Nat Rothschild: the richest runt of all

The Rothschilds' youngest son has transformed himself from the 'worst sort of drunken boor' to a hedge fund manager with an abiding interest in Russia.

Nat Rothschild's transformation from "wanton wild child" to international financier shocked many of his contemporaries, says The Sunday Times. For much of his early life it was feared that, like several of the dynasty before him, he would self-destruct. Yet by 2007, The New York Times was able to describe Rothschild, 37, as "a king maker in his own right", tipped by many to become "the richest Rothschild of them all".

But his apotheosis was no surprise to some. "Coursing through his veins are centuries of financial acumen," noted Eric Gleacher, the New York moneyman who gave Rothschild his first break in the 1990s. "It's in his DNA." And that, says The Independent, was the real reason Rothschild decided to "do the dirty" on George Osborne and the Tory party he had long helped to finance. Sure, he was furious that Osborne had broken the rules of discretion that surround private parties, but more importantly he was anxious to protect his close business associate, Oleg Deripaska, says The Observer. Rothschild had long staked his all on making it in Russia. "To harm Deripaska was to harm Rothschild."

Indeed, the Corfu affair couldn't have come at a more critical time, either for the Russian oligarch or for Rothschild, whose hedge fund, Atticus, "is in deep water", says The Sunday Times. After years of spectacular 30%+ returns, the fund has halved in value. Although Rothschild stresses that Deripaska is not an investor in the fund (some maintain that Nat himself is little more than "a seductive figure-head" at Atticus, whose real investment brain is its Canadian founder, Tim Barakett), there's no doubting the extent of the Rothschilds' interests in Russia. For example, in 2003 Rothschild and his financier father Jacob, the fourth Baron Rothschild with whom friends suggest he is not particularly close formed a joint venture, JNR, dedicated to finding investment opportunities in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics (see below) and "Deripaska was JNR's most important contact".

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Close or not, after years of worrying about his "black sheep" only son, Lord Rothschild must have been relieved by his meteoric rise, says the Daily Mail. Throughout his time at Eton and Oxford, he "resisted any type of conformism" and behaved like the worst sort of drunken boor. As an undergraduate he is said to have jumped onto a table and shouted "ninety-seven million", assumed to be a reference to the size of his trust fund. Contemporaries, describing him as dishevelled, disorganised and spotty, labelled him "the runt of the Bullingdon litter", says The Sunday Times. Yet he had no problem attracting women. Indeed, his parents were horrified when, at 23, he eloped to Las Vegas with the model Annabelle Neilson, whom he had met on a beach in India. There followed a three-year blur of drink and late-night parties. Rothschild's Damascene conversion he now drinks nothing stronger than Diet Coke coincided with the end of his marriage and the offer from Barraket to join Atticus.

Rothschild continues to be driven by his inheritance. "He felt that the family lost total predominance as financiers to the Morgan Stanleys and Goldman Sachses," says an associate. "His determination to re-establish that predominance goes far beyond making a buck."

Can he hold on to his 'Goldfinger' lifestyle?

The Rothschild family has been intertwined with British politics ever since Nathan Rothschild, who founded the English branch of the family, financed the war against Napoleon two centuries ago, says The Independent. But the family prefers to influence without inviting "unnecessary publicity". Until now, Nat Rothschild has also majored on discretion, says The Guardian. He trades upon "the intriguing power of saying nothing at all" and cultivates "an air of quiet steel". Nonetheless, his lifestyle is undeniably jet-set, says the Daily Mail. An accomplished skier, his principal residence is in Klosters, but he rarely spends more than four days in the same place and uses his Gulfstream jet to travel between his other homes in New York, Paris, Moscow and London. "Two formally-attired butlers accompany him everywhere."

Rothschild's links with Russia run deep. His "best friend" is Roman Abramovich, but it is the contacts and local knowledge of their mutual friend, Oleg Deripaska, that have proved most useful. Rothschild sees his role as "trying to guide Deripaska on how to deal with the West". But it works both ways, says the Evening Standard: Deripaska facilitated a series of lucrative investments in former Soviet republics and last year TriGranit, a Hungarian investment fund in which Rothschild has a large stake, agreed a £3.5bn real estate venture with Gazprom. But their most startling venture is a plan to transform Montenegro into a "new Monaco" by building the world's first super-yacht marina. "There is a touch of Ian Fleming about the scheme", says The Guardian. But as shares plunge, wiping out fortunes, such a "Goldfinger lifestyle" may not survive.