Twenty Years Ago Today: An Exemplar of British Aristocracy

Darius Guppy (on the left) with Earl Spencer in better times. Twenty years ago today, it was revealed that a notorious fraudster was willing at last to tell police exactly where in Switzerland he'd stashed his loot. But this was no ordinary fraudster. Darius Guppy was educated at Eton and Oxford, was a member of the Bullingdon Club, and a friend to both Earl Spencer and Boris Johnson. While he had both British and Iranian heritage, he was an aristocrat through and through who could trace his line back to Francis Dashwood (of Hellfire Club fame) and the Plantagenet royal family.

To say that Guppy had a privileged upbringing would be to observe that water is wet, whisky is intoxicating, and rich people have a poor grasp on reality. Young Darius preferred to live by his own rules, which Boris Johnson described as a 'Homeric code of honour, loyalty and revenge.' Unfortunately, Johnson wasn't suggesting that Guppy was likely to spend most of his time sulking in a tent (as Achilleus does in The Iliad), but instead that he was perfectly willing to engage in extraordinary criminal activity in recompense for any slight against himself or his family. The offence, in this case, was to his father, who lost a fortune in the financial crisis suffered by Lloyds of London. Therefore Guppy enlisted a friend to help fake a jewel heist in New York, during which enough stones were 'stolen' to trigger a £1.8 million payout from Lloyds. This went off perfectly until Guppy's friend betrayed him, leading to a prison sentence of five years.

As Guppy was entering Brixton prison, he joked with a guard that it would probably be a lot like going to Eton. But after only a few weeks inside, he was beginning to regret this bravado. A former cell-mate told The Sun that Guppy was a wreck, living in fear of sexual assault from other inmates. He was apparently so terrified of all the offers of intercourse that he had taken to locking himself in his cell. One can only assume that this is not what he meant when he compared prison to Eton. Although this is The Sun we're talking about, so feel free to reach for a pinch of salt.

It's possible, though, that Guppy's willingness to help the police came from another source. By March of 1994 his appeal had been denied, with the judge taking a dim view of Guppy's claims that he only had a couple of hundred thousand pounds to spare, not nearly enough to pay back the insurers. But if he were willing to co-operate, perhaps the matter might be reconsidered...

Guppy was released after serving three years of his sentence, and immediately demonstrated how much he'd learned from the experience by beating up Earl Spencer. He accused the earl of having an affair with his wife while he was in prison (Spencer had made the mistake of giving his friend's wife and their infant daughter a house in which to live during those years).

Guppy then relocated to South Africa, from where he occasionally bemoans the state of modern Britain as an urban hell whose political and financial leaders are a bunch of clowns lacking in any vision. And given that he went to school with most of them, he should know...