When Sita White, 43-year-old daughter of the late British industrialist Lord Gordon White, dropped dead in her Santa Monica yoga class last May, her life was in complete disarray. There were the drugs she used and her questionable “nancial advisers.” There was her child with Pakistani politician Imran Khan (now divorced from heiress Jemima Goldsmith). There was the bitter struggle with her half-brother and stunning young stepmother for a larger share of her father’s fortune. VICKY WARD investigates.
On May 24, a gloriously sunny Monday afternoon in Los Angeles, a funeral service was held at the St. Monica Catholic church for Ana-Luisa (Sita) White, the 43-year-old daughter of the late Lord Gordon White, flamboyant head of the American arm of the giant industrial conglomerate Hanson P.l.c., which he co-founded. On the morning of May 13, Sita had dropped dead right before the start of a 9:15 class at the Yoga Works studio on Main Street in Santa Monica. She had been there with her stepmother, Victoria White O’Gara, a stunning, raven-haired, 41-year-old former model.
Forty or so mourners were at the church service, none of them blood relatives of the deceased; Sita’s mother was not in attendance, nor was her sister, her half-brother, or even her daughter. Nor was her stepmother. The pallbearers were led by one John Ursich, 41, a strikingly handsome Argentinean-born waiter, who had wed Sita in June 2002, but who was divorcing her at the time of her death. She claimed in legal papers that he had been abusive to her. (He denies this.)
Two nights before the service a group of Sita’s friends, including London financier Nicholas Camilleri, former British race-car driver Rupert Keegan, former model Inge Hazebroek, and real-estate investor Ali Winston, had sat sipping champagne at Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills. They were confused. “Who sent that e-mail?” asked one of Sita’s friends, referring to a missive outlining the complicated funeral arrangements. “Who’s coming?” No one could give answers.
The eulogy was given by Camilleri, 44, an intense, rosy-cheeked man, who surprisingly, given the occasion, had a bitter tone. Camilleri railed about the fact that Sita’s 48-year-old sister, Carolina, had called friends and family that morning to say she was not going. In fact, she had even gone to court to try to stop the funeral. As an alternative, Carolina was holding her own private vigil at four o’clock at Sita’s pretty $2 million home, on the top of a hill at the end of a cul-de-sac in Beverly Hills.
Camilleri had had a stormy relationship with Carolina for many years, and he was so angry that in the end he felt that he hadn’t said enough nice things about the deceased, which he later regretted. “I wanted to say how generous she was,” he says. But, he believes, she would have enjoyed the mayhem surrounding her death: “She was a drama queen!”
Ironically, Sita’s death got her the attention she had craved and been denied in life-not only from her father, who had professed to be disappointed in her and her sister, but also from her onetime lover former Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan, who refused to publicly recognize their daughter, Tyrian, now 12.
At six feet, Sita had been a striking woman, with blond, curly hair, big blue eyes, and a slim figure, which she maintained obsessively all her life. In recent years, fast living, drugs, cosmetic surgeries, and endless fasting had taken their toll, but in her late teens she had been considered a beauty-not perhaps as stunning as her older sister, Carolina, who modeled, but nonetheless a beauty.
Sita was a garrulous, vivacious soul, who loved to laugh, and her laugh was infectious. She wanted a life of excitement-it was in her genes. At one point she drove a Ford Econovan, the interior of which she’d had outfitted like a Learjet. Before her death she drove a Hummer. A lesser vehicle would not have done.
After the service Sita’s body was neither buried nor cremated; rather, it was returned to the morgue, where it remained on ice until the autopsy results came in because the L.A.P.D. had still not ruled out homicide. Only two months later, after careful examination, was it determined that she had died of natural causes, specifically an embolism in the lungs. The embolism had most likely been the result of a poorly differentiated sarcoma, a cancer that develops in the soft tissues of the body. Surprisingly, perhaps, given Sita’s history, there were no traces of drugs.
