Published on May 6th, 2007 | by admin0
The TRUE story about Lord Browne – by ex-rent boy lover
By DENNIS RICE
Last updated at 08:29 06 May 2007
At the time it all seemed too much – too plainly far-fetched – for Jeff Chevalier to take in. But here he was, a 25-year-old once-penniless Canadian male prostitute, sitting down to dinner with the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
And the two men were liberally helping themselves from a £3,000 bottle of claret.
The wine was the personal choice of Lord Browne of Madingley – the boss of British Petroleum, Britain’s most senior businessman and host of the dinner party in question.
“Mr Blair didn’t know what it was but he absolutely loved it,” Mr Chevalier recalls. “It was a 1983 French claret.”
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Lord Browne had originally met Mr Chevalier through a male escort agency; now the pair were partners.
The tycoon had installed the young Canadian in his £5million Chelsea apartment and was showing him off to the cream of London society.
The cosy dinner for Tony Blair in the summer of 2005 came amid a seemingly endless merry-go-round of dinners, lunches, soirees and parties that Mr Chevalier was summoned to by his tycoon lover, 34 years his senior.
He was flaunted before business and political contacts, diplomats and artists; there were holidays in private compounds in Barbados and opera in Salzburg and Venice (enjoyed alongside Prince and Princess Michael of Kent in their private box).
In Venice, Mr Chevalier would find himself chinking glasses with Elton John and Jude Law.
Travel would routinely be by private jet – which the businessman appeared to regard as a private plaything.
Today, in an exclusive interview in The Mail on Sunday, Jeff Chevalier gives a stunning account of the extravagance of life at the top of BP.
His testimony will raise important questions about Lord Browne’s taste for the high life – together with his eagerness to lavish company largesse on his young lover, and the access that Mr Chevalier was thereby granted to privileged information.
Ironically, all their sleepless socialising was to end up exacting a cruel personal toll on both men. The pressures of keeping up with the £8-million-a-year Lord Browne and his friends wore Mr Chevalier out; he felt increasingly jittery and out of his depth and was ultimately delivered to the brink of a nervous breakdown.
And then the couple fell apart.
The Mail on Sunday is prohibited by court order from disclosing the details of Lord Browne’s dinner-table conversation with the Prime Minister.
This is a shame, since the encounter casts revealing light on the two men – and on the overlap that exists between their business and their personal relationships.
Both pre-eminent in their fields, they made use of each other for the benefit of their respective organisations – and then, perhaps, for the benefit of themselves.
We can say, however, that Mr Blair was in reflective mood, and mused on life after Downing Street. Lord Browne listened sympathetically and offered suggestions.
The dinner took place just a few days before Mr Blair and his wife Cherie flew off to Singapore for some last-minute championing for London to host the 2012 Olympic Games.
Cherie did not attend the meal. But Anji Hunter, who had been Tony Blair’s ‘gatekeeper’ before leaving to work for Lord Browne at BP, was invited.
Mr Chevalier recalled: “I remember being really nervous, particularly when six security officers came around to sweep the flat the previous day.
“Then they came back with Mr Blair the next evening. I remember they sat in the kitchen with Barry the butler while we all had dinner.
“John was scrupulous about when these meals began and ended – they would usually go on for no longer than two or two-and-a-half hours, a little like a board meeting.
“We shook hands and were introduced in the drawing room. We stood there chatting in a group of four. I remember looking at Mr Blair and thinking that he hides his extra weight really well.
He also has the eyes of someone who never sleeps. He was also taller than he looked on TV and there was a slightly religious tone to the conviction with which he spoke about things.
On speaking to me, Tony would call me by name and clarify for my sake certain things which were said regarding business and politics which I might not have understood.
“When business between Tony and John got a bit more private, Anji spoke with me to allow the two to talk. He shook my hand goodbye and said that it was nice to meet me – and called me by my name again, which I appreciated.”
Mr Chevalier found himself on the Blair Christmas card list – the handwritten greeting going out ‘to John and Jeff’.
