‘I’m delighted to announce that we published Marked Cards by Emmanuel Olympitis this week. Marked Cards is a live-wire account that features three decades of life in the fast lane, charting the ascent of a youthful financier who was simultaneously a fixture in London’s social scene. Manoli and his memoir have hit the press. Manoli wrote a piece called ‘At 70, I may have grown up’ for Book Brunch which you can read here:
https://www.bookbrunch.co.uk/page/free-article/at-70-i-may-have-grown-up/ and there’s a brilliant interview in this issue of Tatler (out today!) and posted below…
Playing his cards right
Manoli Olympitis has courted great beauties, gambled fortunes and had friends in the most dazzling (and murkiest) of places. Now he’s spilling the beans on a life of high jinks and high society
By DAVID JENKINS
Photographed by KATE MARTIN
IT WOULD BE ALL TOO easy to detest Emmanuel ‘Manoli’ Olympitis. The 71-year-old banker, gambler and outright charmer is (and always has been) ridiculously handsome – according to his first wife, the American heiress Jan Cushing, her friend Truman Capote couldn’t bear to look at Olympitis, so beautiful was he. At ‘23 or so’, Olympitis says, as he sits in a cane chair in my back garden, he had ‘a young man’s awakening’ in the form of a year-long, high-octane affair with Nan Kempner, the then fortyish and ever-glamorous New York fashion maven and socialite.
When that was over, he fell in love with that ‘famous beauty’ Princess Ira von Fürstenberg, who’s still a friend and ‘an amazing person, never snobbish’. He was at the time earning what he thought was a lot of money, ‘but of course, pathetic by her standards’, so it was no real surprise that she turned down his offer of marriage. Even so, he says, ‘I was rather upset when she left me for her ski instructor!’ But surely that ski instructor cannot have been more elegantly turned out than Olym-pitis is now, his dark blue Ralph Lauren jacket setting off a lighter blue shirt, his Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso watch gleaming on his wrist, his loafers a perfect shade of dark brown.
Now, he’s very happily married to his second wife, the interior designer Emily Todhunter, with whom he shares a ravishing house near Marlborough and a flat in Knightsbridge. They have a daughter, Olympia, 23, and 18-year-old identical twin sons, Mikey and Aleko. He has, he says, ‘finally found peace and a soulmate’. All in all, then, a lucky man who has just published a very entertaining memoir, Marked Cards.
But it hasn’t all been a serene and amusing voyage through life. Yes, he came from a well-off London Greek family that had prospered from the lucrative sponge trade on Kalymnos. Yes, he had a good time at The King’s School, Canterbury, fencing to Olympic squad standard, and an even better time at UCL, partying at Tramp and Annabel’s and revelling in the freedoms of the 1960s. And yes, his brother-in-law was David Cameron’s best man, he and Emily for years shared a holiday cottage with George Osborne, and he threw a party in America for his pal Edward Heath, so he’s in with serious folk, too.
His first marriage, in 1981, to the much-wed Cushing, was a glamorous one: she was rich, beautiful and a famous hostess. But it was a bitter experience, though brightened by the birth of a son, John, now 39. When Olympitis left Cushing, he received, as he half-expected to, a phone call from one of Cushing’s closest friends, Sidney Korshak, famous both as the Mafia’s US lawyer and as one of the most frighteningly powerful men in America – a man able to make anything happen, even very unpleasant things indeed.
‘Go home,’ said Korshak. ‘Go back to New York. Go back to your son, your wife, your family. They need you. That’s where you belong. You understand me?’ It was, one might think, an offer it would be unwise to refuse. But Olympitis says he had his answer ready: ‘Sidney,’ he said, ‘it’s kind of you to call, but I can’t. Ever. I know, of course, that something could happen to me. But if my son becomes an orphan, would it help him? I don’t think so. Anyway, ]
[I’ll just have to risk it, there’s nothing else I can do.’ A long silence followed, and then Korshak’s response: ‘I guess not. Nothing you can do at all… but I guess you’ll be OK, kid. Go carefully.’ Phew! Olympitis had appealed to the Family’s code – and it had worked.
It probably helped that he and Korshak got along. They once, he says, had lunch at New York’s renowned La Grenouille, when the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, the gangster-embracing head of the Teamsters Union, was in the news – Korshak, naturally, was the Teamsters’ lawyer. A couple of drinks in, Olympitis asked Korshak what had happened to Hoffa. ‘You like the food?’ growled the bear-like Korshak, unhelpfully. ‘Eat your lunch.’ Another two drinks in, Olympitis couldn’t restrain himself: ‘Come on, Sidney: Jimmy Hoffa – what happened?’ Korshak, Olympitis recalls, ‘looked at me, piercingly, and said, “Did you shower this morning, kid?” Yes.
“And did you use soap?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Finish your goddamn lunch.”’ Which he thinks was Korshak’s way of saying Hoffa had been turned into soap.
Bold, that, to quiz Korshak so defiantly. But Olympitis is bold, once facing down a press tycoon by telling him that if he printed an anti-Manoli story, he’d effectively be an accessory to murder. Bold at cards, too, playing for ‘much more than I could afford – it’s no fun gambling at stakes you can afford’. There were dicey times: he lost so badly one night, he phoned Gamblers Anonymous at 3am, got a voice message saying they were only open from 9am to 5pm, headed back to the tables – and came out £55,000 to the good.
He has given up, as of about 15 years ago. ‘Your nerves go at around 55 to 60. But when you’re young, you have extraordinary nerves about making a bet you can’t afford without blinking.’ It is, he says, just like running a public company, something he did from his mid-30s on and would love still to be doing. But, as with gambling, ‘Your nerve goes, your concentration goes, your stamina goes, you can’t keep it up.’
It’s amazing he did keep it up, back in the late 1980s, when he was CEO of Aitken Hume, the controversial merchant bank co-founded by the former cabinet minister and convict Jonathan Aitken. ‘What can I say about Jonathan? I liked Jonathan, but if you’re chief executive and you walk into a board meeting, you’ve got to feel your chairman is behind you. And the one thing you could rely on Jonathan for was that he would always let you down.’
Another thing Olympitis could rely upon was that board members of his various companies would be upset about his all-too-frequent appearances in gossip columns, squiring Princess Ira or romancing the actress Valerie Perrine; publishing a best-selling (‘in London’) novel and hanging out with Norman Mailer; giving parties atwhich Mick Jagger and David Bowie performed
Dancing in the Street together; unintentionally being the main character in a Harpers & Queen story about the ‘Return of the Playboy’; and generally having a frolicsome time.
Because, until he met Emily, ‘the last thing I wanted was to get married. I said to myself, I’ve got my son and I love living alone. I’m having this wonderful life because I was earning quite a lot of money. I had lots of girlfriends, but I wouldn’t commit to any of them. I was very happy and I didn’t want a [second] wife and more children. But now I’ve got them, and I’m thrilled it worked out that way. Because had I gone the other way, I’d probably be dead.’ He pauses, smiles. ‘Just burning too many candles at both ends.’
Which is exactly, and very winningly, what his book describes, in spades. Go on: read all about it. (
Marked Cards by Emmanuel
Olympitis (Quartet, £16) is out now
I’ve known Manoli for most of my working life, says Naim Attallah. I hope this latest book will be his crowning glory. He truly deserves it. Bravo for his outstanding effort.