That Sita and Victoria White O’Gara had been together in yoga class seemed peculiar to many people, since it is recorded in a legal document-and her friends also say-that Sita had disliked her stepmother. Victoria had been married to Lord White, 40 years her senior, for three years when he died, at age 72, in 1995. “Think Stephanie Seymour, but five times as gorgeous,” says one person in describing Victoria. Sita felt that Victoria (along with her and Carolina’s 29-year-old half-brother, Lucas) had taken her share of what Sita estimated to be a $400 million estate. (According to Lucas’s spokesman, both the allegations and estimate should be treated with caution and skepticism.) Sita and Carolina had each been left a house in California, together worth about $2.25 million, but these technically remained the property of Panamanian trusts. The two also received monthly payments of around $13,000 each from an offshore trust, the principal of which they could not touch and, they claimed, never knew the details of.
In addition, they had gotten “accelerated” payments of approximately $500,000 each, in exchange for signing papers that stated they accepted the fact that the British part of their father’s estate was worth nothing. The sisters signed, so Sita said later, under great pressure and without fully understanding what they were doing.
Lord White died in 1995 at U.C.L.A. Medical Center, where he never woke from a coma brought on by years of failing health due to lung disease. Assisting in his care was Victoria’s mother, Dixie Tucker, a nurse. Lord White’s death certificate is missing from the Los Angeles County recorder’s office. Shortly after her hus-
band’s death, Victoria moved her former boyfriend, Tom O’Gara, into her and White’s Bel Air mansion. She married him on New Year’s Eve 1996.
Sita told a confidant that as a tactic to get her fair share of the estate she intended to befriend her stepmother. Her father, says a source, had taught her to “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” After separating from O’Gara in 2002, Victoria moved back to L.A. from Idaho, where she’d been living with him on a 4,000-acre ranch. According to the divorce papers, she had felt isolated and lonely there. Once they lived closer, Victoria and Sita started talking regularly on the phone. Sita even displayed Victoria’s photograph among those in her house.
But Sita was biding her time, waiting for the financial resources to target her stepmother. She planned, among other things, to try to halt a Christie’s sale arranged by Victoria of furniture, paintings, and artifacts from Sita’s father’s estate.
Sita had, over the years, confided her concerns about her inheritance to her father’s old friend Thomas Corbally, a devastatingly handsome man who had once been an intelligence agent and a roue. He had reportedly romanced heiresses Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton and fashion designer Mary McFadden, among others, and he had informed the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. about the Profumo affair in 1963. Throughout his life he had maintained a close but discreet relationship with Kroll Associates, the giant private-investigation and security firm.
Corbally had been a kindred spirit with Lord White, who had come to America in 1973 as plain Gordon White, with just $3,000 and a telex machine. White had used Corbally’s professional services to help do due diligence on nuts-and-bolts companies that needed paring down to achieve greater value. White helped build the Hanson empire by acquiring and streamlining them. Like Corbally, he had an eye for the ladies, in his day squiring such famous beauties as Grace Kelly, Joan Collins, and Ava Gardner.
Corbally died at 83, just a month before Sita did. His widow, Renee, 60, confirms that he was concerned to the end that, even though Sita was extraordinarily high-strung, some of her accusations should be investigated. Renee says, “Tom knew that Gordon White didn’t intend for the daughters (Sita and Carolina) to get the bulk of the inheritance. He felt they couldn’t handle money well, and he was disappointed in them. But Tom did think that there had been more money left for them than they got.”
In November of last year Sita and Carolina concluded an agreement with Lucas, who, in recent years, had successfully battled cancer. The sisters received final settlements of approximately $3 million each from the family trust. In return, they would no longer receive their monthly income payments. It wasn’t anywhere near the $150 million Sita had told people she’d hoped for, but it was something. In a surprising twist, one of the reasons Sita was able to get this settlement was that documents were made available to her by Victoria and her attorney.
