I only cheated on my husband with one man... though it was for several years
By Angella Johnson
Last updated at 10:54 AM on 26th June 2011
Amanda Eliasch at her home in Cheyne Walk
It was over lunch at the exclusive Nobu restaurant in Mayfair that socialite and artist Amanda Eliasch dropped the bombshell: she told her husband Johan that she wanted a divorce.
The multi-millionaire sportswear tycoon’s calm response – that he knew she was having an affair – almost had her choking on her sushi.
She became hysterical and broke down in tears as he revealed that he had received an anonymous letter several months earlier, detailing her intimate relationship with Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh, the French plastic surgeon and Botox specialist, who numbers Madonna and Elle Macpherson among his famous clients.
Johan, a close friend of Prince Andrew and once an environmental adviser to Gordon Brown, said they were being blackmailed and suggested Amanda do nothing about ending their marriage. But the love triangle soon made headlines, after a business associate of Dr Sebagh allegedly sold the story to a national newspaper.
‘It was devastating to see it splashed everywhere,’ says Amanda. ‘I was sad for Johan. He’s a good person and didn’t deserve to have his name linked to a scandal that was entirely my fault.’
In truth, the couple – who have two sons, Charlie, 19, and Jack, 15 – had been living virtually separate lives for several years. Johan, 49, spent most of his time jetting around the world overseeing his multi-national corporation, which includes sporting goods brand Head and a Brazilian investment company, while Amanda flew between their homes in France and London. They were only formally divorced in 2007, after 21 years together, and remain good friends.
Speaking for the first time about the affair that ended her marriage, 51-year-old Amanda expresses her profound regret about the break-up and confesses that given her time again, she would never have strayed.
She says: ‘My marriage started to go badly wrong after I had my second son. I was 36 and looking back it’s now clear that I was suffering from post-natal depression, but no one knew it then.
‘I then fell in love with Jean, who was also married, and I behaved like a complete fool. It was not that Johan and I had an open marriage. I think we just didn’t talk about what each other was doing.’
Amanda and her husband multi-millionaire Johan Eliasch at a party in London in September 2002
The affair with Sebagh went on for 11 years and continued even after public exposure. She wanted them to marry but he refused to leave his wife.
‘Everyone thinks that I’m this wild promiscuous person, but it’s not true. I only cheated on my husband with one person, though admittedly it was for several years,’ she explains.
‘I deeply regret it because it was so destructive. But I was lonely and searching for some illusive idealised idea of love. It’s quite impossible, of course, but I’m a hopeless romantic. Unfortunately, I keep looking in all the wrong places.’
Charismatic: Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh, Amanda's lover for several years
Her quest remains unfulfilled. She has dated only two other men since the end of her marriage – lyricist Sir Tim Rice and writer Tim Willis – both unsuccessfully. And a recent attempt at on-line dating in Los Angeles has convinced her to focus on her artistic endeavours.
A grand-daughter of the St Trinian’s film director Sidney Gilliat, Amanda trained as an actress at Rada and has forged a recent career as a photographer. She caused controversy in 2001 when she staged an exhibition of her art called Peep, which featured explicit photographs of naked women. Residents close to the London gallery complained that children were viewing the images on the way to school.
Having received a substantial chunk of her husband’s £400 million fortune in her divorce settlement, she can easily afford to indulge her artistic temperament. Next month her first play, As I Like It, based on her life and directed by Lyall Watson – who was her drama teacher at Rada 25 years ago – opens at The Chelsea Theatre for two weeks. Interior designer Nicky Haslam has styled the set.
The play, in which a lone actress tells a colourful and occasionally shocking potted history of Amanda’s life, had its genesis in a request from her father, journalist and writer Anthony Cave Brown, for her to write 5,000 words by the ‘end of the weekend’.
The request came when she met him at the age of 22 after 20 years of estrangement, and she is not sure whether it was her resentment over his long absence or a mischievous streak, but she decided to shock him with an unexpurgated precis of her life.
During our interview, she sits on a vast seashell-inspired bed, in the mirrored boudoir of her immaculate three-storey house on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. She breaks down in tears while describing how growing up without a father impacted on her relationships with men.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever come to terms with not having had a father around and that’s why I made so many mistakes with men. I wanted them to be fatherly to me, when they saw me as a sexual partner,’ she says.
There is an endearing openness about Amanda. For all her worldliness she seems like a lost little girl, with her hair in ringlets and her pelvis-skimming black dress, which she cheekily flicks up to reveal her black Spanx underwear.
Her life story has all the makings of a good drama. Her mother, Caroline, was the eldest of Gilliat’s two daughters and a gifted opera singer who, while studying at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris in the Fifties, fell in love with Cave Brown, a foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail.
‘I imagine they were introduced by friends or met at a party,’ says Amanda. ‘He was then sent off to Lebanon as the Middle East correspondent. He lived extravagantly and had his suits made in Savile Row, but didn’t believe in paying bills.
‘My grandparents were horrified when my mother married such a rogue. Yet they gave them £60,000 as a wedding present, which my father blew on deep-sea-diving equipment and lavish parties.
‘So my mother arrived in Beirut seven months pregnant with me and had to go and work at the local English radio station as a presenter because there was a mountain of debts and she had to pay them off.’
