James Goldsmith

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James "Jimmy" Goldsmith (1933-1997) was a successful businessman and political dilettante who, though born in Paris, had a significant influence on British financial and political circles. He was known for campaigning against membership of the European Union and on environmental issues. He bankrolled a short-lived British political party, and was involved in various scandals and conspiracy theories.

He was at the centre of a successful family which also included his politician father Frank, environmentalist brother Teddy, socialite wife Annabel, politician son Zac, and journalist daughter Jemima. Zac Goldsmith is now a high-ranking member of the British Conservative Party.

Business career[edit]

Goldsmith was known as a less than ethical businessman: a corporate raider who would launch hostile takeovers and strip a company of its assets. The Observer described him in 2001 thus: "To his detractors, Goldsmith was unscrupulous in the quest for wealth, bullying, intimidating — if not the unacceptable face of capitalism himself, then a close associate of those who were."[1] He was reportedly the influence for the character of Sir Larry Wildman in Oliver Stone's film Wall Street.

His business ventures included licencing Alka-Seltzer in the UK, founding childrenswear and childcare product chain Mothercare, and in his career as a corporate raider buying the food conglomerate behind beef drink Bovril. He collaborated with financiers Slater Walker and later seized control of the firm when it ran into financial problems and had to be rescued by the Bank of England.[2] A senior civil servant (Treasury Under-Secretary Brian Unwin) expressed surprise at Goldsmith's takeover, referring to him as someone with a reputation as "a playboy and speculator".[3]

Clermont Set[edit]

The Clermont Set or Mayfair Set was an informal group of gamblers who met in the Clermont Club in London's Mayfair in the 1960s and 1970s. Its members included upper-class figures and writers and artists, including James Goldsmith and missing peer Lord Lucan.

John Aspinall[edit]

The Clermont Club's founder and one of the group's most important figures was eccentric zookeeper and misanthrope John AspinallWikipedia (1926-2000). A product of the British Raj's ruling class, he moved to London where he worked as a bookmaker. He campaigned for liberalisation of betting laws, leading to the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, which allowed casinos to operate legally for the first time, albeit only as private members' clubs. Aspinall's own casino at the Clermont was accused of large-scale cheating, including marking cards.[4]

Aspinall set up a private zoo, at first in his back garden in London, then at Howletts in Kent and Port Lympne, also in Kent (the stately home had formerly belonged to Philip Sassoon, a Rothchild and cousin of poet Siegfried Sassoon). The zoo was known for its policy of close contact between keepers and animals and the large number of keepers killed by the animals.[4]

Lord Lucan[edit]

Private Eye magazine falsely claimed the the group had been involved in smuggling Lord Lucan out of the UK after the 1974 death of his nanny, whom Lucan is widely suspected of having murdered. One of several people mentioned in reports, Goldsmith sued over the claims, and won. This resulted in the magazine running a vendetta against Goldsmith, whom they called Sir Jams Fishpaste.[2]

Lucan's death is still the subject of conspiracy theories. John Pearson's book The Gamblers and Lucan, a 2013 TV drama written by Jeff Pope, repeated allegations that Aspinall had been deeply involved in Lord Lucan's murder scheme.[5] Bill Shand Kydd, another member of the same circle and a relative by marriage of both Lucan and Princess Diana, was also suspected of involvement.[6]

There are also rumours about the Clermont Set planning a military coup in the early 1970s. At the time Lucan became increasingly disturbed, his marriage failing and gambling debts mounting. He purchased Mein Kampf and a biography of Kemal Atatürk from a London bookshop; he also listened to recordings of Hitler's speeches although there is no suggestion that Lucan was racist or antisemitic. Lucan and other members of the Clermont Set discussed the necessity for a right-wing military takeover of the UK to save it from trade unionists and liberals; the prime minister at the time was the Conservative Ted Heath, although this echoed similar rumours about anti-Harold Wilson coup plots.[7] This was almost certainly nothing more than idle talk.

David Stirling[edit]

David Stirling, founder of the British special forces group the SAS, was another member of the same social circle. He set up a paramilitary organisation GB75, intended to protect Britain in the event of a trade union or communist takeover. With James Goldsmith, Stirling also worked on plans to secretly infiltrate and destabilise the British trade union movement.[8]

Referendum Party[edit]

Jimmy was a campaigner against the European Union and its predecessors. He served as a French MEP for the Majorité pour l'autre Europe party from 1994, and led the Europe of Nations group in the European Parliament.

