The bounder who taught Prince Charles the art of seduction: He was the polo-playing Casanova who captivated Christina Onassis and secretly wed a peer’s daughter. As Luis Basualdo dies at 75, RICHARD KAY looks back at his colourful life
Of all his accomplishments on behalf of his adopted country, assisting a ‘wet behind the ears’ Prince Charles in the art of the romantic chase was among bed-hopping playboy Luis Basualdo’s proudest achievements.
The glamorous polo-playing Argentine —who cut an amorous swathe through the ritzy resorts of Europe and America collecting heiresses and beautiful women as if they were match-books — found himself uniquely positioned to help the then unmarried prince in his quest for intimate contact with the opposite sex.
Basualdo, who has died at the age of 75, had his own polo team, the Golden Eagles, for whom the prince played in the 1970s. He later recalled: ‘Charles had joined my team and we were together constantly. As we got to know each other he dropped hints, he was shy and would mumble nervously about how hard it was for him to meet girls. After all he couldn’t just go to a pub and pick someone up.’+7
- Luis Basualdo was a glamorous polo-playing Argentine —who cut an amorous swathe through the ritzy resorts of Europe and America collecting heiresses and beautiful women as if they were match-books+7
- Polo player Luis Basualdo and his wife, Lucy Pearson, third daughter of Viscount Cowdray, at a wedding reception at Rudgwick, Sussex
The darkly good-looking Basualdo, a modern day Casanova and a former lover of the socialite Christina Onassis, saw this as an unforgettable challenge.
At the time, he was married to Viscount Cowdray’s fabulously rich daughter Lucy Pearson, with whom he had eloped when she was just 17, and he had the money and the connections to make the prince’s wishes come true.
The sportsman’s exploits in attracting fresh lovelies for his royal friend were rather more impressive than his feats on the polo field. Living in Lodsworth House, the stately West Sussex pile owned by his father-in-law, Basualdo would drive round the estate picking up daughters of tenant farmers with the promise that the heir to the throne wanted to meet them. Always attentive to detail, Basualdo would take them shopping in nearby Midhurst and Petworth, and would help find them something pretty to wear.
In the #MeToo era, such boasts sound unsettling, but in the anything-goes 1970s, these arrangements were hardly uncommon.
With his wife helpfully away, he would invite the girls to his home for a drink to relax before the prince and friends arrived. But to ensure the evening was a success, according to Basualdo, the prince liked to play an adult version of ‘murder in the dark’.
‘I was always the murderer, Charles the detective and the girls the victims,’ he recalled in an interview in 2002. ‘Charles was self-conscious, so this was one way of avoiding chat-up lines. They hid in darkened rooms and when Charles found them he was supposed to pinch them on the nose to make them scream.’+7
*In his heyday, it was said that the casanova’s brain had a built-in wealth calculator and his eyes registered dollar signs like a fruit machine. And those eyes were soon fixed on Cowdray’s daughter Lucy Pearson (pictured)
The pinching, according to Basualdo, wasn’t always on the nose and one thing very much led to another.
There are also stories that he oversaw more sophisticated seductions, including a French girl he helped Charles pick up in Deauville after a polo match. And there was a fiery Colombian called Maria Eugenia who, when she fell into the prince’s arms, asked him: ‘What shall I call you — Sir or Charles?’ To which the prince replied: ‘Arthur’ — one of his middle names.
Of course, it is open to question just how accurate these stories of princely liaisons are. Basualdo embellished so much about his own life, it is still hard to separate fact from fiction.
His helping hand with the prince’s love interest nevertheless cemented their friendship. Basualdo was invited to Charles’s 30th birthday party in 1978 — where he sat next to a teenage Lady Diana Spencer — and as a gift presented the prince with a polo pony. Alas the beast was not up to scratch as, after trying it out, Charles declared it was a ‘donkey’.
One thing is certainly true; when Basualdo first arrived in Britain in the late 1960s, it was part of a dashing and handsome polo set which sent sexual shockwaves through the English countryside.
‘He was a direct contrast to most of the chinless people around him,’ a friend from those days remembered. ‘If you mix Argentine “assassins” [a reference to their laser-like focus on seduction] with debs and Home Counties wives, then of course they’re going to seem more attractive than English boys who’ve never done anything more exciting than let off a Thunderflash at Sandhurst.’
The vigour with which Basualdo pursued women was matched only by his reluctance to pick up a bill. The Daily Mail’s Nigel Dempster christened him ‘The Bounder’ — a nickname that stuck — and the polo authorities charged him (unsuccessfully) with bringing the game into disrepute. But thanks to his charm and wit, he was for years tolerated by the idle rich and the aristocratic circles into which he wheedled his way.