According to a sworn legal statement made by Sita a few months after she had received the news of her settlement, she was invited to Victoria’s new, $6.1 million Beverly Hills house, next door to that of legendary film producer Robert Evans. At the gathering, Victoria introduced her to Cameron Saxby, whose child attended the same private school as one of Victoria’s three children by Tom O’Gara (Jack, six; Helen, five; and Thomas, four). Cameron is a matronly type, with shoulder-length graying hair and tired eyes. According to Sita, she agreed to let Cameron and her husband, Richard Saxby, a plausible-looking and -sounding businessman, invest her money. It was an introduction that Sita would come to believe caused her ruin.
The Saxbys have been involved in numerous lawsuits. Richard was the C.E.O. of Keystone Energy Services, Inc., an “electric services provider,” where he was accused of having inflated the trading prices of its stock; in that case the stockholder plaintiffs decided not to pursue the matter further because, according to Lionel Glancy, a lawyer hired to represent them, “there was no insurance and nothing to collect.” (The Saxbys did not respond to requests for comment.)
Following Victoria’s introduction, the Saxbys and Sita became inseparable with unnerving speed. Carolina had turned to more traditional money-management firms about what to do with her settlement. Even though Carolina and Sita had filed their joint lawsuit against Lucas, their relationship with each other was up and down. In fact, Carolina, who now lives quietly on a ranch in Central California, has told a friend that she and Sita reconciled only a month before Sita’s death.
In February, Sita and Cameron Saxby paid a visit to the Los Angeles law offices of estate-planning expert Elizabeth Nixon, a straight-talking 36-year-old redhead, in order to draw up a will and a trust for Sita. In that will, dated February 27, 2004, Sita appointed Cameron her executor and the guardian of Tyrian. In Sita’s trust, Cameron was named co-trustee. At the time, Sita had known the Saxbys less than four weeks. In the will she stipulated that none of the following were to be guardians of her daughter: “My mother, Elizabeth Kalen De Vazquez, my sister, Carolina Teresa White, my brother, Lucas Charles White, my step mother, Victoria Ann White, also known as Victoria White Ogara, nor Imran Khan or Peter Svennelson (Sita’s then boyfriend, according to Nixon).”
Something about Cameron at that meeting-and at subsequent ones-bothered Nixon. “I asked Sita, did she not have any other friends? Why was she giving so much control over to this one person?” she says.
Nixon sent Sita for tax advice to Wendy Barlin, a Los Angeles C.P.A., but Barlin declined to handle Sita as a client after just one meeting because, Barlin says, in their meeting and then on the phone, Cameron, always present, was so rude and aggressive. “It was f this and f that,” Barlin says. “Saxby riled Sita up until Sita railed against absolutely everyone in her life: her stepmother, her mother, her brother, her sister … ” The day before she died, Sita called Barlin back to apologize for both her and Cameron’s behavior and scheduled an appointment to meet with her the next day.
On April 1, Sita and Cameron met with the Corballys in New York. According to Renee, Cameron had drawn strange brown marks on her cheeks and introduced herself as “Elizabeth Marx.” Later, a sheepish Sita claimed that Cameron had asked to go to the meeting under an alias. At the meeting, Sita wanted Tom’s advice on how to pursue Lucas for yet more money. She seemed desperate.
“Her appearance changed dramatically between February and May,” says Nixon. “She became very, very thin.”
Tom told her he’d think about how she should proceed, but Sita was the impatient type. Back in Los Angeles, she drafted two letters, which she then faxed to Gregory Ehrlich, a young associate of Tom’s in New York whom he had said she could trust.
The first letter, to Lucas, read:
Dear Lucas; Brother,
Nearly nine years of torture has finally come to an end. As good as it feels to have this behind us, I am equally saddened by the lack of an emotional bond between us.
I know you have had the resources all along, and I had always believed that you would come to our rescue and do the right thing.
I have to wonder if you ever really knew the extent of the tribulations we were left to endure, as you knowingly turned your back on Tyrian and myself. You have shown virtually no compassion when you clearly had the financial resources to put an end to our plight.