And, so long as he remained favourite at the court of the tycoon nicknamed the Sun King, the rest of European society was equally eager to befriend Mr Chevalier.
Home for the young Mr Chevalier was Lord Browne’s stunning London apartment, which occupied the whole floor of a building in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea.
And when the pair were not entertaining in London they were having dinner parties for other friends and business associates at the peer’s £3million home in Cambridge and luxury flat in Venice.
Mr Chevalier was given the use of his boyfriend’s personal butler Barry, his drivers, and the peer’s share of a private jet.
The Canadian said: “I was made comfortable in all the homes by the staff and by John. When I broke a rock crystal wine glass that had cost over £2,000 I was not made to feel bad about it.
“Since everything surrounding me cost so much I could not help but feel out of place despite reassurances.
“I remember the interior redecoration of the Cambridge house appeared in the US Architectural Digest in 2004 with Linley’s former assistant Tim Gosling credited as the main designer.”
August would be spent in Venice: Lord Browne bought an apartment in a sumptuous palazzo built in 1475 on the Grand Canal, and used Elton John’s architect to fit it out.
We attended the opening of La Fenice, the Venice Opera house which burned down in 1996 and was rebuilt at a cost of over £1billion.
“Twelve hundred guests were invited and we had prime seats,” says Mr Chevalier. “I remember Prince and Princess Michael of Kent insisting John come to their box to watch the second act.”
Mr Chevalier would meet Princess Michael on several occasions at La Fenice – although she never seemed to quite work out who the young Canadian actually was.
“She said to me, “You must be a brilliant pianist”,’ he says. “I said I was not and she replied, “Well, whatever you do I am sure you are brilliant.”‘
At the same time there were introductions to Romano Prodi, the Prime Minister of Italy, and many other European notables.
In Venice the pair would head for the pool at the exclusive Cipriani hotel.
But this too became yet another setting for networking – and the ambiguity of Mr Chevalier’s position began to gnaw away at him.
“It was stressful for me as I could not relax around a pool where everyone knew everyone and would constantly interrupt our relaxation,” explains the Canadian.
“Lady McAlpine, David Furnish and Elton John, US Congressmen and Senators, the heads of Corporations, Jude Law and Sienna Miller and countless other notables would approach us – or on rare occasions we would approach them – and these pool afternoons would turn into business meetings, albeit on a casual level.
“There was no enjoyment in sitting by the Cipriani pool in the company of John because of the constant intrusions.”
Travelling with Lord Browne usually meant going by private jet, as the Labour peer was not a fan of travelling on commercial airlines.
Even when given five-star treatment by leading carriers, Lord Browne was constantly monitoring whether some other VIP was receiving greater pampering than him.
Mr Chevalier says: “John and I would usually get 1A and 1B seats in Club Class or First Class on British Airways.
“The airline’s Special Services would escort us from our car outside Gatwick or Heathrow and fast-track us to the First or Emerald Lounge.
“We would then be given the option to arrive either first or last on to the plane and be personally escorted by Special Services.
“Despite this, John still felt it a burden to fly commercial. When we did not have 1A and 1B on a BA flight, John would want to know why we didn’t get the prime seats.
“Often it would be someone he knew in 1A, and he took it personally that he had not been given the seat.
“Once we had no clue who was in the seat and John demanded to know who it was. He would often ask in advance which seats we had and attempt to change them if we didn’t have pole position.
“Only once did he not mind – when we flew to Barbados on Boxing Day 2004 and Mick Jagger was given 1A. He accepted that…”
Although Lord Browne’s celebrity status was judged to be inferior to Mick Jagger’s, it appears that he was given precedence over Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan – who were seated behind on the same flight. For his part, Hugh Grant seems to have been in a bad mood.
“In the BA lounge before we flew off there was Mick and L”Wren Scott and his children, as well as Hugh and Jemima.
“Hugh had insisted on having the televisions in the lounge turned off as the sports broadcasts were annoying him,” remembers Mr Chevalier.
