The Mystery Woman of Kazakh Billionaire Timur Kulibayev
Mr Kulibayev is married to Dinara Nazarbayeva, daughter of the Kazakh president, but also had a mistress Goga Ashkenazi, who had given birth to two sons with him.
For the saga of Prince Andrew’s former home remains an intriguing centre-piece in the extraordinary career of Goga Ashkenazi, a young Kazakh woman who is both clever and sexy — a Russian-raised, English-educated ‘oligarch’, indeed, a seasoned business hand, and still only 36, the Daily Mail reported.
Friendship with a royal duke is one thing — but most of all she likes the world to recognise how successful she is, and how rich.
She was at it again last week, giving an interview in which she ostentatiously drip, drip, dripped details of her lavish, billionaire lifestyle while flaunting the trappings of her wealth.
There was the private jet, of course, chauffeur-driven Bentley, pinstriped butler, uniformed maid and the vast treasure-filled West London mansion complete with celebrity neighbours — the Beckhams, naturally.
But perhaps the most eye-catching feature was not the Picasso or other artworks on the wall, or the chandeliers shaped like pagodas, but the revelation that the house with its multiple floors is used by her only at weekends.
Instead, it is her two young sons who live there with a team of carers, while from Monday to Friday she is 600 miles away, running a fashion label in Milan — where she enjoys another equally glamorously appointed home.
With breathtaking insouciance, she blames the lack of schools in the Italian city for this extraordinary arrangement. So while she works and socialises in Milan, her two sons — aged eight and four — live with their nannies (yes, one each) and tutors in the £27.5 million Holland Park pile that was bought for cash.
The arrangement is just one reason people envy and disapprove of Goga Ashkenazi — along with her money and her background.
It was 5ft 10in tall Goga who introduced her friend Prince Andrew to another friend, Kazakh oil and banking billionaire Timur Kulibayev, son-in-law of the President of Kazakhstan.
The back-story is well-known: divorced Andrew had failed for several years to sell Sunninghill for the £12 million asking price and was prepared to take less.
Along comes Timur, the kingpin in Kazakhstan’s energy sector, calmly paying over the odds — a whopping £15 million — for the white elephant. We’ve never been told why.
For the delectable Goga it was a double triumph. On one arm was a prince, so relieved and grateful to her that he took her to Royal Ascot and ushered her into the royal box to meet his mother, the Queen.
On her other arm, was one of the most powerful figures in Kazakhstan, who was able to tell his father-in-law, the autocratic President Nursultan Nazarbayev (at the helm since 1989, just before the break-up of the Soviet Union), how he had earned the gratitude of the Queen’s favourite son.
It could not have been a better moment for pugnacious Kulibayev to try to win kudos with the president, whose youngest daughter Dinara is his wife and the mother of their three children.
For Goga happens to be his mistress, and at the time she had just given birth to her first son with him. Another boy would follow four years later.
As for Goga herself, she laughingly dismisses her alleged ‘fixer’ role in the house deal.
‘I introduced them, that’s all,’ she declared in an interview with The Times . . . ‘and it just happened that one was looking for a house and the other wanted to sell’.
This doesn’t begin to explain why Kulibayev left the house to rot for some seven years before having it demolished, and is only now putting in plans for a replacement.
And he’s still a friend of Goga, of course.
And it also helps explain why Goga Ashkenazi is so successful. She’s good at networking and making high-profile friends.
Saif Gaddafi, the late Libyan dictator’s son — currently under sentence of death by firing squad for war crimes — was one. The Fiat heir, playboy Lapo Elkann, is another. So is Flavio Briatore, the former F1 racing tycoon.
More recently she has been linked with Scots-born Hollywood hunk Gerard Butler, and another new friend is the French intellectual and author Bernard-Henri Levy.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is also a pal — her Kazakh father, an engineer, who brought her up in Moscow, was a member of the old Central Committee of the Communist Party under him. But it’s among the major players in Kazakhstan’s post-Communist rush for riches, that Goga has felt really at home.
Hers is a very modern fable of a go-getting woman with a compulsive desire to be supremely rich and successful. Most women would find the extent of her compulsion difficult to understand, however.
Goga, working hard to expand Vionnet, the venerated, 100-year-old French fashion house she acquired four years ago, lives in a 17th-century palazzo in Milan where its headquarters are based.
She has appointed herself its creative director, and the house is stuffed with art — there’s a Warhol, a Tracey Emin light installation and a piece by Marc Quinn, the Brit Art sculptor.
But it is hard to know if she appreciates all these treasures. For, as she relates, her life is so busy that she has never used the pool in the garden or viewed a film in the basement cinema.
More than anything, it seems, she desires the world to know just how rich she is — ‘her face becomes very still when the phrase “billionaire oligarch” is used about her,’ says one close Kazakh figure. ‘She adores that.’ At any opportunity, she will draw attention to the retinue of 15 servants, including a butler (who serves iced green tea on a silver tray), at her Holland Park house and that a chauffeur drives her around in her £137,000 Bentley.
The mansion was bought via an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands in 2007, the year Adam, the first of her sons with Kulibayev, was born at the Portland Hospital in London.
She had just divorced American Stefan Ashkenazy, heir to the L’Ermitage hotel group — she kept his name but the ‘y’ become an ‘i’ after a passport error. (His previous girlfriend was Angelina Jolie.)
She appointed Madonna’s favourite interior designer to renovate the place with carpets so thick you can trip over your feet. When she finally moved in after the £10 million refit, one van was assigned just to deliver her collection of Hermes Birkin handbags — which can cost £35,000 or more each.
