Dani Garavelli: A wealth of demons
WHEN police eventually found Eva Rausing’s body, it was amid the squalor one associates with street addiction.
She may have been married to the heir of the multi-billion-pound Tetra Pak empire, but protracted substance abuse had rendered her indistinguishable from the raddled junkies on sink estates. Weeks before her death, photos showed the once lithe and vivacious socialite looking haggard and dishevelled. Friends revealed that, unable to look after herself, she had been reduced to living in two rooms of her home as if it were a dismal squat as opposed to a five-storey, £70 million mansion in Belgravia.
As for her husband Hans Kristian, the monosyllabic and socially maladroit scion of one of the world’s richest families, he could have passed for a vagrant in search of a park bench. It was his arrest while driving erratically in London, which led officers to search the house last week. Held on suspicion of her murder, he was ruled unfit for questioning and is now in a secure medical facility, where he is believed to be suffering withdrawal symptoms. But it has been suggested he might have spent several days in the house after Eva died.
The tragedy is a shocking reminder that addiction is no respecter of class and privilege; that those who inhabit a world of yachts and skiing holidays and trips to the opera can be brought as low by drugs as those who struggle to find coins to feed the electricity meter.
Eva, herself the daughter of a PepsiCo executive, wanted for nothing as she grew up, but “somewhat scattered and reckless” began experimenting with drugs at university in California. Hans K, as he was known to his family, was the youngest of Hans senior’s three children. He showed no interest in the world of business, opting instead to travel, and sampling drugs in the hippy mecca of Kathmandu.
They met in rehab in the US and pledged to help each other stay clean. For years, they were well-known for both their party-going and their charity work. Prince Charles once described Hans Kristian as “a very special philanthropist”.
But, four children later, everything began falling apart. Having directed much of their giving towards the charity Mentor, which works to prevent young people from becoming addicts, they found they could no longer fight their own cravings.
For several years, they managed to hide their problems as only the wealthy can; they continued to attend glitzy dos and hob-nob with royalty even as their drug use spiralled. But in 2008, they made the headlines after Eva was caught trying to smuggle class A drugs, including crack, into a function at the US Embassy. When the police searched their home, they found more drugs, including £2,000 of pure cocaine.
At the time, their downward spiral was seen as evidence that recovering addicts who form a relationship are more likely to relapse. This seems doubly true today as friends have suggested the pair were in a state of mutual denial over the scale of their using.
But it also raised the question increasingly asked by billionaires, such as Warren Buffet, but baffling to the rest of us: can wealth – particularly inherited wealth – be an unbearable burden?
The story of how the Tetra Pak empire began seems to have entered the realms of mythology. According to the most frequently recounted version, it was Hans K’s grandmother, Elisabeth, who came up with the basic concept of sealing milk in a carton as she squeezed sausages into their skins. Her husband Ruben, a Swedish industrialist, who already co-owned a food packaging company, set his lab to work on a design – and first the tetrahedron-shaped carton and then the more successful brick-shaped carton were born. Still, it was their children, Hans senior and Gad, who transformed the business from a small company with a staff of six in the 1950s to a multinational, each moving their families to the UK in the 1970s to avoid Sweden’s punitive taxes. Today, it is the world’s biggest packaging company, operating in more than 170 countries and employing more than 22,000 people.
After Hans senior sold his half of the business to Gad in 1996 for a reported $7bn, his family became the richest in Britain, although they have since been superseded by Russian billionaire and football club owner Roman Abramovich. Now 86, Hans senior lives the life of the country gentleman, breeding deer and wild boar and collecting vintage cars on the 900-acre Wadhurst estate in East Sussex.
On the one hand, he displays little interest in the trappings of wealth, and is happy to give chunks of his fortune away. On the other, he is so keen to keep it from HMRC, he lives here as a “non-dom”, spreading his wealth through tax havens in Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands.
His own children, Lisbet, Sigrid and Hans K, spent their early childhood in Lund in southern Sweden, where they lived a modest life. “We didn’t have cooks or chauffeurs, or anything. Sweden is different from England that way. More classless. And I am glad because it meant I learned how to do things: how to cook and so forth,” Lisbet has said.
But, as they grew up, they were left trying to make sense of a life where there was no need to work in order to survive. Gad’s three children Jorn, Finn and Kirsten are all on the board of holding company Tetra Laval, with Kirsten effectively running the company. And Lisbet and Sigrid have carved out a place for themselves as academics and philanthropists. Lisbet, a science historian, who has taught at Harvard University, has given millions of pounds to conservation projects while Sigrid, a social anthropologist and feminist, funds literary ventures including Granta, as well as donating millions to domestic abuse refuges and international women’s groups.