We have been forced to live like gypsies in our own home, moving from room to room to escape the perils (leaks and extensive damage). How many times I pleaded with you as a custodian of the trust to provide necessary funds for taxes and repairs that have escalated to nearly one million dollars…
There is a handwritten postscript:
I asked you to settle for 6 million and sign everything away, and you said you would do it … yet nothing came.
(According to one of Lucas’s attorneys, over the years Lucas had assisted his sister generously. Lucas’s spokesman adds, “As you’d expect from a brother, he did assist his sister financially from time to time.”)
The second letter was to Imran Khan and his wife of nine years, British heiress Jemima Goldsmith. (On June 22, it was announced the two had divorced.) Imran is famous both for his dazzling good looks and for having led Pakistan to the World Cup cricket title in 1992. The son of an engineer, he attended Oxford University. In 1995, after romancing a series of English society beauties, he met Jemima, the daughter of billionaire financier and industrialist Sir James Goldsmith and Lady Annabel Vane Tempest Stewart. He was 42, and she was 21. They were instantly smitten and married within months.
After the wedding Jemima converted to Islam, and the couple moved to Pakistan, where Imran formed his own political party. In 2002 he was elected to Parliament, but his party has had little impact. The couple have two sons, Sulaiman, now seven, and Kasim, now five.
Illegitimacy is frowned upon in Pakistan, and Imran has never admitted publicly that he is Tyrian’s father. In 1997 Sita filed a paternity suit and a California judge declared him the father by default, since he didn’t show up to contest it.
Sita’s letter to the Khans read:
Dear Imran and Jemima,
I feel the time has come to address the issue of Tyrian’s future. I want to make it clear that I have removed myself from the equation. This is not about me, this is not about revenge, it is about justice; justice for Tyrian.
As we have been unable to come to any agreement in the past, I have taken the sole financial and emotional responsibility for Tyrian’s up bringing for the past eleven years. Acknowledgement of your obligation and responsibilities is long over do.
I am proposing that a Trust in the amount of 10 million dollars be established for Tyrian… This proposal is a final offer to bring this issue to a close without legal intervention… Refusal to respond is not acceptable.
I am in contact with a lawyer in Pakistan and people of substance who are greatly disturbed by your lack of willingness to do the right thing. They are standing by to inform the proper authorities and institute the action necessary to force the acknowledgement of Tyrian’s existence and your financial obligations which could have enormous political implications.
I am requesting a response within 7 days. Should you choose not to respond and agree to these terms, the fall out from media intervention in both Pakistan and the U.K. will be certain and out of my control.
Appalled, Ehrlich told her not to send the letters (she never did), and to be wary of the Saxbys if this was the advice they were giving.
Nixon says Sita had confided to her plans to pursue Victoria as well. “Cameron Saxby, strangely, was the one encouraging her in this,” says Nixon.
This spring Sita made out two checks amounting to approximately $2.4 million to the Saxbys, which, she claimed she was told, would be invested and would double within five years. On April 15, Tom Corbally died. Sita and Cameron flew to New York, where Sita attended the funeral. According to Sita, during the trip Cameron asked her to exchange blank checks, as a matter of trust.
Cameron later made out one of Sita’s to herself, for $2,500-which she said was for travel expenses. Sita claimed she was puzzled, since she was already covering these. At Tom’s funeral Sita had bumped into an old friend of her father’s, Nancy Bretzfield, described by The New York Times as “a fixture on the Southern California social scene.” Back in L.A. the two women had dinner, and Sita told Bretzfield that she was beginning to have doubts about the Saxbys. Bretzfield told Sita to visit her lawyer immediately.
“I said, ‘How could you have done this, Sita? How could you have put your money in something you know nothing about?'” recalls Bretzfield. Sita looked helplessly at the older woman. Finance had never been her forte.
According to Sita, after Nixon told her to ask the Saxbys for documentation of her investment, she went over to their ramshackle rented bungalow in Beverly Hills, where Richard had her sign two documents, which he said were proof of her investment in an entity known as Zacky Farms. When she took them to Nixon on May 4, the lawyer identified them as a promissory note and an indemnification. Nixon told her the Saxbys had not invested her money, they’d borrowed it, and that she was to receive $20,417.67 each month as interest on the loan.
