EXCLUSIVE: Yoruba tribal leader to build orangery in New Town

SURROUNDED by discreet offices, seven-storey townhouses and boutique hotels, Drumsheugh Gardens is one of Edinburgh’s more prestigious addresses.

On a street that fronts a private garden of carefully-tended lawns and mature trees, with views from the rear to Dean Village and across the Firth of Forth, every property in this exclusive quarter of the city centre is highly sought after.

But behind the dark green door, the eccentric behaviour of the neighbourhood’s latest occupant has set the New Town’s chattering classes ... well, chattering.

The billionaire African diplomat Antonio Deinde Fernandez has already spent more than 200,000 transforming his seven-storey townhouse by applying 1,000 books of gold leaf to the ornate cornicing and balusters.

The Central African Republic’s ambassador to the United Nations travels across the world in one of six private jets and enjoys being chauffeured around in a pink Rolls-Royce. When dining out, he takes over the entire restaurants to avoid encountering riffraff.

A Yoruba tribal chief, his family motto is "agbomeji kii momi nikoto", meaning "two rams cannot drink from the same bucket".

Now the flamboyant Nigerian has astonished neighbours by asking for - and being granted - permission to build an orangery in his back garden.

On Wednesday, amid mundane requests for replacement windows and garage extensions, councillors in Edinburgh granted the ambassador permission to proceed with the orangery in the grounds of the B-listed building, despite the objections of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust.

The application is the latest sign that Ambassador Fernandez, who also has a luxurious home in New York, plans to spend more time in Edinburgh. However, his intentions are difficult to fathom as he remains deeply private about his plans.

Yesterday, his agent in Edinburgh, JR Marshall, refused to comment about the ambassador’s home improvement ideas.

Even neighbours know little about the 65-year-old, or why he has decided to buy a home in the capital.

Liberal Democrat councillor Moyra Forrest, a member of the planning committee, admitted she was in the dark about the applicant and his reasons for building an orangery.

She said the council committee passed the application, for a timber frame conservatory with octagonal cupolas, very quickly.

Ms Forrest explained: "There was no debate about it. It sounded so wonderful that we passed it."

Ambassador Fernandez is a prominent businessman and has been described as one of the richest men in Africa.

Ovation International, the African equivalent of Hello! magazine, described him as the "guardian of panache and prosperity" and was so pleased to secure a photo shoot with him that it spread the feature over 40 pages.

The magazine said: "Renowned and well-known around the globe, the tall, dark and refined man of commerce and diplomacy is an embodiment of good form, surrounding himself with exquisite things only money can buy."

A graduate of Columbia University, Ambassador Fernandez insists on travelling in style and his private jets are said to be furnished with every possible convenience. His fortune is said to be based on exports of bauxite, oil and diamonds.

His home in New York is a well-fortified island with all the services of a small town, including a fire station.

In his native Lagos Island, he has built a tower named after himself.

Alongside business interests, Ambassador Fernandez has a diplomatic career stretching back to 1966 and is the Central African Republic’s UN representative. He is on first-name terms with several world leaders, doubles as the republic’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, and is head of the oil company Petro-Inett.

But his career has not been without controversy. The ambassador has a long track record of unconventional business deals in Africa and is said to have made powerful enemies.

In 1989, he tried, unsuccessfully, to use his diplomatic immunity to prevent his former American wife from being awarded title to the couple’s 4 million estate in New York as part of a divorce settlement.

The wrangle went as far as the Oval Office, with former President George Bush being briefed on the appeal.

Earlier this year, Ambassador Fernandez threatened to sue the decorating firm Ogilvie J Rolland after it posted pictures of the work it had done on his Edinburgh property on its website.