He was the major force behind the Referendum Party, which like the later, marginally more successful Ukip, called for a referendum on leaving the EU, and not because it wanted to remain. The party temporarily gained an MP on 8 March 1997 when Thatcherite Conservative MP George Gardiner defected (this followed his 1994 defection from the Church of England over his opposition to women priests). Gardiner had already been deselected by his party and would have been unable to stand at the next election as a Conservative. He did not stay long in the House of Commons: a general election was called 2 weeks later for May 1 and parliament was dissolved. Gardiner stood as the Referendum Party candidate but lost.[9]

The Referendum Party mounted a big campaign in the 1997 general election, sending a VHS videocassette to 5 million households bearing a message from smarmy TV presenter Gavin Campbell (best known for populist consumer rights/talking dog programme That's Life!).[10] Jimmy stood in the Putney constituency of weird-looking Conservative culture and sports minister David Mellor. Mellor lost his seat - to the pro-European Labour Party candidate - while Jimmy got 1,518 votes (3.5%).[11]

Jimmy Goldsmith died soon after the 1997 election, and combined with its less than stellar result in that vote, the party gave up on electoral dreams. It transformed into the Referendum Movement, which in 1999 merged with Paul Sykes's Euro Information Campaign, becoming the Democracy Movement. This group spend GBP 500,000 campaigning for anti-European candidates in the 2001 general election. They continued their campaigns into the 2010s.[12]


Frank Goldsmith[edit]

Jimmy's father Francis "Frank" GoldsmithWikipedia (1878-1967) was a Conservative MP and hotelier.

Teddy Goldsmith[edit]

His brother Edward "Teddy" GoldsmithWikipedia (1926-2009) was a writer and environmentalist campaigner, prominent in the early history of what was to become the Green Party of England and Wales.

Annabel Goldsmith[edit]

Born Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart in 1934, Jimmy's widow Lady Annabel GoldsmithWikipedia is best known as the namesake of London nightclub Annabel's, dating back to her marriage to businessman Mark Birley. She had an affair with Jimmy while married to Birley, to the amusement of London's gossip columnists.[13]

Annabel was involved with many of Jimmy's campaigns and after his death she took a prominent role in the Referendum Movement and Democracy Movement, successors to the Referendum Party. The Democracy Movement campaigned for a Leave vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum that marked the belated fulfilment of the Referendum Party's dreams.[14]

Zac Goldsmith[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Zac Goldsmith

Frank Zacharias Robin Goldsmith (b. 1975) is a Conservative politician, who serves as MP for Richmond Park and is the Conservative Party's 2016 candidate for Mayor of London. He was for a time registered as non-domiciled in the UK for tax purposes (thanks to his father's dual nationality), but following a media outcry declared that he would pay full UK taxes; he was also investigated for campaign finance irregularities following the 2010 general election, but the Electoral Commission found that even though his methods were "not good practice" he had done nothing illegal.[15]

He has come out in favour of Brexit (withdrawal from the European Union).[16]

Zac has long been known for his environmentalism. This includes campaigning against expansion of Heathrow airport, which coincidentally lies near his Richmond Park constituency. Early in his career he took over uncle Teddy's magazine The Ecologist.[1]

He has been married twice, to the ridiculously-named environmentalist Sheherazade BentleyWikipedia (whose Wikipedia page has difficulty spelling her name), and then to Alice Miranda Rothschild, an undistinguished but rich member of the Rothschild family.

Jemima Goldsmith[edit]

Born in 1972, Jemima GoldsmithWikipedia initially came to prominence as a socialite, and was married to Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan from 1995-2004. When she decided she didn't like living in Pakistan and divorced him, she returned to the UK, where she dated floppy-haired actor Hugh Grant, and began working seriously in journalism for publications including fashion magazine British Vogue, pretentious style mag Vanity Fair, and boring left-wing news magazine New Statesman. She was initially a supporter of Julian Assange following his arrest for questioning over rape allegations, and was one of a group of celebrities who stood bail for him; however she later changed her mind over the weird cult of Julian. She has also been involved in many liberal campaigns, including press reform grouping "Hacked Off".


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1], The Observer, 2001
  2. 2.0 2.1 See the Wikipedia article on James Goldsmith.
  3. Quoted Banking Systems in the Crisis: The Faces of Liberal Capitalism edited by Suzanne J. Konzelmann, Marc Fovargue-Davies, p87
  4. 4.0 4.1 See the Wikipedia article on John Aspinall (zoo owner).
  5. Lucan, ITV: Review, Independent, 12 Dec 2013
  6. Bill Shand Kydd: Obituary, The Telegraph, 31 Dec 2014
  7. Desperate Lucan dreamt of fascist coup, Martin Bright, The Guardian, 9 Jan 2005
  8. See the Wikipedia article on David Stirling.
  9. See the Wikipedia article on George Gardiner (politician).
  10. See the Wikipedia article on Referendum Party.
  11. See the Wikipedia article on Putney (UK Parliament constituency).
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Democracy Movement.
  13. See the Wikipedia article on Lady Annabel Goldsmith.
  14. EU referendum: 10 alternatives to the official Leave and Remain campaigns, Brian Wheeler, BBC, 22 April 2016
  15. See the Wikipedia article on Zac Goldsmith.
  16. [2], New Statesman, 21 Feb 2016