Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thierry Roussel 57 today

Thierry François Roussel was born 57 years ago on 16 February 1953 in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. Contrary to what it says on Wikipedia, his father, Henri Roussel, was not President and General Manager of the Roussel-Uclaf Pharmaceutical Corporation. Roussel-Uclaf was, it's true, originally founded by Henri's father, but on that father's death in 1947, the Romainville-based laboratories were taken over by Henri's brother, Jean-Claude. Henri had, in fact, inherited half of the shares of the company, but being no chemist in his heart, he sold his entire stake to Jean-Claude and lived the rest of his life in the pursuit of his pleasures. Henri had two passions in life: Sun and big game hunting. He bought a reserve in Kenya as a base for the one passion and a villa on the Spanish "Costa del Sol" (sun coast) as an indulgence of the other. Henri also inherited the ancestral estate in central France, Bonneville, and filled its rooms with the stuffed spoils of his Kenyan exploits.

Little Thierry was extremely fond of his paternal grandmother. But she died in a car accident when he was ten, in the same year that his parents' divorced.

Thierry's mother was Francine Grinda. The Grindas hailed from Nice, France. Francine's uncle Édouard was the boast of the family, at least until her brother, Jean-Nöel, grew up and competed for the Davis Cup. He had served as France's Minister of Work and Social Security and was credited as the architect of the social security law of 1928. His famous report, The Grinda Report, was the basis for that law. Not so long after Francine's divorce from Henri Roussel, her sister, Hélène, who was a fashion model, had an affair with the Prince Consort of the Netherlands. In 1967, Hélène gave birth to Prince Bernhard's daughter, named Alexia. Prince Bernhard never publicly acknowledged what was actually a well-known "secret," but after his death in 2004, Alexia's sister, Queen Beatrix, confirmed that the rumors were true.

Thierry's favorite relative on his mother's side was his uncle, the tennis player, Jean-Nöel Grinda. Jean-Nöel was a Bon Vivant Extraordinaire and Thierry's idol. Uncle and nephew associated with a fast-living Parisian set that orbited around "The Playboy" Gunter Sachs and Brigitte Bardot. Both uncle and nephew were very attractive, statuesque, and blond. Jean-Nöel was married to the ultra fashionable Florence Michard-Pellissier, who was coincidentally a friend of Christina Onassis. Thierry dated several fashionable women: the actress Odile Rodin, who once dated Alexander Onassis; Danish model Kirsten Gille; and American model Teresa Prater. The fashion photographer Gunnar Larson introduced Thierry to "Gaby" Landhage in a Paris nightclub in 1971. From Denmark himself, Larson had "discovered" Gaby, who had gone to Paris to work as a translator but ended up fashion modeling.

Having been educated at France's "most famous private school," the École des Roches, which is a boarding school in Normandy, Thierry took the "Bac" exam in 1972. He entered the Pantheon-Assas ("Paris II") University to study economics.

Henri Roussel disapproved of the Swedish-born Gaby, whose proper name is Marianne. He didn't like that she didn't come from an impressive family. She was neither wealthy nor famous. Henri had more glorious ideas for his only son. The father had met Christina Onassis on the ski slopes in Switzerland. He liked her. Christina was the child of a dynamic figure and illustrious past. More importantly, she was wealthier even than Henri. Thierry's marriage to Christina would be, in Henri's view, even more glorious for the Roussel family than the marriage of Christine (Thierry's older sister) to the Duc de Chevreuse and heir to the Duc de Luynes.

Of course, we all know that Thierry was eventually convinced that his father's marital plan for him was good for business. And Gaby was persuaded to think so too. In March 1984, Thierry married Christina and society dubbed him The Most Successful Gigolo in the World. Christina poured money into his bank account, thus financing his outrageous expensively lifestyle, and in return, he gave her the most precious gift ever: Athina Hélène Roussel.

