Monday 19 August 2019

Lady Chryss and Sir Anthony still have fortune despite his bankruptcy

Sir Anthony O'Reilly is bankrupt aged 79, but, thanks to his wife's personal fortune, this should not lead to any drastic change in the couple's lifestyle, writes Liam Collins

CONNECTIONS: Lady Chryss with Queen Elizabeth, with whom she shares a love for bloodstock
CONNECTIONS: Lady Chryss with Queen Elizabeth, with whom she shares a love for bloodstock
The O’Reillys in happier days
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

The declaration of bankruptcy against Sir Anthony O'Reilly in the Bahamas on Friday does not impact on the vast personal fortune of his wife Lady Chryss O'Reilly, who was not involved as a personal guarantor in her husband's business dealings.

As such, there should be little diminution in the day-to-day lifestyle of the couple - despite last week's decision in sun-kissed Nassau.

Tony O'Reilly was approaching the zenith of his power and influence when he married Chryss Goulandris, yet it was always said that his second wife's private fortune eclipsed his own.

The couple married in the Bahamas in September, 1991 and though they kept homes all over the world, O'Reilly's new wife took to the lifestyle of Castlemartin, his 4,000-acre estate in Co Kildare, with deep and obvious enthusiasm. Her deep interest in, and knowledge of, bloodstock and racing fitted perfectly into her new lifestyle in a county that has always been identified with the equine industry.

She was not only a regular at The Curragh classics, but also at ordinary race meetings and the bloodstock sales, searching for the next great sire or mare.

She was born in New York into a family of Greek shipping magnates, but her father, John, died when she was three, leaving her and her brother Peter to be brought up on 5th Avenue, and the family's ancestral holding on the island of Andros in the Aegean Sea. After studying in both Switzerland and the Sorbonne, she became involved in the family investment company, taking a particular interest in bloodstock.

She met O'Reilly, then the chief executive of the Heinz Corporation, with her brother Peter in the St Regis Hotel in New York, where he stayed during business trips.

Hearing of her interest in bloodstock, he invited her to The Heinz 57 at The Curragh, a prestigious race sponsored by the American food giant at the behest of O'Reilly. The couple were married three years later.

According to Matt Cooper's bestseller The Maximalist, Chryss made one stipulation on their marriage - she would not be a stay-at-home wife.

She travelled with him on many of his business trips and was the hostess at social gatherings in Castlemartin. She enjoys a close relationship with his six children.

Such was her interest in horse-racing and Ireland that she was appointed chairperson of the Irish National Stud in 1993.

In 1996, as a gift for his wife, Tony O'Reilly paid $2.6m (€2.45m) for the 40-carat diamond engagement ring originally commissioned by Aristotle Onassis for his bride Jackie Kennedy. It was a gift of some symbolism because Chryss had been a close childhood friend of tragic Christina Onassis, a member of the Greek clan.

Chryss's brother Peter became a major investor in Waterford Glass when the company was purchased by Tony O'Reilly.

Despite her position as a non-executive director of the company, it was to prove a disastrous venture, particularly for Peter, who invested almost as much in it as Tony O'Reilly.

Lady Chryss was by Tony O'Reilly's side as his financial affairs imploded. As he struggled under a mountain of debt, there was a belief in some circles that she would come to his rescue.

However, the Goulandris family had lost hundreds of millions in the Waterford Glass venture already and while her personal wealth is considerable the real money is tied up in private family corporations.

Lady Chryss at one stage intervened in order to attempt to buy back his debts in the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (the former Anglo Irish Bank) for €2m. But during a delay in finalising the deal, the bank was put into liquidation by the State and the chance evaporated. The debts were sold to a venture capital fund, Lone Star, and, according to Matt Cooper: "Chryss apparently indicated that she was no longer interested in buying O'Reilly's debt from its new owners."

That may very well have been the moment that the one-time Irish billionaire Tony O'Reilly decided that he would file for bankruptcy and let the banks then pick through the entrails of his once-enormous empire.

Sunday Independent

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