Sunday 26 June 2011

'I hope he is marrying her for love': Socialite warns Petra Ecclestone of her future husband's past

She's the ultimate daddy's girl - the stunning daughter F1 billionaire Bernie Ecclestone bought a £56m house in Chelsea AND a £91m LA mansion.

This summer she's set to marry a little-known businessman with a string of glamorous and wealthy exes.

So what does model and friend Jasmine Lennard have to say about Mr Ecclestone's future son-in-law?

When they marry in August, Petra Ecclestone and James Stunt will become one of London’s highest-profile, not to mention stupendously wealthy, couples.

After a no-expenses-spared ceremony in the Mediterranean, the newlyweds – whose £56million Grade II listed house in Chelsea is currently being renovated – will start married life by moving into The Manor, a 123-room super-mansion in Los Angele built by the late TV producer Aaron Spelling and bought by the bride’s father, Formula 1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone, for £91million.

Ecclestone, the son of a Suffolk fisherman, is said to have given the match his seal of approval and marked the couple’s engagement with a sumptuous party for 300 guests at Battersea Power Station in May.

The night reached its climax when pop star Rihanna performed a surprise set – for a reported £250,000 fee.

As the youngest daughter of 80-year-old self-made billionaire Ecclestone and his ex-wife Slavica, a Croatian former Armani model, 22-year-old Petra’s social pedigree is in no doubt.

Petra Ecclestone and James at their engagement party

After all, this is a woman who counts collecting £10,000 Hermes handbags as a hobby, lists Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie as close friends and is set to inherit a sizeable chunk of her father’s £2.5billion fortune.

But far less is known about the man she will marry, 28-year-old businessman Stunt, who proposed to Petra in March and has been living with her in a seven-storey townhouse in Eaton Square, Belgravia, since 2007.

One woman who does know Stunt, however, is model and former socialite Jasmine Lennard.

The 25-year-old daughter of Seventies Bond actress Marilyn Galsworthy and her ex-husband, Sacha Shoes founder Brian Lennard, was at college with Stunt and knew him over a three-year period.

She recalls their friendship as close, although he now describes it as merely ‘hanging out’.

According to Jasmine, a reality-television star who has dated former Manchester United footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, Stunt is a serial ladies’ man and ambitious social climber who has used his charm and guile to springboard his way from one super-rich girlfriend to another.

Jasmine said: ‘When I see James with Petra I just think, “He must believe he’s hit the jackpot.”

‘I am not bitter – I wish him all the best and I really hope he is marrying her for love.’

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Jasmine met Stunt when they were studying at London’s exclusive Mander Portman Woodward private sixth-form college in South Kensington.

‘When I met James, I was 17 and he was a couple of years older. He looked very different from how he does now.

He has put on a lot of weight, but back then he was very skinny, almost undernourished, and weighed about nine-and-a-half stone. He was very handsome.

James with Petra and her father Bernie Ecclestone at Sandown Park in Surrey

‘James is incredibly charming and is very flattering. Every girl to him is ‘‘Princess’’ or ‘‘Baby’’. He could charm a nun into bed.

‘With me, he used to play Westlife CDs in his car and sing along to them, even though he can’t sing. Eventually, I gave in and agreed to go out with him.

‘James was obsessed with gangster films – his favourite film was Scarface. He hated his slight build and was desperate to try to build himself up.

‘Image is very important to James. His skin was bright orange because of all the fake tan he wore, which left his towels and bed linen stained orange too.

‘In the past few years, he has bulked out because of his lifestyle.’
Stunt grew up in a £1.8 million house in Virginia Water, a Surrey village at the heart of the stockbroker belt and a mile from the Wentworth Estate, home to multi-millionaires including Sir Bruce Forsyth and where Stunt’s parents, Geoffrey and Lorraine, still live.

The family also own a luxury two-bedroom apartment in the exclusive Chelsea Harbour development, bought, according to records, in 1999 for £600,000 but now believed to be worth well over £1 million.

It’s certainly not a lifestyle to be sniffed at. But the family’s wealth is a drop in the ocean alongside that of the Ecclestones – and therein, according to Jasmine, lies the rub.

Jasmine, a full-time mother to ten-month-old son Phoenix, says it quickly became clear after their relationship started that Stunt was a man who wanted the best from life – and was prepared to do whatever it took to get it.

‘Ever since I have known him, he has surrounded himself with the sons and daughters of wealthy people.

‘He had a very wealthy upbringing – his family certainly weren’t poor. But he was mixing with people who were millionaires several times over and he couldn’t compete. He once jokingly told me he’d bought a title, so he could call himself a marquess. I remember how excited he was the day his credit cards arrived embossed with his new title.

Jasmine, pictured age 18, a contestant in Five reality show Make Me A Supermodel

‘You only have to look at his history to understand what James is about. He went out with Camilla Al Fayed, daughter of Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed, and was friends with pop star Lily Allen.’

