Friday, 17 December 2010
Private Fixer Scot Young had amassed a £400m fortune by 2006 yet now claims he is penniless as his wife tries to divorce him
Michelle Young searches inside her purse for change to pay for groceries. These days she is, in many ways, just like any other mother, watching every penny as she struggles to make ends meet. All that separates 45-year-old Michelle from the others in the supermarket queue is her expensive designer clothes, the only residual reminder of her recent past. Scot Young with his daughters Living the high life: Scot Young with his daughters Sasha and Scarlet at their Wentworth Park home in 2002. For it wasn’t always like this. Only three years ago, married to tycoon Scot Young – who counts Topshop billionaire Sir Philip Green and Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky among his close friends – she lived in unimaginable luxury. The couple owned some of the finest homes in England, fabulous cars and a yacht in Monaco.
They travelled by private jet and were waited on by a battalion of servants. As for her weekly shopping, it was delivered to her Palladian mansion, set in 200 acres, courtesy of Harrods. There was really no limit to what I could spend. I could have anything I wanted,’ she said. ‘I never had fewer than three luxury cars, including a Hummer just to take my dogs to the vet.’ Once, her husband bought her a Range Rover filled with tens of thousands of pounds worth of couture dresses by designer Maria Grachvogel. For her 40th birthday, he lavished her with £1 million worth of Graff diamond jewellery. But in 2006 her life fell apart with vertiginous speed. As her marriage disintegrated, so too – according to her husband, at least – did his vast fortune. In fact, he claims it simply vanished completely. Michelle, however, remains sceptical. The couple, who have two daughters, Scarlet, 16, and Sasha, 14, are now engaged in one of the most expensive divorce battles of recent times. Mr Young is due back at the High Court, where he faces jail unless he fully answers a questionnaire into his financial circumstances. At a previous hearing, his wife’s lawyers claimed to have evidence that he was still worth £400million in 2006. Michelle Young ‘I am not going to roll over’: Michelle Young at her London home last week
For three years he has failed to explain adequately how he came to lose his fortune so quickly. No receipts, deeds or papers have yet been forthcoming. In 2007 he claimed that not only had every last penny vanished but that he was being pursued by creditors to the tune of £27million. So dire are the financial straits in which he claims to find himself that he has applied for Legal Aid. Meanwhile, his current whereabouts are unknown, though he frequently rings his daughters, who live with their mother in a rented London townhouse – paid for by his friends, says her husband. They face eviction later this month because the rent payments suddenly stopped. It goes without saying that Michelle has serious doubts about her husband’s predicament, scepticism fuelled by phone calls he has made to their daughters. ‘Last week he told Scarlet he would buy her a Rolls-Royce Phantom for her 17th birthday,’ said Michelle. ‘He said he was on the verge of a deal involving Bill Clinton that would make him one of the richest men in the world. ‘He also said he wanted Scarlet to be friends with Philip Green’s daughter Chloe. He told her that Philip would take the girls around Topshop and let Scarlet have anything she wanted. Thankfully, she doesn’t want to take up the offer.’
The extraordinary story of her life with the secretive Mr Young, and how it felt to have it all – then lose it. And, shedding new light on his business deals, she revealed for the first time the reason offered by her husband for his apparently spectacular crash. ‘He said he’d ploughed everything he had into a doomed housing and shopping development in Russia called Project Moscow,’ said Michelle, who now lives on the money she made from selling her Graff jewellery. She realises that many will savour the details of her descent with schadenfreude, particularly in these straitened times. But she isn’t, she insists, seeking sympathy. ‘I just want the marriage to come to an end and for my daughters and me to be properly looked after.’
Far from being the trophy wife of a wealthy man, Michelle played an important role in her husband’s success. ‘We started off together and we made it together,’ she said.They met 22 years ago, and if her background as the daughter of a successful Essex businessman was comfortable, his was less so – a fact, she says, that drove him to do well. ‘He was originally from Dundee and when we met he said he was in the property business,’ said Michelle. ‘But he didn’t explain too much about it. He was always very secretive, even then.’ Their first year together was spent living in Upminster with her parents, who adored the charismatic Mr Young, now 47, and treated him as a son. ‘My father helped him in business, introducing him to contacts,’ said Michelle, who at the time worked as a fashion buyer. ‘It was through a contact of my father that Scot first met Philip Green.’ Michelle gave up her career when she became pregnant with Scarlet in 1992. She gave birth to Sasha two years later and married Mr Young in 1995 at Chelsea Register Office.
By this time, with his property developing business expanding rapidly, they were living in Theydon Bois in Essex in a Tudor-style house set in a few acres, complete with swimming pool and tennis court. Michelle would put her design skills to use when they bought houses to renovate, and would often find the properties. ‘I wasn’t just a housewife,’ she said. ‘It is fair to say that I was key to his early success.’ But soon after they married, Mr Young’s ‘darker side’ began to emerge, according to his wife. She claimed he could be volatile and prone to ‘bouts of aggression which seemed to come from nowhere. He could get very angry for no reason and start throwing things about’. By the mid-Nineties, Mr Young had become close to Sir Philip Green and Sir Tom Hunter, the property and sports goods tycoon. ‘They made hundreds of millions from a telecoms venture,’ said Michelle. ‘But I didn’t have much of an idea about what exactly they were doing.’ By this stage the family had moved into £21 million Wood Perry House on a 200-acre estate in Oxfordshire. ‘I was busy running that and looking after the girls,’ said Michelle. ‘Although Scot saw Philip and Tom all the time, I only met them a few times socially. When I did meet them, it was just chit-chat. People like Tom Hunter, Philip Green and my husband simply don’t discuss business with their wives.’ While Sir Philip relished the spotlight, Mr Young, according to his wife, preferred to operate under the radar. ‘He wasn’t one for throwing glitzy parties, but he was extravagant and generous,’ said Michelle.