“Mick’s son was playing Uno with his siblings and Mick for some time. Mick then instructed his son to ask ‘that man over there’ (Hugh) to play Uno with him.
“Hugh didn’t look terribly enthusiastic – Jemima looked as if Hugh had reacted negatively.”
When the horrors of public transport became too much for Lord Browne, he found the solution in a private jet leasing arrangement.
Mr Chevalier said: “John contacted the head of NetJets Europe and asked for a trial service, which consisted of a couple of free flights.
“After that he became completely sold on it and purchased a NetJets service, and we would use it for travelling in Europe.
“It cost hundreds of thousands of pounds a year for what amounted to about 50 hours’ travel.”
The couple attended the Opera Festival in Salzburg every year with the banker John Studzinski and other friends.
“Studz” would also invite them to a villa he rented every Christmas and New Year in Barbados.
“I remember for Studz’s 50th birthday he threw a lavish party on the grandest of scales which John and I attended.
“Studz booked the entire Hotel Sacher for the guests and we were entertained for several days in a variety of ways,” says Mr Chevalier.
“He had Maxim Vengerov, the world’s premier violinist, perform for us at a lunch and at a church service where there was a dedication to Studz and a eulogy written especially for the occasion.
“The final night occurred in the schloss where The Sound Of Music was filmed; it was red dresses and tiaras for the women and black tie for the men. The largest fireworks display to take place in Austria took place afterwards – all at Studz’s expense.
“The cast of Bombay Nights performed for us towards the end of the evening and we were shuttled back to the hotel. It was the grandest party I could have imagined.”
Back in England Lord Browne and Mr Chevalier were also regulars at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
“John and I would take stall seats, the Director’s Box or the Royal Box at the ROH depending on who our guests were. We would attend the opera approximately 10 times a year and would always go with guests – sometimes business, sometimes friends. However John has few friends who are not affiliated with him in a business sense, so the conversations would tend to veer towards BP issues, business issues or political issues.
“In total John would attend about 150 social-cum-business parties a year. He would also host dinner parties for about 12-14 people in London and Cambridge at least once a month. From about 2003 on he would expect me to try to attend all of these.”
Social contacts might be Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan one evening, Ronald Lauder of the EstÇe Lauder dynasty the next, or Michael Portillo the next.
A dinner and lunch guest was Peter Mandelson, a former Cabinet member and now a European Union Trade Commissioner. He arrived for dinner with his own long-time partner, Brazilian Reinaldo da Silva.
Mr Chevalier recalls: “There were only the four of us and I remember thinking the moment I met them what an odd couple they were. Peter was very smooth and charming, appearing to hang on John’s every word.”
The non-stop socialising was part of the corporate culture instilled at BP by Lord Browne. It seemed, too, that the peer was not above using the prestige of BP to get privileged treatment for himself.
Mr Chevalier says: “John would also often book or receive invitations to attend private tours of museums when they were not open to the public. We received a tour of the Louvre, just the three of us, John, the guide and me, in April 2005. We had previously done private tours at the British Museum, Tate Britain and the V&A but this was the most unbelievable experience.
“Most museums were interested in BP donations and were more than glad to accommodate John’s requests for private tours of new exhibitions.”
As they left the Louvre, Lord Browne said that BP had no intention of making any donation to the museum: he had simply wanted a private tour without the crowds.
Mr Chevalier recalls: “Dinner at home would often cost more than going to a good restaurant. Both of us preferred quiet meals at home.
“We would usually start with a good vintage Puligny Montrachet or Chassagne Montrachet and then move on to a decent red, usually Italian.
“For my birthday John would usually try to find a good 1979 vintage – the year of my birth. John also smokes Epicure No 2s at a cost of £20 each, four times a day.”
According to Mr Chevalier, Lord Browne also saw his friendships in terms of people he could derive mutual business benefit from. This added to the feeling that his lover – and therefore he – were never really off-duty.
“Most of John’s friends have some business connection in one way or another,” he says.
“Being born to the father of a BP worker and then joining BP upon graduation from Cambridge makes this understandable. However it did become apparent over time that virtually everyone he considers friends benefit from him in one way or another.