But five months later, Gaby gave birth to Erik Christophe Roussel. Christina heroically tried to make the best of this duplicity. She invited Gaby and baby Erik to her villa in Gingins (Switzerland) in order that Athina could know her brother. Gaby later confided in the press that she loved Christina, that Christina had always been sweet to her. Even Gaby's mother, Maj Lis, was invited to witness Christina's friendly overtures to Gaby. The women seemed genuinely to like each other and to be happy to watch their children play together.

Yet even Christina, with her liberal European notions, had her limits. When Gaby gave birth to Sandrine on 12 May 1987, Christina filed for a "quickie divorce."

What was Thierry doing in this time besides having children with his wife and mistress? He was dabbling in business ventures. People magazine, at the time, gave him the fancy title of "venture capitalist." He partnered with Paul Hagnauer in the operation of the modeling agency PH1, based at Christina's Avenue Foch apartment complex. Naturally, he dabbled in shipping and property ventures. Thierry invested in a sport horse breeding venture known as European Horses. "EH" later provided horses for Athina and Sandrine. Thierry was President until two years ago (2008) of a joint stock company that he started in 1987. It's called the Société de Gestion Financière et Commerciale SA, or simply SGFC.

His overall reputation as a businessman isn't glowing. Edward Klein and Nicholas Gage, both writing for Vanity Fair magazine, quoted several of Thierry's critics in the citation of his humiliations. Diane Sawyer, during her 1998 interview with the Roussels in Lussy-sur-Morges, asked Thierry himself about the "strawberry farms" in Portugal. Sawyer and the 20/20 investigators discovered that Thierry had invested in these farms and been forced, under the threat of bankruptcy, to sell them at a loss. But that's not all. Nicholas Gage pointed to Thierry's foolish sale of Athina's Olympic Tower shares just prior to the New York real estate boom.

Thierry certainly passed on his entrepreneurial instincts to his son. Erik studied Business Administration at Geneva's European University for one year. With two Swedish friends, he has started an advertising agency called Vinces Media.

Thierry and Gaby maintain residence in their well-known pink bungalow in Lussy-sur-Morges. Their kids are all grown up. Even the youngest, Johanna, will be 19 in July of this year. Her big sisters are both persistent on the showjumping circuit. Sandrine is registered with the FEI from the Rhônes-Alpes region, in which lies the Bonneville estate. She continues to ride EH horses, as well as horses owned by a holding company of Bel Oil Corporation. Athina, who originally registered from Rhônes-Alpes, is currently registered with the Greek "Avlona" club and, since 2006, has used the name of Onassis de Miranda. No longer under her father's thumb, Athina rides her own horses and is her own sponsor. She and husband Doda started their own sport horse breeding company, AD Sport Horses, initially based at the Pessoa stables in Fleurus, Belgium. This year, the AD headquarters are moving their own stables in the Netherlands.

Athina and Thierry have always had a complicated relationship. She once explained to Nicholas Gage that, as a child, she feared him. He was a strong authoritarian father. In public, more fearful of the paparazzi than of him, she clung to his sleeve. As a teenager, as she increased her sense of self, she struggled against his tyranny. Gage wrote that when she wanted to buy a horse, and he would not let her, she resented it. It was worse when he told her that her boyfriend was a gold digger who was going to "take everything" from her. Still worse, and the cause of the final crack in their relationship, was to come in 2003. She had unwittingly signed over power of attorney to Thierry. Her lawyers eventually settled the matter with his lawyers, and the power of attorney was restored rightfully to Athina's own name in exchange for a hefty settlement. But the damage was done. Thierry did not attend her wedding on 3 December 2005. Instead, he took Gaby, Erik, and Johanna to Morocco. Only Sandrine stood by Athina at the ceremony. It's unknown whether the snub was on Thierry's or Athina's part. Her camp claims that he was welcomed to attend the ceremony. His camp claims he didn't receive an invitation.

Last year, there was a rumor that Athina made some trips to Switzerland in attempts to reconcile relations with her dad. One hopes that Thierry, at 57, is wise enough to appreciate his relationships with all of his children, to let them spread their wings, discover their true natures, and live at peace with themselves.


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