Then there is her private jet, a £40 million Global 6000 which has white leather sofas and seats for 13, in which she flashes home from Milan to see her sons and whisks them away, with their nannies and her mother, on frequent holidays — the most recent an Easter skiing trip to St Moritz and a long weekend in Barbados.
Sometimes the jet whisks her home to Kazakhstan for a spot of wolf-hunting — she is said to be a good shot — or to Ibiza where she likes to go clubbing at DC10, a former aircraft hangar converted into a throbbing techno music nightclub.
Behind the purchase of the jet there is said to lie an intriguing story. According to reports in Kazakhstan, three years ago Goga was aboard her previous jet, an eight-seat Gulfstream IV, preparing to fly from Venice’s Marco Polo airport to Moscow, when a tyre burst.
The newspaper Respublica (since then shut down by the authoritarian Kazakh government and now online only) reported that she took pictures of the burst tyre and emailed them to Kulibayev, with a message that she could hardly fly his children about the world in a plane that was ‘about to fall to pieces’. The Global 6000 seems to have been the result.
All in all, it is a remarkable story for a girl brought up in the utilitarian world of communist Russia.
Her parents, both engineers, were dedicated Party figures in Kazakhstan who moved to Moscow, where the family — Goga has an older sister — enjoyed comfortably elevated lives in the days of the old Soviet empire.
When it crumbled, her father used his connections to privatise a Kazakh factory and was among those who did well out of the capitalist scramble for spoils.
Overnight they were rich and Goga, now 12, was told she was to be educated in an English boarding school because it would get her into ‘the best universities in the world’.
She started first at Buckswood Grange in East Sussex, whose website prominently features Goga at Ascot with the Duke of York.
She moved on to Stowe but left under a cloud after she was found kissing a boy in her room. Unruffled, Goga simply switched to Rugby in time to do her A-levels.
To her contemporaries at Rugby, there is no surprise at seeing her stratospheric lifestyle. ‘Goga was always on the way up, even at 17,’ says one who was in her year and her house, Stanley, one of Rugby’s seven houses allocated to girls.
‘She was very body-conscious and super-glamorous, but rather solitary. The rest of us were in jeans and T-shirts, but she was always in designer labels, beautifully cut, except when she was in her gym kit — she was obsessed with fitness and how she looked.
‘Mind you she was very obliging when we put on our end-of-year skit, dressing up in a black leotard to do a dance routine, and she used to come to the pub which we were allowed to go to on a Friday night.’
‘We thought she was rather imperious,’ says her old house chum. ‘But she was a worker — she wanted to get to Oxford, and she did.’ Indeed, Goga got five A-levels, four with A grades and one B.
At Somerville College, however, where she studied history and economics, she emerged with a lowly Third.
Undaunted, she tried commercial banking with Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley in London, and then she and her elder sister decided to plunge into the burgeoning oil and gas world of Kazakhstan by starting — with their father’s help — an engineering company.
It set up compressor stations to service the country’s booming oil and gas industry.
That is when she met Kulibayev, the second richest man in Kazakhstan, and agreed to spend part of her time looking after his interests in London, using her coquettish charms to lobby for him.
But it wasn’t long before Kulibayev himself found her charms irresistible, and in 2007 her first son was born.
She had already met Prince Andrew in Phuket in 2001 when she was going out with party-loving Dino Lalvani, son of Binatone electronics tycoon Gulu Lalvani —who once took Princess Diana dancing at Annabel’s club in London.
In London, and Kazakhstan, Goga and the Prince became what she described as ‘very, very’ good friends.
She has a picture of herself and the Prince wrapped in towels outside a sauna in the Kazakh countryside, taken when he was on an official visit as Britain’s trade ambassador. They also went rafting.
So she was in the perfect position to introduce the Queen’s son to her billionaire lover Kulibayev.
While Goga boasts about being a self-made woman, one must surely wonder just how her supremely glamorous life would be if she had not met Timur Kulibayev and given him two sons.
Timur’s widely publicised relationship with Goga, especially their children, has not been easy for his wife Dinara.
‘Goga committed the sin of making the president’s daughter look foolish,’ says a Kazakh government source.
Early in the relationship, Kulibayev took his wife and Goga on holiday to Turkey’s Marmaris coast, keeping them separate from the other.
While he booked his wife and family into a hotel, Goga was perched on a yacht in the harbour.
‘She waits for her lover on the yacht, while Dinara resides in a hotel,’ read one breathless press account at the time.
Now 48, Dinara has been officially resident in Switzerland since 2007, the year Goga’s first son was born. She lives on a £50 million estate overlooking Lake Geneva.
However, in between Goga’s sons, Dinara and Kulibayev had a daughter Alishya, in 2010.
Despite President Nazarbayev’s early anger at Kulibayev’s treatment of his daughter, the domestic arrangements are now accepted —though the son-in-law may have slipped to second favourite in the race to succeed the tyrannical Nazarbayev. Now his elder daughter Dariga, 53, shows all the signs of being groomed for power.
As for Goga, she is currently putting most of her energies into very publicly making the Vionnet fashion label indispensable in the richest salons of society.
To celebrate her acquisition, she had a tattoo of a zip inked along the nape of her neck.
So could this extraordinary divorcee remarry? After all, she and Timur Kulibayev don’t cohabit and he’s still very much married to someone else.
One issue, unsurprisingly, is money. ‘I can’t quite marry someone drastically poorer than me, so that rules out a lot of men,’ she has said. ‘And I need a certain age gap: people below 40 aren’t mature enough and older than 50 they’re boring.’
No chance for the perennially available Prince Andrew then — he’s 56.
And Timur Kulibayev had better watch out . . . he’s 50 in September.
By Richard Kay and Geoffrey Levy for the Daily Mail