Julia Lemigova is in the news again, with the sensationalist headline in the Daily Mail of Saturday 20th November: ‘Tennis legend Martina, VIP orgies and the mystery of her model lover’s “murdered” baby.’
I first met Julia in 1991 when I was chief executive of the Asprey Group and the market for luxury goods was in its hey-day. That November, in association with the World Gold Council, we were planning a ‘Celebration of Gold’ exhibition at Mappin & Webb in Regent Street, to include such items as a seven-kilo nugget of gold found in Brazil, a Japanese dress of 24-carat gold, and many fabulous pieces of jewellery.
Some of these I was asked to design in company with seven other designers. I did mine in collaboration with John Nix, a superb craftsman who managed the Asprey workshop. For my theme I chose a simplicity of line and a subtle eroticism. Among the items was a gold wishbone choker with matching bracelet, rings and earrings. It sold on the opening night for £10,860. ‘Beginner’s luck,’ I was teased.
The press were there in force and were dazzled by the sheer impact of all that gold. The living centrepiece among all those riches, however, was Julia Lemigova. I first met her about three weeks before the exhibition when she turned up at one my parties on the arm of the actor and writer Jeremy Lloyd, who had been Joanna Lumley’s first husband.
Julia, the daughter of a high-ranking Soviet KGB general, had been declared the last ‘Miss Soviet Union’ before the collapse of the Soviet regime, and she was still only nineteen. With her dark hair and brown eyes, she was a beguiling Caucasian beauty, and her ambitions to build a career as a professional model looked likely to carry her far.
I gladly incorporated her into the Celebration of Gold exhibition, for which she wore the 24-carat gold wedding dress, by the Japanese designer Yumi Katsura. It consisted of twenty-five metres of pure gold brocade, with tiara, veil and long train, and was valued at £180,000.
Moving among the guests in this startling garment, she looked as if she had manifested herself from the world of tsarist fable, like a princess arriving for a coronation. Her beautifully formed features were in harmony with the whole effect; a theatrical moment of extravaganza created with pure gold!
The exhibition was a roaring success and attracted a great deal of publicity. After being shown in London, it went on to Edinburgh, where Julia set off another sparkle in the grey city as her gold dress caused a sensation and sent the photographers into a frenzy.
She then modelled a kaleidoscopic range of silk scarves for Mappin & Webb and John Swannell photographed her to promote a range of ‘friendship’ rings I had designed.
When, in the mid 1990s, she left London for Paris, the expectation was that an international career was about to blossom, and indeed this was the case. She expanded from modelling into founding her own beauty company, called White Russian, and established a luxury spa in the rue de la Renaissance.
But among the many happy gifts destiny bestowed in her cradle, it seems there was one from a malign fairy. It became manifest after 1997, the year in which she formed a relationship with Edouard Stern, a prominent member of an eminent Jewish banking family.
In 1999 she bore Stern’s love-child, Maximilien, though he was reluctant to acknowledge any role in the boy’s paternity. Five and a half months later, the baby boy died in hospital, having been in the care of a Bulgarian nanny hired by Stern. The nanny later disappeared, and the police found signs of the baby having been shaken, but it was concluded there was not enough evidence for any prosecution and Maximilien had died from natural causes.
In time Julia’s suspicion nevertheless strengthened that her child had been murdered.
The next twist in the story came in 2005 when Stern, tied to a chair and wearing a latex body stocking, was shot by his mistress, Cecile Brossard, a former prostitute, during a sado-masochistic bondage session at his Geneva home. Brossard confessed to the killing and was sentenced by a Swiss court to over eight years in prison, from which she recently emerged after serving five.
Meanwhile, last year, Martina Navratilova announced her new relationship with Julia, who had evidently undergone a realignment of her sexual orientation. She was ‘drop-dead gorgeous’, Navratilova declared on a television show, and the couple were photographed wearing wedding rings. Navratilova having beaten the threat of cancer, there has been talk of the tennis champion adopting children.
But all this positive news comes about just as the shadows of the past reassert themselves and the French police announce they have new evidence to justify reopening the case of little Maximilien’s death. It seems there was a previously suppressed autopsy report that showed his bloodstream had traces of diazepam, an antidepressant in common use that can be fatal to a small child.
Julia naturally wishes as ardently as ever to know the truth about her child’s fate, but Cecile Brossard, who may well know something and is back in Paris, is keeping mum, despite appeals made to her by Julia. At the time of Stern’s murder, according to Swiss investigators, French government agents apparently removed ‘highly significant’ material from Brossard’s apartment before the police could get there to search it.
Suspicions are therefore being strengthened that a massive cover-up to protect certain powerful individuals is somewhere at the back of these events. A feature of Stern’s life to emerge has been many alleged liaisons at sex parties and sado-masochistic orgies that were carried out under tight security ensured by armed secret agents.
Julia insists she had no clue to this sinister side of his life, but believes somebody wanted her baby dead, and wishes to know why. Stern had been one of the world’s wealthiest men, with the rich and powerful among his close friends, including Nicolas Sarkozy.
The ruling French political élite is now, says the Daily Mail, fearful that, if the lid comes off the whole story, the fall-out could be the ‘biggest scandal of Sarkozy’s term of office’.
Julia’s greatest asset was the use of her body language to endear herself to her coterie of friends. Proud of her slender figure, she lost no time in exhibiting it to best advantage. She was always delightful company, with a happy smile that was as captivating as it was reassuring. During her stay in London she frequently visited my office, finding refuge in its friendly ambiance and informality.
I only hope her relationship with Navratilova proves strong enough to give her the support she needs in such a time of turmoil. Looking back to the period at the start of the 1990s when she was literally the ‘golden girl’ of our exhibition, I grieve for all the suffering that has come to overshadow her life.