Despite his meteoric rise up the social ranks, Jasmine says Stunt has left a trail of heartbreak in his wake. ‘That man has been on dates with half of London. If I had to put a figure on it, I would say he has dated hundreds of girls.’

Not exactly what most prospective fathers-in-law want to hear about the man about to marry their daughter. But despite his former playboy lifestyle, Stunt is said to get on well with Bernie, whom he approached for permission to marry Petra before he proposed in March.

Like Bernie – whose favourite meal is egg on toast with brown sauce – it seems Stunt, who has described himself variously as a businessman and a wine collector, is a man of simple but very particular tastes.

‘James was a real mummy’s boy when we were together and I don’t think that’s changed,’ says Jasmine. ‘He has what you would call very exacting standards. Everything has to be done his way.

‘His favourite meal is chilli con carne – but I had to cook it following his mother’s recipe precisely.

‘He would only drink Lucozade, and his other vice was gold chocolate coins, which I had to bring him when I saw him.

‘James needs a lot of attention. He was obsessed with germs. All of his cutlery had to be washed twice and he would inspect it afterwards.’

Despite the enormous wealth he is marrying into, it seems teetotal Stunt’s interests also remain resolutely down-to-earth.

He and his sylph-like bride-to-be apparently like nothing more than a night in on the sofa watching at least an hour of television – including their favourite programme, BBC soap EastEnders.

It’s a far cry from Stunt’s days on the partycircuit with Jasmine, when he was a regular at nightspots such as Tramp, Boujis and Movida and drove a yellow Lamborghini with the number plate S7UNT.

‘He had a regular table at Tramp straight in the door and on the left,’ Jasmine recalls. ‘On the right would be (heiress) Lisa Tchenguiz and other regulars were the Reubens – the billionaire Jewish family from North London – and they would engage in ‘‘champagne wars’’ to see who could order the most bottles.

Petra and Bernie attend a party in London

‘He liked to be the centre of attention, and every time he ordered another magnum of Cristal, the club manager, Guido, turned the music off and played the Rocky theme tune while the bottle was delivered with sparklers so everyone would watch. All eyes had to be on James.

‘The champagne was rarely drunk because it was all about the show.
‘If he wasn’t in nightclubs, he would be in the casino, usually Aspinalls or Crockfords, a private members’ club in Mayfair.

‘He would be with friends who would spend £250,000 in one turn on the baccarat table. I went to his flat one day and found him lying on a bed of gambling receipts after a bad night of losses.

‘On the flip side of all this wealth, James had an obsession with gangsters and the East End underworld. He loved EastEnders because of the way it portrayed the East End. He affected a cockney accent from watching the soap and claimed to be related to the Richardsons (a notorious London criminal family).

‘He liked to flit between speaking in a cockney gangster’s voice to cut-glass English, depending on who he was talking to.’

Despite his high-rolling lifestyle, Jasmine says it was never clear exactly how Stunt earned an income. Jasmine, who lives in a £500,000 flat in Fulham, West London, and who found fame on reality TV show Make Me A Supermodel in 2005, recalled: ‘I asked him what he did but it was never completely clear.

‘Sometimes he would say it was stocks and shares, then he was supposed to be running a betting firm.

‘James surrounds himself with people who have money and he never went short. But in the time we were together, I don’t think he ever bought me anything.

‘James can be very persuasive. That’s his skill and I believe that’s how he has got to the point he is now. When we were together, he convinced me to buy him a £400 Bulgari bracelet. He said he had to have it, and I am embarrassed to admit it now but I stole my mother’s credit card to pay for it.

‘Later, he dated Camilla Al Fayed for a year. She helped him choose stuff to buy for the apartment. After they split, I visited him and there was a new sofa, new rugs and all the pictures were in silver frames.

‘It was the first time we talked as friends as we laughed about how the whole place had been “Harrodised”.

‘Many of the people in his circle were the wealthy sons and daughters of rich and successful people. Often their parents lived abroad and they lived in London, so they had access to a lot of money.

‘James would befriend them and invite them out. He could get them in to the places they wanted to go.’

These days it’s Stunt who is in charge of the purse strings as he prepares to marry into one of the world’s richest families.

He is now keen to demonstrate spending his money on more philanthropic causes. At Elton John’s White Tie And Tiara Ball, he bid £250,000 in a charity auction for a car, then promptly gave the car back to be sold again.

And as the countdown to the big day begins, it seems only fair to give the last word to the one that got away.

‘Nothing would surprise me about James. He always said he wanted to be known, and called himself ‘‘the most famous unfamous person in London’’,’ says Jasmine.

‘I just never thought the cost of finding that fame would be £91 million. I wish them both the best of luck, I really do. But rather her than me.'

A spokesman for Mr Stunt said yesterday: ‘James attended the same sixth-form college as Ms Lennard but he had no wish to keep in touch with her.

‘He does not recognise her account of those days in any way. He has been with Petra Ecclestone for five years.

‘They are completely in love with each other and looking forward to sharing the rest of their lives together.’