28 JULY 1990, Page 41

High life

A knight in shining Armani


Latis is the man who paid for the ex-Greek King's ball, and he is the man ' who has taken over Bridgewater House and was photographed amidst the Queen, President Bush and the Prime Minister at the Nato meeting three weeks ago. Need- less to say, he has come a long way.

He was born in Katacolo, a southern Pelloponese village of 300 inhabitants, 80 years ago, as poor as the proverbial church mouse. His father owned a row boat that used to ferry sailors to town. Young John was an enterprising boy, who was, howev- er, caught messing about near an anchored caique in the middle of the night. The arresting policeman married his sister soon after and all charges were dropped. With the start of the second world war, Latsis's fortunes turned. He made his first pile during the German occupation in the black market, and it is the only blemish of an otherwise fantastic business career. In fact, even after he made it, polite Athenian society kept him at arm's length.

Not so the Brits, especially the royals.

Latsis is a spender, and he knows all royals have a price. About a month ago, I was walking past Spencer House and noticed three men and a lady who were bent slightly forward and laughing unnaturally.

I figured there must be some royal around because it was the classic arse-licking post- ure of a courtier. It was Latsis, dressed in a green suit and his sailor's cap. The same cap he wore when posing with the Queen and George Bush.

Latsis made the big bucks through his friendship with the Saudis, especially Yamani, and he now owns ships, oil refineries, real estate, you name it. After the collapse of the junta in 1974 he hired many officers who no one else would even talk to, a sign of courage and loyalty. He pays his employees better than anyone, and last year when the crooked Papan- dreou government was unable to pay cer- tain pensions, he gave £20m cash without even being asked. He wears a toupee, pancake make-up, swears like no one I've ever heard swear, and has remained mar- ried to the same woman for 50 years. He has two daughters and a very nice and polite son, six yachts, four private jets, and brags about having 20-year-old mistresses. He doesn't. And speaking of mistresses, about 15 years ago, my long-suffering mother left our house because she disco- vered some powder marks on my father's pillow. But daddy for once was innocent. And he proved it. He had gone to a shipowners' meeting, and had been embraced in the Greek manner by Latsis. C'est tout. The story made the rounds.

Back in 1976 Latsis approached Niar- chos and offered to buy the latter's boat, the largest private vessel bar the Brittania. Niarchos said he was not in the habit of selling his possessions, but Latsis insisted. OK, said Mr N, 36 million greenbacks, an unheard of price back then. Sold, said Latsis, who took the boat and gave it as a present to King Fand.

To borrow a phrase I heard of only last week, he is a knight in shining Armani, with the soul of an angel and the manners of a Noo Yawk waterfront stevedore, and I love him because he doesn't put on airs.

But he has to be careful. Royals are an extremely expensive hobby, even for him.