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Monday 22 September 2014

Billionaire still offering 'a deluxe life' to man who'll woo lesbian daughter

Cole Moreton

Published 27/01/2013 | 11:07

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HE made headlines around the world by offering €50 million to any man who could woo and marry his lesbian daughter. Now the Hong Kong billionaire Cecil Chao says that 33-year-old Gigi "can choose whatever she wants" – but the offer still stands.

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Gigi Chao is in a civil partnership with another woman, but her father, one of the richest men in Hong Kong, insists his offer of a multi-million pound dowry still stands.

“Anyone who comes along to pursue Gigi, we will give them a moderately deluxe life,” said the property developer yesterday in an interview with the Financial Times, ignoring the civil partnership his daughter has entered into with her long-term girlfriend.

The 76-year-old Mr Chao has his own unique approach to romance, once claiming to have slept with 10,000 women.

“I never counted, but it’s possible,” he said. “Every day you can date one, two, three or four women. I have many good friends. We share our life, not just limiting to one person. I like to live a free and happy life.”

Since offering his daughter’s hand to whoever could persuade her to take it, Mr Chao has received hundreds of proposals of marriage himself. He is unlikely to accept any of them. “Marriage is difficult, particularly under Hong Kong law. She can take a lot of your money away. It is safer not to be married,” he said, in words that may well be of interest to his daughter.

Gigi is one of his three children by three different women. She studied architecture in England like her father, and is an executive director of his luxury property development company Cheuk Nang, which has projects in Hong Kong, China, Macau and Malaysia. Ms Chao also runs a model agency and a PR company.

Gigi is one of his three children by three different women. She studied architecture in England like her father, and is an executive director of his luxury property development company Cheuk Nang, which has projects in Hong Kong, China, Macau and Malaysia. Ms Chao also runs a model agency and a PR company.



Father and daughter share a love of flying, as both are qualified helicopter pilots. It is believed that Mr Chao originally intended to hand over his business empire to Gigi, but will now prefer one of his two sons, unless she marries.

He gave a hint of what a “moderately deluxe life” means to an ultra-rich tycoon by opening the security gates of Happy Lodge, his waterfront mansion on the western shore of Hong Kong Island, to a reporter. Built on four levels, with a floorspace of 16,000 square feet, the house is worth hundreds of millions of Hong Kong dollars.

Any prospective son-in-law called in for a chat may find himself perched nervously on a gilded sofa in the enormous circular living room, with a glass wall that gives wide views of the sea in Sandy Bay. The room has a grand piano and a pair of striking modernist sculptures of women by Angel Botello, a contemporary of Picasso.

A custom-made chandelier halfway between a double helix and a disco ball hangs down from the very high ceiling, which is made of black mirrors.

“It started with very contemporary thinking: black mirrors, stainless steel, high ceiling, skylights,” said Mr Chao of the house, which he designed himself after studying architecture at Durham University. “But when you get older you like Chinese and European classical culture.”

The Chinese lacquerware, ink paintings and Buddhist ornaments are matched with European antique furniture. His favourite art work is a painting of cherry blossoms by Tang Yin, also known as Tang Bohu, one of the four masters of the Ming Dynasty. Asked how much it might be worth, he told the reporter, “A lot.”

Cecil Chao was born into relative poverty in Shanghai, but his father Chao Tsong-Yea became a shipping tycoon. After studying at Durham University, Mr Chao began to build his own property empire. His home is set within a development called Villa Cecil, which includes some of Hong Kong’s most desirable apartments.

He offered the multi-million pound dowry in September after a reporter from a gossip magazine told him Gigi had entered into a civil partnership with her girlfriend of seven years, Sean Yeung. “They called me to say my daughter had got married in Paris. I was shocked. Gigi is still young and beautiful. She has 70 per cent of her life to go,” he said.

Mr Chao said his offer was motivated by the desire for grandsons and daughters. “I would not force her to marry a man. But obviously I would, from my point of view, prefer her to be married and to have grandchildren.”

Back in October, Gigi Chao told the Daily Telegraph: “At first I was entertained by it, and then that entertainment turned into the realisation and conviction that I am a really lucky girl to have such a loving daddy, because it’s really sweet of him to do something like this. It’s not that he can’t accept me. It’s that he can’t accept how society would view me and the status that it would incur.”

She did not agree with him, but said she understood why he was doing it. Civil partnerships are not recognised in Hong Kong. However, after receiving nearly two thousand emails in a week, and hundreds of letters and phone calls from suitors all over the world, Ms Chao also asked her father to withdraw the offer, publicly. Without success, it seems.

The dowry is now the subject of a Hollywood film being developed by Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator of ‘Borat’, under the working title ‘The Lesbian’.

Mr Chao has said he will co-operate - as long as the movie makes him look good. “I’d be pleased to help them, but make me a good person in the film,” he said.

Having inspired men from all over the world to contact him, Mr Chao has been less than enthusiastic about vetting the potential suitors, telling the South China Morning Post: “I looked up 100 of them and passed them to Gigi. I don’t have time to interview 20,000 of them.”

Mr Chao was wearing a cravat and light-coloured Ferragamo sunglasses as he showed the reporter around his mansion, climbing a winding, golden staircase to a balcony overlooking the living room, and a banqueting area that seats 36 people. The long, polished table, which took Chinese carpenters two years to make, is decorated with antique silver. The garden begins inside the house but extends outside to a waterfall and a Japanese Zen area, with a koi carp pond.

The kidney-shaped swimming pool has a small stone sculpture of an elephant on the edge of the water, looking as if it is about to jump in. Clumps of coral have been placed on the bottom of the pool, Mr Chao said, “So we can snorkel.”



Telegraph.co.uk

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