‘He loved Dolce & Gabbana clothes and every time their new collection came out he would buy it all, spending around a £1million a year on clothes for himself. Every time he pulled off a deal he bought a fabulously expensive watch – he must have had more than 200. He had countless luxury cars, sometimes buying a new one every six weeks. The antiques with which I filled our house were worth £4million, and Scot was also generous with the girls. They had Arabian horses to ride around the estate and small battery-powered Jeeps. There were frequent fantastic holidays in Capri and New York and Barbados by Concorde.’ Sometimes the family would dine at Raymond Blanc’s celebrated Oxfordshire restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, twice a week. It was an amazing life. But as we grew richer, so Scot became more volatile,’ said Michelle. ‘There were frequent rows and he humiliated me a lot. He would play the macho man and swear at me in front of workmen, for example, ordering me about and telling me to do this and do that. The family moved out of Wood Perry House in 2001, buying an equally impressive mansion on the Wentworth Park Estate in Egham, Surrey. They were there for just a few months before deciding to return to Oxfordshire because Sasha and Scarlet missed their schools. Mr Young sold the house to billionaire Russian dissident Boris Berezovsky.
‘It was through this sale that the two of them became very close,’ said Michelle. ‘Again, I don’t know what business they did together, but one of our mutual friends told me recently that whenever he sees Scot these days he is always with Boris. I met Boris on a few occasions. He took us to the Manoir to thank us for the house. Over dinner he gave me a Faberge brooch and Scot Faberge cufflinks. I also met him at a charity function at Windsor Castle but I never really got to know him. He was like the others in Scot’s inner circle. It amuses me when I read how Scot was this fixer who would find cars and houses for oligarchs. If anything, he was Boris’s equal. And he was far too grand simply to find cars for his rich friends. But he did give them away, and would often say thank you for a favour, for example, by buying his pals a Ferrari or a Bentley. By 2005, the marriage had grown increasingly unhappy, with one episode in particular almost bringing it to the point of collapse. Michelle recalled: ‘I was at home with the girls when robbers wearing balaclavas and carrying weapons came to the house and stole three of Scot’s cars – a Mercedes, a Porsche Turbo and a Porsche Cayenne. We didn’t see it happen, although we later saw them on the CCTV. I called the police, who were there when Scot came home very aggressive and screaming at me, “My cars, my cars. Why didn’t you f****** stop them?” The policeman told him he should be thankful that we hadn’t been hurt. I found the whole thing very upsetting.’
The family decided to make a ‘fresh start’ in Miami, a place they had visited often. They bought a £3.5million beachfront home as ‘a base’ while they searched for somewhere more substantial. But, according to Michelle, within weeks of arriving Mr Young left for Britain, saying he was ‘negotiating a very big Russian deal, a £2billion shopping and retail development that he called Project Moscow’. He returned to Miami for two days in January 2006 for his birthday, but in all was away for three months. What was strange was how moved he was by the fuss we made of him on his birthday,’ she said. ‘He had to leave the room on one occasion because he was crying. Also, a month earlier at Christmas, he made an incredible fuss of us. Even by his standards he was generous. He gave me a Damien Hirst sketch he’d bought at auction – outbidding Hugh Grant – and a diamond necklace. The girls got Cartier watches and Louis Vuitton luggage. Three months later, Michelle received a call from a solicitor saying her husband had lost all his money. ‘I couldn’t take it in, I couldn’t believe it. He came back a week later saying he’d lost it all on Project Moscow,’ she said. ‘From then on things spiralled out of control. Everything, including the £4million of antiques, were repossessed.
The money had gone from all the accounts and I had nothing. Scot was getting very agitated and it seemed he spent the whole time in the garden on his mobile phone. I simply didn’t believe him about Project Moscow. It was during this period that we found evidence of his wealth on a laptop. The girls wanted me to leave him and on November 5, 2006, we did just that, flying back to London with what money we had and a suitcase of clothes. We stayed at a hotel for two months and then rented a house by Regent’s Park, where we are now. It is bewildering for the girls. He asked one of them last week to come to live with him in his new luxury apartment, which doesn’t exactly chime with the idea that he has lost everything. In truth, we simply don’t know how he has been living for the past three years.’
Michelle has now amassed a formidable team of experts, managed by consultants Temple Regulatory Service Limited, and is close to striking a third party litigation funding deal. A spokesman for Temple said: ‘This is a complex case but we are confident of achieving a resolution soon. Michelle added: ‘I want Scot to know that I am not going to roll over. I mean business. A friend of Mr Young said last night that the tycoon was ‘very positive about reaching an out-of-court settlement with Michelle. He intends to provide for his wife and children and is furious he has been portrayed as a bad husband and father. Asked if Mr Young was not therefore penniless, the friend said: ‘No comment. He is a private man and his financial affairs will forever remain his business. The friend confirmed that Mr Young had amassed his fortune through ‘property transactions, high-tech investments and telecom investments’, and said that he had been living in America for the past three years but was now back in London.
Perfect Knowledge is a private company that offers a private fixer service to VIP’s, senior executives and ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWI). We provide a discreet service that manages private and personal affairs on behalf of our clients. Our focus is to ensure total privacy for the individual or organisation at all times. Our services are aimed at private offices, private banks, offshore trusts, celebrities, royal family management, private families and discerning individuals where money is no object and discretion is paramount.