His role model was the notorious playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, whose parade of lovers included heiresses Barbara Hutton and Doris Duke, as well as film stars Ava Gardner and Jayne Mansfield. ‘Rubirosa taught me things about life and love,’ Basualdo claimed. The first lesson on the gold-digging curriculum was to avoid the obviously beautiful girls of the Swinging Sixties in favour of chubby-cheeked, fresh-faced heiresses.
He met Christina Onassis at a dinner party. One of the richest young women in the world, she was the only daughter and sole heiress of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. But she was also a troubled young woman.
A year or so later, they were an item. ‘She was sexually very demanding,’ he later said. ‘But for a while at least she was happy.’
According to a childhood friend, the affair fizzled out, because she was going to be cut off from her fortune.
In his heyday, it was said that his brain had a built-in wealth calculator and his eyes registered dollar signs like a fruit machine.
And those eyes were soon fixed on Cowdray’s daughter Lucy Pearson. Lucy was only 17 but hugely rich, thanks to a £7 million trust fund.+7
- Basualdo (left) had his own polo team, the Golden Eagles, for whom the prince (middle) played in the 1970s
They had met when he played for her father’s polo team and he claimed she would ‘escape from her finishing school in Ascot to spend nights with me in London’.
He later related that he had no wish to marry, but then remembered Rubirosa’s advice about heiresses being a future asset.
Knowing that her father would refuse to allow the marriage — and possibly cut her off — they wed secretly at Caxton Hall in London in July 1972. The witnesses were society figures Lady Edith Foxwell, Lady Jellicoe and his friend Marcelo.
Afterwards, Basualdo took them to lunch at Lord Cowdray’s favourite restaurant in Knightsbridge, only for his cheque to bounce.
This, however, was a minor detail, because he was now married to someone who could keep him in the style to which he felt he deserved.
The married couple moved between fabulous homes in London, New York and Paris, and had two children Charlotte and Rupert.
After six years, however, Lucy fled back to Cowdray Park, unable to take his philandering any longer, divorcing him for physical and mental cruelty.
But once again the Bounder had a slice of luck: Lord Cowdray gave him a £200,000 pay-off. The legacy of the failed marriage always haunted him, as his son and daughter adopted their mother’s maiden name and not his.
A new companion, Clare Lawman, was soon on the scene; a tall, willowy blonde of whom Basualdo once said: ‘The only girl I have ever fallen madly in love with.’
His habit of spending other people’s money was to continue. In 1981, after moving to Paris with Clare and almost penniless, there was more luck in store.+7
- Basualdo was a modern day Casanova and a former lover of the socialite Christina Onassis (left)+7
*Basualdo pictured with Daphne Guinnes. He was called many things: adventurer, procurer and slimy creep were among the more printable
They bumped by chance into a bored and overweight Christina Onassis, who invited them to spend the summer on her private Mediterranean island of Skorpios.
After just two weeks the couple wanted to leave, but Christina pleaded with them to stay — offering him $30,000 a month to do so.
He agreed of course, and became her grandly titled hommes d’affaires, a sinecure he held on to for three years.
There was to be an intriguing postscript to this tale. One summer while motoring in Austria, he had opened a bank account into which, over the course of a year, $1.2 million was transferred from Christina’s bank in St Moritz.
Basualdo claimed she had authorised the arrangement, but a warrant was issued for his arrest. He fled to Argentina and Christina eventually dropped the charges.+7
*Prix De L’arc De Triomphe at Longchamp Racecourse Paris France Shelley Smith Gordon White Cheryl Ladd and Luis Basualdo 1984 Prix De L’arc De Triomphe at Longchamp
A morose Basualdo moved back to New York, where he met and married divorcee Jan Leech. The marriage was not a happy one and gave rise to some colourful stories.
One — he told himself — that he tried to drown her in the bath, another that she chased him down Madison Avenue with a carving knife (he claimed it was a stiletto) and another that he locked her out on the balcony naked in the middle of winter, while he sat down to read Debrett’s, the playboy’s essential guide to the British aristocracy.
But the good times were ending, and the one-time bon vivant returned to his native Argentina, where he claimed to be living off his farms and estates.
Over the years, Luis Basualdo was called many things: adventurer, procurer and slimy creep were among the more printable.
Bounder is probably the kindest, because for all his faults he was certainly a life enhancer.