Amanda's 50th birthday party at Number 1 Mayfair, London
The marriage was a disaster – Cave Brown was a mean and violent drunk who would lash out at his wife. In 1962, when Amanda was about 18 months old and Caroline was pregnant with their son Toby, she left Cave Brown.
‘My grandparents didn’t believe in divorce, so mother was in disgrace,’ Amanda recalls. ‘They thought she was irresponsible and gave her a little cottage in Wiltshire to live in next to theirs, but they were very much in control. Mummy had very little money of her own.’
She adds: ‘Growing up I missed my father even though I had no memory or image of him. I think I mourned his loss until I met him.’
Her desire for male contact is only too evident in her description of a deeply disturbing incident that took place when she was eight. ‘Mummy sent me down the lane to fetch eggs from the gardener.
‘We went to his shed where he tied me up and molested me. Afterwards he gave me ten shillings. I thought it was funny and told my friends, who came to watch next time.’
After the third occasion, Amanda told her mother, who called the police, and then decided to send her daughter to board at Dauntsey’s School in nearby Devizes, where she was bullied and teased. ‘Girls two years older than me washed my hair down the loo. I was their slave and they beat me,’ Amanda says. Between the ages of ten and 16 she went to Stonar School in Melksham near Bath.
The relationship between mother and daughter was never close. ‘Mother had the most glorious voice. It sounds weird but I only loved her when she was singing.
‘She was like a bag woman. She never threw anything away. She used to lock me and my brother in our room in the afternoons for naps. He would go to sleep but I would get up to mischief. I was so bored that once I cut all my hair off.’
There is little love lost between her and Toby, for whom she has retained a childhood resentment.
‘From the moment he was born I saw him as a rival. He was the first boy in the family for two generations so he was considered a treasure. He was extremely clever and adorable, so I hated him.’
When Amanda was 12, she traced her father through his book publisher and wrote several letters pleading for him to make contact – but it would be ten years before he responded. By then Amanda was working in London, having left school at 16 with no formal qualifications.
‘We met at Heathrow. I only had one picture of him from when he married my mother, but I recognised him immediately,’ she says.
‘He was tall and handsome.’
They met ten times before he died in 2006 – and she has kept his ashes.
When Amanda was 20, she wed old Etonian Sebastian Riley-Smith of the John Smith brewery family, but the marriage lasted less than two years.
‘I hated being a Chelsea housewife and he was rather dull,’ is all she will say about the union.
Escaping the apron strings, she got a job at a Swedish investment bank, where Johan Eliasch, known as a turnaround artist, was a partner.
‘He was very clever and we were close friends before we became lovers,’ says Amanda. They married in 1988 after she proposed one morning while he was reading a newspaper.
Amanda wore a turban and brocade jacket for the ceremony and held a lavish party at the Natural History Museum to celebrate.
The couple lived a gilded life in a £10 million town house in Belgravia, where they were waited on by servants, and jetted around the world in private planes. ‘Our social circle was an eclectic mix of artists, celebrities, royals and politicians,’ says Amanda.
Although born into a wealthy Swedish industrialist family – Johan will inherit about £50 million when he is 50 – his wealth is largely self-made. In 1991 Johan struck out on his own, establishing Equity Partners with minor interests held by Charles and Maurice Saatchi, and acquiring London Films, the production company founded by Sir Alexander Korda.
An avid skier, he gained control of sportswear firm Head in 1995 and quickly revitalised its fortunes by eliminating 1,100 jobs and discontinuing disappointing product lines. Later he became treasurer for the Tory Party but then switched to Labour and became an adviser to Gordon Brown in 2007.
Amanda started to feel she was being left behind as his business and political ambitions grew and they spent less time together.
She was introduced to Sebagh at a charity event in 1992, but they only became lovers in 1998. ‘It was a complete coup de foudre. I like tall, dark men with haunting faces and big noses – the more cadaverous- looking the better – and they must be very clever,’ she says.
They would sneak off to Sebagh’s flat off Hanover Square in Mayfair. ‘I thought of nothing except him marrying me. We kind of matched, we had fun. He liked his back scratched like a piggy and we loved the same things: learning, reading, exhibitions and music,’ she writes in the play.
After the affair ended, Amanda dated Sir Tim Rice in 2009 for more than a year. They enjoyed cosy dinners at The Ivy restaurant and were frequent visitors at each other’s homes. ‘We shared a love of art, music and culture, but it was never a full-blown romance,’ she says.
‘There were too many cars other than mine in and out of the drive at his home in Barnes,’ she says – and laughs mischievously.
As with all the other men in her life, she’s managed to remain friends with Rice despite the split. These days, she is enjoying the company of author Tim Willis, but says their initial romance has settled into a close friendship.
‘I’m too busy to be in a relationship,’ she says. ‘I’m channelling all my energy into my art. I think also that the play has been a kind of cathartic experience and it’s given me the confidence to be strong without a man in my life.’
At her father’s request, she only adapted her story for the stage after both her parents had died. It has been a painful labour of love.
‘It’s my soul, but I don’t know If I can watch it all the way through because it’s too raw,’ she says. ‘Sometimes I think I’ve been too honest and other times, too explicit. But I wanted to tell the truth, even though it’s hard.’
- As I Like It is at The Chelsea Theatre (Chelsea Theatre | Home, 020 7352 1967) from July 4 to 14.
Read more: Socialite Amanda Eliasch only cheated on her husband with one man... though it was for several years | Mail Online
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