One of Britain’s richest men, Gerald Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, a friend of the royals and the owner of vast swaths of prime London property, including the lion’s share of Mayfair and Belgravia, has died aged 63, of a heart attack.
While unexpected, the death has not come completely out of the blue.
“He was a depressive and had been unwell for many years,” a source tells The Daily Beast.
His only son (who is his third child), Hugh, 25, will now inherit the title and the vast Grosvenor fortune, due to the ancient British law of primogeniture, which favors eldest sons.
Prince Charles was said today to be “deeply shocked” by the duke’s sudden death, while Buckingham Palace confirmed the queen had sent a personal message of condolence to the duke’s wife and children.
According to Forbes, the duke had a fortune of £8.3 billion, making him the 68th-richest person in the world, and the third-richest person in the U.K. However, he has frequently been cited as the richest person in the U.K., depending on property values of the day.
He was commonly regarded as the richest British-born, full-time resident, as other claimants to the title are either based and pay tax overseas or were born outside the U.K. David and Simon Reuben, for example, with a fortune estimated at £13B, were born in India and live in Monaco, and the Hinduja family (worth about the same) are also immigrants to the U.K. who live, in practice, all over the globe.
A close friend of the Prince of Wales, the duke acted as an informal mentor to William on Charles’s request. His wife, Natalia, is Prince William’s godmother and they were closely involved in William and Harry’s lives after Diana’s death.
Gerald was a stalwart supporter of the monarchy, and was always ready to put his assets at the service of the Windsors—just last week, William and Kate borrowed his private jet to fly to a holiday villa in the south of France.
He was also an executor of Princess Diana’s will.
His son and heir, Hugh, 25, who now becomes the Seventh Duke of Westminster, is cut from a similar cloth. He is a close friend of William and Kate Middleton and is Prince George’s godfather. Much like the young royals, he guards his privacy fiercely, has never given an interview and has no presence on social media.
Acquaintances tell The Daily Beast he is a polite and reserved character, little-known outside a circle of close friends.
Although his father was brought up in studied and deliberate simplicity—Gerald was raised on a beef farm on an island in the middle of Lough Erne in Northern Ireland—Hugh has been aware of his destiny from an early age.
There was still a deliberate attempt by his parents to provide a normal context to his life—he was sent to a local state primary school but then attended a private secondary school, as did his three sisters. He did not board, as Gerald hated his school days at Harrow, leaving with just two O-levels.
His father threw a 21st birthday party for him at the family seat in Chester, for which the dress code was “black tie and neon.” Presents were banned but those who insisted were permitted to add to the young man’s wine collection.
Whilst lavish, rumors that the event at Eaton Hall cost £5 million are said to be wide of the mark.
Hugh, a student at Newcastle University, told his local paper The Chronicle in one of his only publicly recorded comments: “The party was simply amazing—a birthday and a party I will never forget. It is the beginning of a new era in my life and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.”
The Grosvenors—whose fortune dates back to their acquisition of 500 acres of swampy land in the 1600s that would become Eaton Square, Mayfair, and Belgravia and the heart of Georgian London—are intimately connected with the royal family.
Hugh’s oldest sister, Lady Tamara, is married to Edward van Cutsem, brother of William van Cutsem, another close friend of William’s who is also a godparent to George.
There are two other sisters: Lady Edwina, 34, married to television presenter and historian Dan Snow, and 23-year-old Lady Viola.