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Former Nude Model One of World’s Richest Women

Virginia- “Let me see your shoes,” Patricia Kluge says, as we enter her 50-room mansion on a gently sloping hillside in rural Virginia. She leans over to inspect them and quickly spots a little patch of mud along one heel. “You’ll have to leave them behind,” she commands in a decisive tone, then leads me on a whirlwind tour of her home, my stockinged feet slipping and sliding on the wooden floors as we dash in and out of grand rooms full of antiques and plush furnishings.

“For lunch, we’re having bison burgers,” she announces when we enter one of her two large kitchens. “I hope you like bison.”

Welcome to the eccentric world of one of America’s wealthiest women. In her faded jeans and trainers, Patricia Kluge seems at first glance an ordinary housewife, but there is nothing ordinary about her. She is a former belly-dancer and nude model who began her schooling as a prim Catholic girl in colonial Baghdad, and who now – at 55 – is an influential socialite and philanthropist, an occasional fundraiser for Bill Clinton and a trustee of New York University.

Never short of ambition, she was once a prominent figure in the soft-porn empire of her first husband – Russell Gay – whose “girlie” magazine Knave was a big hit in London during the Sixties, not least because it featured Patricia as a model and an advice columnist.

I have mud on my shoe because her latest passion is winemaking, and we’ve just come from tramping through her snow-covered vineyard in the company of her dog, Basil. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson tried and failed to produce wine at the nearby estate of Monticello – just over the hill from Patricia’s 1,200-acre spread. She’s betting £15 million of her own money that she can do what Jefferson couldn’t, and has hired a team of experts from Bordeaux to help her.
“What do you think?” she asks, as I pause between bites of buffalo meat to taste her first vintage.

I’m not sure about the burger, but the 2001 Kluge New World Red is surprisingly good. It has become a trendy item at some of the best New York restaurants, and is being sold to connoisseurs in a special box designed by Viscount Linley. The bottles are snapped up as soon as they go on the market, and the winery is working hard to keep up with demand.

When I finish my glass and ask for a refill, my hostess beams with pride, then takes me off to a vast drawing room to explain over coffee how she plans to make Virginia as famous for wine as it once was for tobacco.

But what I want to know is how a girl from Baghdad – the child of an English father in the insurance business and a mother who was half Iraqi and half Scottish – ended up next to Monticello. Her house – Albemarle – is several times larger than Jefferson’s, with grounds that feature man-made lakes and a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer.

The short answer is that her second husband was an American television mogul worth $2 billion. They married in 1981, when she was 32 and he was 66. When they parted, nine years later, his fortune – which was part of an empire called Metromedia – had grown to $6 billion. She walked away with a good chunk of that money in a settlement so amicable and generous that the New York papers called it a “divorce made in heaven”.

Born Patricia Rose, she has repeatedly demonstrated a talent for reinventing herself. Her first opportunity came when she was only 16. The Baathists were threatening to take over Iraq, and her mother decided the family should move to London.

“To go from a biblical country to modern Britain was more than a culture shock, it was an epiphany. It was so invigorating to live in an open society. I didn’t have to wear gloves any more. Mini-skirts and boots were much more interesting, so I seized the moment.”

Having been educated at a French convent in Baghdad, she was singularly ill-equipped to survive on her own in London, and was promptly sacked from every job she tried. When she lost her position as a hotel receptionist because she didn’t pay any attention to the guests, she wasn’t surprised.

“But I was heartbroken all the same. I wanted to do well. It’s just that – truth to tell – I was never brought up to work. I didn’t have the discipline for it, and didn’t know how to behave.”

She might still be struggling to make ends meet in Bayswater if she hadn’t met Gay, who took one look at her and made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. He paid her to pose nude for his magazine and, at first, she was thrilled by the easy life he offered her. Though he was 32 years her senior, she fell in love with him and they soon married.

“He was the antithesis of my Catholic upbringing – so wild and crazy. We fought a great deal. But it was a good experience. I was brought up so strictly and hypocritically that marrying him liberated me from all that.”

