Alex Massie

Where the Wild Things Roam

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Another splendid obituary from The Daily Telegraph that offers a splendid view of a rather different, if also gruesome, world than with which most of us are familiar. Funny too, of course, in the way in which the sadnesses of ghastly people often can be. (I also liked the understatement here: "Like his father, however, Alec Wildenstein could become somewhat disagreeable when things did not go his way.")

Anyway, read it all, but here's a choice excerpt:

In 1978, in a ceremony at Las Vegas, Wildenstein had married the Swiss-born Jocelyne Perisse.

The couple had been introduced the year before by Adnan Khashoggi, who had invited her to stay at his ranch in Kenya. Wildenstein's own estate was nearby, and it was arranged that Jocelyne should join him on a dawn lion hunt. Within a year he had proposed.

The couple moved between an apartment in Paris, a Caribbean beach estate, a château in France and a house in Lausanne. Their marital base was a five-storey New York townhouse which was also home to five pure-bred greyhounds and a rare monkey.

Then there was the 66,000-acre Ol-Jogi ranch in Kenya which they turned into a sort of African Versailles, importing giraffe, leopard, lion, white rhino and other big game, some from South Africa.

Refinements included the building of 120 miles of road, 55 artificial lakes, a swimming pool with rocks and waterfalls, a golf course, a racetrack, and a tennis court with floodlights so bright it was said they could be seen from most of Kenya - all maintained by an army of 366 servants.

Determined that his wife should always outshine her rivals at Manhattan social events, Alec Wildenstein spent lavishly on her wardrobe and bought her huge quantities of jewellery. She once spent $10 million in one visit to Cartier.

According to Jocelyne Wildenstein, however, her husband was a difficult man to please.

She began to fear that he was losing interest in her, and, calling to mind that he liked exotic wild cats, decided that he might find her more attractive if she became "more feline". To achieve the desired effect she even had her pigment darkened.

Unfortunately her plastic surgery (costing a cumulative £2 million) had the opposite effect of that intended.

The first time Wildenstein saw his newly-sculpted wife, he was said to have screamed in horror, unable to recognise her. "She seems to think that you fix a face the same way you fix a house," he was later to complain. But Jocelyne took his reaction as evidence that she had not gone far enough.

She embarked on a series of cosmetic procedures to "improve" her looks. These included collagen injections to her lips, cheeks and chin, along with at least seven facelifts and drastic eye reconstruction surgery.

By the end her skin was stretched so tightly over her face that she could scarcely blink, and her lips were so stuffed with collagen they looked like rubber. She became known as "the Bride of Wildenstein".

In June 1997 she returned unannounced from Kenya to their New York town house to find her husband in the marital bed with a 19-year-old Russian model. As Jocelyne marched into the room, Wildenstein seized his Smith & Wesson and threatened to shoot her. (He later claimed that he had thought he was being burgled.)

The rest of their relationship was played out acrimoniously in the courts as Jocelyn Wildenstein sued for divorce on the ground of her husband's adultery.

She needed $1 million a month to run her household, she declared, because years of dependence on servants had left her with no idea of how to light a stove, make toast or boil an egg.

After a lengthy court hearing, she was awarded tens of millions of dollars, including $540,000 in back maintenance. The judge, however, ordered that she pay for further facelifts herself and advised her to buy a microwave.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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