4 MAY 2002, Page 58

Unacceptably boring


LNew York ike many very. very rich men, Heini Thyssen was very much a bore. I first met him when I was still a teenager, on the Riviera, where else? He was a good-looking man, but lugubrious and almost Draculalike at times. And, like Dracula, he had good taste in women. Certainly in the beginning. His first wife, the present Princess Teresa von Furstenberg, is a grand lady of impeccable credentials and impeccable behaviour. I have never met her, but I hear from my father-in-law that they don't come any grander. (Except for himself, that is.) Due to a family feud over the root of all envy, Teresa's name was recently dragged through the mud, but it simply wasn't on. It was like saying Margaret Thatcher went to war against the Argies because her husband owned Falkland Islands stocks. Which is what an Argentine professor of economics told me at the time of the war in Buenos Aires. Heini junior was certainly Heini's and Teresa's son, and he has lived an extremely quiet and useful life.

Then came Nina Dyer, an Anglo-Indian of exotic looks but Sapphic tastes. There were no children and Nina committed suicide later on. I put the moves on Nina, but got as far as Mussolini did against Greece. His third wife, Fiona, was the great beauty, and still is. 50 years after he married her. (There were two children.) Denise, his fourth wife, whom I knew when we were both very young — she tried her damnest to break up my first marriage, and succeeded — turned out to be the most controversial. After some years of married bliss, Denise became awfully chummy with one Franco Rapetti, an extremely good-looking blond Italian adventurer from Genoa. Heini played possum while the two love birds frolicked. Then Denise gave birth to a son, Franco threw himself out of a window in the Bagel. and Heini paid to fly his body back to Italy on a private jet. 'Did he jump or was he pushed?' wrote yours truly 25 years ago. The last thing Rapetti told me — loudly and in public at Isabel Goldsmith's wedding — was, `Go ahead, kill me if you like. I'm not paying.' He owed me and others lotsa moolah from a poker game that had got out of hand, and I had bailed him out at the time. Once he got connected with Denise I asked for it back. This was his answer.

Never mind. All I know is I didn't push him, nor did Heini, in fact, although he got the credit for it. Franco was living on coke and had a paranoiac coke fit. He was convinced people were trying to kill him, and maybe they were. So he jumped, and people began to fear Heini Thyssen. Despite his newly acquired reputation as a tough guy, Heini remained a terrific bore. When I had Bruern Abbey, in Oxfordshire, he was nearby, at Daylesford, the old Rothermere house, now owned by Sir Anthony Barnford. He used to drop round, a lonely man, sit in my drawing-room, observe the high jinks, drink non-stop and say very little. This is why he always had trouble with women. A wife will accept anything, lovers, drinking, drugs, but never boredom. Bore your wife and soon there will be someone else in her bed, no ifs or buts about it, and Heini bored for Holland, where he was born, Switzerland, where he lived. Hungary, where he picked up a title, and Spain, where he ended his life.

And speaking of Hungary, Thyssen was known throughout his life as Baron Thyssen. somewhat a misnomer. Heini's grandfather. August Thyssen, was of peasant stock who built a chicken-wire business into a steel and armaments empire. Heini's father. Heinrich, settled in Hungary and married the daughter of the king's chamberlain, who passed on a baronial title to his son-in-law. Whether courtiers can pass on titles to their sons-in-law is at best questionable. It's as if I called myself Prince Taki, because my father-in-law is a Serene Highness, and, in Heini's case, the guy was just a Hungarian baron, a dime a dozen in the land of goulash.

Again, never mind. As long as I can remember, the wrong people sucked up to Heini, mostly art dealers and hustlers. His great achievement was his art collection, a fabled one that rivals the Queen's. But he blew it at the end by choosing to sue Heini junior on the advice of his fifth wife, Tita, a one-time Miss Spain. Heini teased everyone, from Prince Charles to King JuanCarlos to the President of Switzerland (whoever he or she is) as to which country would get to house his collection. Spain won out in the end, but at a price: Tita, the widow. All I can say is I'd hate to have been born a Thyssen and see it all go to Tita at the end. Even some of it.