That afternoon Sita and Nixon walked to the Bank of America in Century City, where Sita had two accounts, and closed them. The next morning, at nine, they walked to a branch of Preferred Bank, also in Century City, where the Saxbys had an account. Sita and Nixon succeeded in getting the Saxbys’ funds there frozen for three days. Robert O’Brien, a high-power litigator hired by Sita, followed up, obtaining an injunction to prohibit the Saxbys from withdrawing or transferring any money from their account. Of the original $2.4 million, $1.6 million was still in the account; around $800,000 was gone.
By this point Sita was hysterical and calling just about everyone-including Victoria, who says, “She was under a tremendous amount of stress. I was on the telephone with her every day-I think 5, 10 times a day.”
That same day Sita revoked her will and amended the trust, removing Cameron as trustee and Tyrian’s guardian. She named Nixon as her executor. The trustee was now Citibank. Cameron faxed over a letter to Nixon’s office, saying she was resigning as co-trustee because of evidence of “perpetual illegal drug use” by Sita.
Sita had been known to dabble in cocaine, crystal meth, and other psychoactive substances-particularly while she was married to John Ursich, who says that during their eight-month cohabitation he had felt at one point as if he were “staring death in the face.” (On June 5, 2003, almost four months after Ursich filed for divorce, he and Sita testified in a hearing called to address her request for a restraining order against him. She claimed he had abused her several months before, but Ursich said the charges were fabricated. He said that Sita had been strung out on booze and cocaine on the date of the supposed incident, and that it was she who had been abusive. He claimed that on the day in question he stopped her from drinking a bottle of vodka, and that he gave her money for a cab; Sita’s battered appearance in photographs taken shortly after the incident, he said, were due to a rash, cocaine abuse, and anorexia. The judge sided with Ursich; no restraining order was issued, and the case was dismissed.) Still, several acquaintances say, to depict her as a drug addict is wrong. “She was certainly not high most of the time,” one person recalls. Nancy Bretzfield remembers her as being “clear-eyed and lucid. I couldn’t see she was on drugs.”
In the matter of Tyrian’s guardianship Sita replaced Cameron with Jemima Khan. Sita had never met her, but she wanted her daughter to be closer to her father-she had even had Tyrian’s name changed last year to Tyrian-Jade Brittania Khan-White.
The day before she died, Sita called Bretzfield to say that she’d received worrisome phone calls from the Saxbys and that she was terrified the Los Angeles child-protective services would arrive to remove Tyrian, whom she adored, because of Cameron’s accusations of drug use. Sita was also frightened of Ursich, who that night had turned up on her doorstep. She became hysterical, called people, and did not let him in.
The next morning, after dropping Tyrian at school, Sita turned pink and fell to the floor at the yoga studio. Victoria recalls, “I saw the whole thing. I mean, she was happy, happy, smiling, and the next thing she was down. The yoga class was to start within a minute.”
Sita was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Victoria went to Tyrian’s school to give the news to the sweet-looking, dark-haired child, who people say is wise beyond her years-the type to choose Time magazine over teen publications at a newsstand. Meeting Victoria at the school was Cameron, who, according to legal papers, wanted to pick up Tyrian and assert her (by then defunct) guardianship rights. Nixon assumed that Saxby had heard of Sita’s death from Victoria, but when asked about this, Victoria told Nixon, “I’d rather not say.”
Eventually someone from the Department of Children and Family Services took Tyrian from school, and in the evening her aunt, Carolina, arrived to take her. Imran Khan jetted in from London.
Though he still did not publicly acknowledge Tyrian as his child, he and Jemima issued a statement saying they were prepared to be her guardians. However, Carolina quickly hired a lawyer, who petitioned the court to get temporary guardianship of the little girl and so that, following a trip to London this summer, Tyrian could choose whether to live with Jemima or with her aunt. (In December Jemima had moved back to London with her sons, in order to pursue a master’s degree.)