Both women are hard-working and highly regarded and – though they both own Highland estates, Lisbet, the Corrour estate, and Sigrid, the Coignafearn estate – they eschew conspicuous consumption. Although they have, on occasion, given interviews to promote particular causes, they keep as low a profile as it is possible for the über-rich to do.
So what went wrong for Hans K? Theories abound. Those who knew him as a child say he was always different from his sisters; less academic, less articulate, less able to cope with the cut and thrust of life. According to some he was also intimidated by the towering figure of his father, who is 6ft 8ins tall, and whose business prowess he could never hope to emulate.
Four years ago, Richard Bezant, who once ran Hans senior’s two farms as well as carrying out duties on the Wadhurst estate, painted the picture of a domineering man with no rapport with his son. Though clearly Bezant had an agenda (he took a case for unfair dismissal), he claimed Hans K was a dreamer and a disappointment to his father. “He forced Hans K to sit on boards of his family companies. I’d be at meetings when he didn’t say a word. He was as quiet as a mouse,” he said.
Whatever his issues, Hans K dropped out in his 20s, heading for India, living rough and getting high. On another continent, Eva, too, was experimenting with drugs while studying at Occidental College in LA at the same time as Barack Obama. Later, she described how drugs quickly gained a hold. “I had a good time – too good, as I dropped out and did not go back to university until the grand old age of 24, which leaves some troubled years in between.”
The pair met in rehab and, though mismatched in lots of ways, seemed to believe that together they had found a path out of addiction. As a result, Eva said, she became “a good girl”; gaining a degree in economics, getting married and having children, all of whom are still under 18.
Their philanthropic ventures included channelling hundreds of thousands of pounds into Mentor, without which, its trustees say, it probably would not have stayed afloat.
More than Lisbet and Sigrid, they enjoyed life’s luxuries, sinking £15m in a beachfront mansion on Barbados. Yet underlying it all was a growing sense of ennui. “I don’t work, but probably should. Or at least think of a constructive way of using my time, enlarging my life,” Eva wrote on Myspace.
Although they never talked publicly about it, it seems their inheritances weighed on their minds. Certainly, Sigrid admits feeling acutely uncomfortable with her fortune. “In the 60s and 70s, Sweden was very progressive, not a good place to be a capitalist,” she has said. “I spent so many of my teenage years skulking in doorways, hiding away.”
Too much money can, Sigrid has said, distort your sense of self-worth and identity. “The advantage of inheriting great wealth, I believe, is largely illusory and can become pathological – an illusory sense of being special and different, the assumption that one is interesting to other people only, or mainly, because of the money and subsequent isolation.”
Her wealth was such a source of shame to Sigrid, she found it impossible to say no to anyone; but years of finding out what really mattered to her most allowed her philanthropy to become more focused and fulfilling. Hans K seems to have been unable to find a similar sense of purpose. While Eva at least had some hobbies, he spent much of his time at home watching TV. As former addicts with money to blow, they would have been prey to temptation anywhere, but nowhere more than in Barbados, where cocaine dealers are said to swarm like flies.
It is relatively easy to pinpoint the start of the Rausings’ slide. On a post on her Myspace page in 2007, Eva talks of having sunk back into a hole and having been there for seven years. She goes on to say she hopes the next seven years will be good ones. But that was only around 12 months before the US Embassy scandal.
Although the couple had stayed out of trouble since, they became progressively reclusive. According to socialite friend Liz Brewer, Eva’s health had suffered and she needed a pacemaker. The last photos show a shambling, vacant couple who seem to have given up all hope of recovery. And yet, Eva’s family say she joined them for Christmas in Barbados and had recently left rehab in the US after becoming concerned when Hans K failed to join her as promised. She had flown back to the UK, they said, to try to persuade him to join her.
As police wait to interview Hans K, it remains unclear what happened in the days running up to her death. One thing most people who knew them are agreed on, however, is that drugs had such a hold on their lives a tragic ending was almost inevitable. “I think the problem with Eva and her husband is that a lot of the time they were in denial about the drugs they were taking,” said Brewer.
Last week, tributes poured in for Eva from the Duchess of York, the Queen of Sweden and, perhaps most poignantly from Lord Mancroft, a former chairman of Mentor, who described her as “sweet, charming and childlike, very bright and very dedicated”.
That the couple took the battle against drugs seriously is beyond dispute. They understood what it meant to be addicted. Once, when a Mentor trustee said: “We all agree we don’t like drugs,” Eva piped up: “No, I love drugs. That’s the problem.”
Sadly, it seems that flash of insight was not enough to save her. The question is – once Rausing is well enough to try to tell police what happened – can he be rescued from the same horrific fate? Or is he destined to spend the rest of his life fighting the kind of demons money has no power to vanquish?
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: East