained by the Conservatives in the 2005 General Election.

Goldsmith's estate has provided finance for the JMG Foundation[21] which supports a diverse range of non-governmental organisations campaigning against GMO foodstuffs.

See also


  1. ^ Billionaire: The Life and Times of Sir James Goldsmith by Ivan Fallon
  2. ^ Goodley, Simon (27 October 2008). "Brace Yourself, Gekko is Back".  
  3. ^ BBC Obituary
  4. ^ a b c Otto Friedrich (23 November 1987). "The Lucky Gambler Sir James Goldsmith Is a Billionaire Buccaneer (Yes, Even After the Crash)".  
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Telegraph
  7. ^ Obituary, National Review, 1 Oct 1997
  8. ^ BBC obituary
  9. ^ a b (media industry resource) article on Goldsmith
  10. ^ "End Game for Slater", Time magazine 10 November 1975
  11. ^  
  12. ^ I would be a better mistress than a wife By Frances Hardy, Daily Mail
  13. ^ Christies Lot 21, Christies
  14. ^ Was Sir James Goldsmith the father of Princess Diana?, by Richard Ingram, 16 August 2008, The Independent
  15. ^ Obituary, Sir James Goldsmith, in The Independent, 21 July 1997, accessed 13 September 2015.
  16. ^ Leigh Holmwood (3 September 2008). "BBC's Money Programme series to become one-off specials".  
  17. ^ Staff (11 May 1981). "Suddenly, Now! Is Never".  
  18. ^ Martin Bright (9 January 2005). "Desperate Lucan dreamt of fascist coup".  
  19. ^ Genie Baskir (20 February 2003). "Sir James Goldsmith's UK Referendum Radio of 1997".  
  20. ^ UK Parliamentary election procedures
  21. ^ The JMG Foundation

External links

  • Appearances on C-SPAN
  • James Goldsmith at the Internet Movie Database
  • James Goldsmith collected news and commentary at The New York Times
  • The Lucky Gambler: Sir James Goldsmith Is a Billionaire Buccaneer, Time, 23 November 1987
  • James Goldsmith U.S. Senate Speech – 15 November 1994
  • Television coverage of the Putney election result 1997 on YouTube, featuring Goldsmith heckling David Mellor
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