Imran, it turns out, is now supporting Carolina’s bid to be Tyrian’s guardian. He speaks to Tyrian once a week, and he sent her flowers on her birthday. Apparently, father and daughter get on fine. Jemima, meanwhile, speaks to Tyrian by telephone daily, though, according to Nixon, Jemima now feels Tyrian’s family is the best place for her to be.
According to Nixon, Sita knew that Jemima and Imran were in the process of divorcing, but made Jemima Tyrian’s guardian anyway. Tyrian lived in London for nine months in 2003 and six months in 2002, and though she had stayed with Nicholas Camilleri, she had gotten to know the Khans-and Jemima’s mother-extremely well. “Sita felt like she knew Jemima, through Tyrian,” explains Nixon. “And Tyrian loved spending time with Jemima and her sons.” People describe Jemima as levelheaded and generous to a fault. Many in Britain had predicted that her marriage to Imran would never survive the test of time, that the age gap and the religious and cultural differences would prove to be insurmountable barriers. Her own father, Sir James Goldsmith, had shrugged off the alliance by saying Imran would make “a wonderful first husband” for Jemima. The critics proved to be right. Jemima frequently got ill when she was living in Pakistan. Just a few months ago, while studying for exams at London University, she was hospitalized for an illness she had picked up there.
Since her divorce, Jemima has been spotted with Hugh Grant at the London nightclub Annabel’s (named after her mother) and at the annual garden party given by British television personality David Frost. But a romantic relationship has been denied by her friends, one of whom was quoted in the press as saying, “She now wants to just enjoy the single life for a while and meet people. No doubt she will be linked to every man she speaks to.” For his part, Imran told The Sunday Telegraph that he was “already thinking about looking for a second wife, saying: ‘ … I’ll see if I’m able to find someone by my next birthday.'”
Meanwhile, John Ursich’s attorney, Vicki Roberts, called Nixon to tell her that, assuming attempts to recover Sita’s money from the Saxbys were successful, he wanted half. Nixon was appalled. “That is Tyrian’s inheritance,” she says. “It’s all she has.” The battle lines were drawn.
The day of the funeral, Nicholas Camilleri says, he called Victoria to ask her about Sita’s last moments and to inquire if Victoria would be attending either the funeral service or Carolina’s vigil. Victoria said that she was too busy to talk and that she was taking her children on a field trip, so, no, she would not be attending either event. She later told Vanity Fair that she’d been freaked out by all the calls she’d gotten from people she’d never heard of. She downplayed any connection she had to the Saxbys and any role she might have later had on the day of Sita’s death: “I don’t know anything about the Saxbys,” she says. She adds, “They’re a couple… I can’t get that far involved. I can’t talk about it right now, because there’s just a whirlwind of stuff going on. But I can tell you the whole thing is so sordid… Quite honestly, it’s funny that you’re calling… We have more people coming out of the woodwork than you could imagine, just wanting a piece of the money … and then here I am, the bearer of bad news. As always. That’s how I am with the family. It’s mind-boggling.”
She seemed to view the situation with the detachment of an outsider. “Imagine the guilt that Lucas feels,” she says. “He never had the chance to make it up with her.” (Lucas’s spokesman said, “Lucas’s feelings upon his sister’s passing were of extreme sadness.”) And yet, Victoria White O’Gara’s own role in this complex, multi-layered saga is hardly peripheral.
Victoria was the fourth of five children. Her parents were divorced, and the children were raised mostly by their mother, Dixie Tucker, whom people describe as being very close to her daughter. All the children were blessed with extraordinary good looks. Victoria’s sister Terry, now married to Kevin Kelley, the president of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas, is described by one person as “very gorgeous, like her sister.” A brother, Tim, is described as a blond version of Victoria.