Readers of Knave were thrilled. A mischievous gleam lights up Patricia’s face as she recalls her brief period of celebrity as the magazine’s star attraction.

“I had a lot of admirers. I was hot looking in my twenties. I certainly looked a lot more nubile than I do now. I mean, at 5ft 10, with long dark hair and wearing a mini-skirt, I was gorgeous. It was a no-brainer.”

Part of her appeal was the very thing that had made her early days in London so difficult. She didn’t look or act like anyone else.

“I used to think I was ugly because all the pretty girls then were so skinny. I thought I should look like Twiggy, with big eyelashes and a flat chest. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that I wasn’t like that, but I do now.”

Perhaps understandably, Gay didn’t want it to end. But she grew weary of being his 24-hour centrefold.

“Modelling nude was OK for five minutes. I did it for a lark, but he took it very seriously. His magazine and that lifestyle were everything to him. In the end I found it sickening and got out. I wanted children and a real life. He didn’t.”

She fell in love with a doctor in London and was ready to marry again. Then, she went to New York for a holiday and met John Kluge. He was smitten and pursued her. She resisted, but his attentions and his wealth were not easy to ignore.

He was a German immigrant in America who had risen from the shop floor at a Ford factory in Detroit to become his own boss at a radio station. He started acquiring more stations, then went into television and built his independent network. Eventually, he sold all his stations to Rupert Murdoch, who used them to build the wildly successfully Fox network. But, according to Patricia, Kluge was a broken man when she met him.

“He was suicidal. His company was not doing well, his marriage had failed, and he was very lonely. I held him together and gave him the energy to carry on. Nobody should underestimate the power of a woman to transform her husband.”

Between leaving Baghdad and moving to America, Patricia made a transformation of her own. She became tough as nails. (“No, firm, not tough,” she corrects me.) At any rate, she knew what she wanted and got it. She started pushing Kluge to save his empire from collapse and expand it. Her tactics worked.

“One day, he came to me and said, ‘I’m going to go bankrupt.’ I said, ‘You’re just as smart as any of the other industry guys. Now get the hell out and make things happen.'” The business was saved, the billions multiplied and they started a family, adopting a boy – John Jnr, who is now a 20-year-old university student in New York. Patricia even became a celebrity again – this time as a society hostess in New York. For her 40th birthday, her growing circle of friends – which included such big names as Frank Sinatra – threw a party for her at the Waldorf-Astoria. It was attended by nearly 400 people and the cost was over £1 million. She mixed with members of the Royal Family – she shared a passion for carriage driving with Prince Philip – and posed in smart dresses for high-society magazines. It was quite a change from her days at Knave.

But her time as a Manhattan diva ended almost as quickly as it began. Kluge sought a divorce and paid for it without a whimper. Patricia was philosophical and felt grateful for the large settlement.

“That’s how he lives. He’s not attached to anything. He gets in and gets out, in business and in life. But I emerged from the experience as my own person for the first time. Until then, I had always been a wife, and now I felt I was able to live on my own. I was determined to work – to earn my keep.”

Thanks to her ex-husband’s money, she was able to look around and find work that was much more interesting than any job she had tried before. She invested in films and property, and at last decided her future lay with winemaking.

The job seems to suit her. She strides round her property with a purposeful air and commands a small army of assistants, labourers and marketing people. A food and wine shop has been established at the outskirts of the estate to serve tourists, who are welcome to visit the winery and taste the product.

And after all the years of slipping in and out of the spotlight, she now appears content to spend her time behind the scenes – raising money for charitable and political causes and keeping a close eye on her vines.

She has remarried – her third husband is Bill Moses, a lawyer who is only two years her senior – and the couple manage the estate together.

“I still feel British in my heart, but I feel at home here in Virginia,” she says. “It’s as British as you can get outside Britain. When I first came here, I looked at the hills and knew I was home. It’s the place where I intend to live out my life and where I want to be buried.

“This place will be here for future generations. In fact, if we do it right, it will pay for the future.”



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