“Whether an employee, a business affiliate, such as Martin Sorrell, an art dealer or a museum head, these people were not exactly in the position to be a trusted friend. I did learn to trust some of his colleagues and associates but I felt it difficult to understand just who John’s true friends were.”
And Mr Chevalier noticed a bitchiness among the super-wealthy, too.
“John and I would see Michael Winner on many occasions but never speak with him,” he says.
“He was certainly loud enough. Whether in Barbados, the Cipriani or in a restaurant in London, we would often encounter the sound of his voice ruining the mood of whichever place we were in.
“While in Venice he spent a great deal of time dictating instructions and memos to his secretary on his mobile while lying like a beached whale by the pool.”
Sport was also had with Conrad Black, the former newspaper proprietor now facing trial in America for alleged financial wrongdoing, whom Mr Chevalier met at a party held by Sir Ronald Cohen, boss of Apax Partners venture capitalists, and an adviser to Gordon Brown.
Mr Chevalier says: “John and I were introduced to Conrad Black and his wife Barbara Amiel at Ronnie Cohen’s 60th in the South of France. The gossip from everyone was “why was Black here?”
He was apparently not on the guest list but he and Barbara came as guests of an invitee. Everyone spoke of him behind his back and assumed that Ronnie had invited him.
John spoke with him for around 15 minutes, but had little chance to get a word in edgeways.
“Conrad spoke of his innocence like a broken record. Studz, Lord Howard and several others relayed the same information – that all Conrad would discuss was his ‘innocence’.
Towards the end of the conversation Barbara was clutching Conrad’s leg with her claws. She was clearly not interested in having Conrad speak with John.
We said our goodbyes and left their table. They were the talk of the party and clearly no one at the function – their supposed friends – gave any suggestion that the man might be innocent of what he has been charged with.
They were all laughing and making snide comments about him behind his back. It was amusing to see Conrad’s peers commenting behind his back that they didn’t believe him.”
Finally, however, the pressure of being the partner at these business/social meetings became too much to bear for Mr Chevalier.
He says: “I was open to a lifestyle that people could only imagine about. It was all new to me and for the first few years a novelty. But after a while it became almost unbearable.
“Billionaires remembered me, but I did not remember them. The anxiety grew from not remembering these notables who knew me but whom I did not remember.
“Ultimately I experienced panic attacks from the thought of not knowing to whom I was speaking. John could not understand why his world was so difficult for me.
“Neither could I communicate to him the fear I was experiencing from all the parties, dinners and nights at the opera.
“John introduced me to all his acquaintances: friends, co-workers, billionaires, celebrities and the like. By 2004 I panicked before, during and after every function, because the people I met were so numerous and notable.
“I lost all ability to function as John Browne’s partner. He did not understand my anxieties and I had no ability to understand his concerns. We were worlds apart and we both grew to realise this.
“Lord and Lady so and so, billionaire and his wife, the PM and Anji, CEO of Vodafone or whatever company… it soon became too numerous for me to remember.
“My memory is quite good but, when the likes of Ronnie Cohen or Lord Howard remembered having met me but I could not recall having met them, I suffered extreme social anxiety. I could not remember all the “important” people and that made me feel inferior.”
Having bought his young lover at the outset, it seems that Lord Browne continued to believe that he owned him. The perks were stupendous – but Chevalier felt trapped.
His clothes were chosen for him. Even the guest lists for his birthday parties were dictated by Lord Browne and his staff.
“Virtually every aspect of my life was managed by other people,’ he says now.
“I was unable to opt out of many functions and was told I simply had to go. When I started to try to put my foot down in 2005 over which functions I attended and did not attend – to no avail – it was then I felt like a puppet.”
Although Mr Chevalier sought treatment for the condition, nothing seemed to work and eventually Lord Browne ran out of patience at his boyfriend’s refusal to attend the parties because of his medical condition.
The peer ended the relationship last year – virtually cutting Chevalier off without a penny.