But the real standout was Vicky-as some people used to call her, when as a teenager she made the rounds of the clubs in L.A. According to a close friend of Gordon White’s, she visited the Playboy Mansion when she was 15-something that Hugh Hefner found out about only afterward. “She didn’t look 15-I can tell you that,” says someone who was there.
When she was 18, Gordon White, then 58, spotted her one evening. He later told his close friend the actor George Hamilton, “I just have to have that.” “He was completely smitten,” says Hamilton. “He pursued her.” Four years later, when she was 22 and he was 62, they began dating. At the time, Victoria had already met and fallen for Tom O’Gara, a handsome, wealthy entrepreneur from Ohio, who had been running a Rolls-Royce garage in Beverly Hills and who was starting to be very successful in the armored-car business. O’Gara is almost universally described as “a really nice guy,” but eventually Victoria allowed herself to be drawn into White’s web, though she remained friendly with O’Gara-something that came to haunt White, according to a friend of his.
Despite his age, Lord White cut a glamorous figure. He kept a string of racehorses in Ventura County; in addition to his Old Hollywood-style house, Beverly Park, in Beverly Hills, and other California houses, he kept a New York apartment on Park Avenue; there were endless private planes and helicopters. “He was the type of man who’d absolutely insist on landing on the lawn, rather than the helipad,” says one old friend.
White was six feet four inches and athletic. He learned to ski at 54, making it down a black-diamond run only nine days later. The son of a publisher, he loved that he’d been knighted in 1979 and later given a peerage and that, even so, the British upper class looked down its nose at him.
By the time he met Victoria, Carolina and Sita (from his first marriage, to Elizabeth Kalen, a half-Swedish, half-Venezuelan society beauty) were older than Victoria. Lucas, whom he had by his second wife, the actress Virginia Northrop, was in high school in England. White was a busy man, and although he made time for a fairly hectic social schedule, he never did manage to make much time for his family.
His daughters had become a source of torment for him. Left to their own devices, they’d raid the secret drawer in his bathroom in the Park Avenue apartment, where he kept a stash of drugs and condoms. “Everything was in that drawer,” says someone who saw it. “The girls learned how to pick the lock.”
“He just wrung his hands in despair,” says a close friend. While Carolina went clubbing and dated rough boys he did not like, Sita’s undoing, in her father’s eyes, came in the form of Imran, for whom Sita left her first husband, the photographer Francesco Venturi, in 1986. White was, to put it bluntly, racist, and, according to one of his friends, he told Imran that if he married Sita they would not get a penny of his money. Nonetheless, Sita had Imran’s child, the result, she would always say, of one last act of lovemaking in 1991, after the relationship had run its course.
In July 1992, to his friends’ astonishment, White, then 69, married Victoria, then 29. “He always had made it clear that he never wanted to do that,” says a friend, pointing out that he had married Northrop only when she was pregnant with Lucas.
Most people think he changed his mind because of a bizarre incident that had occurred in Aspen just six months before, on New Year’s Eve. White was staying in George Hamilton’s house. Sita was there, as were Lucas and Victoria. That afternoon Victoria had had a bad fall on the slopes and had bruised her neck and back. Reportedly, she later took painkillers and a strong drink. The police were called, and White-who soon after this, according to a friend, had bruises on his face-spent the night in jail because Victoria claimed he’d beaten her up. Tom O’Gara reportedly sent his plane to pick up Victoria, who declined to press charges and soon returned to White, claiming that the painkillers had been to blame and that she had been mistaken to think he had hit her. (Victoria declined comment on certain subjects for this piece.)
“Gordon was very frail at this point,” recalls a friend, whose account is echoed by others. “He’d been told by his doctors he was dying.” Evidently, White never wanted to discuss the matter with anyone. “He was the type who’d fall on his sword if he had to,” explains Hamilton.
Whatever transpired, White married Victoria the following summer. Skeptical friends were quickly excised from his life. They also disapproved of the fast lifestyle he was now living. “I couldn’t bear to see what was going on in that house (in Bel Air),” says a close friend. “It was no way for a sick man to be living.”
Documents obtained by Vanity Fair show that Victoria was to receive the Ventura ranch, some art, and the horses, and she was to live in the Beverly Hills house after White’s death only until she could purchase a new house out of the $10 million settlement she would receive. She was then required to put the remainder in a trust, from which she would get a monthly income of approximately $15,000. She was not to have access to the principal. Lucas, who was then 20, was to be the main heir to his father’s great wealth.
Lucas, by this point, had grown into a tall, virile, handsome young man, with dark curly hair and a genial disposition. White was particularly proud of his son’s prowess on the polo field, something he had never had the opportunity to achieve himself, given his middle-class origins in Yorkshire, England. “Gordon wished he’d paid more attention to Lucas,” says Hamilton. “In fact, just before he died he said to me that if he had two last wishes it would have been to have gotten to know Lucas better, and to have a horse farm.”
After White died, problems remained. According to documents, various disputes arose about his estate. Still, says one old family friend, White would have enjoyed the turmoil he’d created-he liked to exercise his power over people.
But some of his friends were appalled by his treatment of his daughters. “It was unfair for Gordon to leave the girls the way he did,” says a family friend. “They were not the sort of girls who could cope without money.”
To the day she died Sita had no real idea of her father’s net worth. The $400 million figure named in her and Carolina’s 2001 lawsuit against Lucas was a guess based on the Hanson share price. “She had suitcases and suitcases of documents in a secret room in the basement of her house,” recalls one friend. “You knew that the key was in them somehow. But she didn’t have the means or resources to find it. She was the kind of person who spent her monthly allowance by the middle of the month each month. She never had enough money.”
On August 16, 2001, she even wrote a letter to her father’s old business partner, Lord Hanson. It read in part: “We have never even seen a complete version of our father’s will and only bits and pieces of his will and various trusts. We have never seen any section of any will in which it is stated what we are to receive or how we are to derive income.”
The O’Garas’ marriage fell apart in 2002, soon after Tom O’Gara suffered a substantial reversal in fortune following an ill-fated merger of his armored-car business with Kroll in 1997. Once the divorce was final, last year, the mud between Victoria and Tom started to fly in a particularly ugly custody battle over their three small children. She, for example, alleged in her court papers that he once threatened her with the car.
A source has confirmed to Vanity Fair that a few months ago Victoria hired a private investigator to dig up information on Tom. A few weeks later Tom asked the same investigator to turn the tables and investigate Victoria. “They’re trying to break each other,” an outsider observes. Victoria, meanwhile, has reportedly gone on a few dates with the wealthy but perpetually single New York financier Teddy Forstmann.
Victoria says that the reason she is holding a sale of artifacts at Christie’s is that without it she is not sufficiently liquid to pay off a $2.5 million mortgage on her Beverly Hills house. In her divorce records, she claims that, excluding the White trust, whose principal she can’t touch, she is worth approximately $15.6 million.
In the months before Sita died, she went over to her stepmother’s house “a lot,” according to Victoria.
“She was really very lonely,” Victoria says. Boyfriends came and went but did not mean much. In the spring, as the relationship with the Saxbys was unwinding and she deeply regretted her intense involvement with them, Sita told the accountant Wendy Barlin that all she had to live for was her daughter, Tyrian. It was almost as if she had had a premonition that she might die.
The vigil held by Carolina for Sita was, according to Sita’s friend Samar Ahmadi, an emotional occasion. “It finally made the long journey from Bahrain worth it,” Ahmadi said. Like others, she’d found the funeral “disappointing.”
“I walked in that door (of the vigil service), and all I could see was Sita laughing, laughing, laughing,” she says. The bizarre circumstances surrounding her friend’s death were, for a few moments at least, banished.
The small group held candles and sat in a circle, telling stories about their friend. Perhaps the most poignant anecdote came from Tyrian, who said that her mother had once been walking down the hill and seen a homeless man. “I’m going to help you and get you a job,” she told him. She did. “She got him back on his feet,” said Tyrian.
The great pity was she couldn’t do as much for herself.