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Gilded youth: We chat to young heiress India Rose James

Her mum overdosed on heroin when she was a baby and her grandfather was a porn baron. India Rose James tells Joanna della Ragione about her family's past and the stress of life as an heiress with a £330m fortune at just 23

Published 25/04/2015

India Rose James
India Rose James
Paul Raymond

There's nothing about her physical appearance that betrays her status as London's wealthiest young woman as India Rose James strides into her 5,000 sq ft Soho Revue Gallery on Greek Street. That she has such a space, slap in the centre of town, is more revealing.

India Rose is the 23-year-old granddaughter of Paul Raymond, the self-proclaimed "King of Soho". He died in 2008 at the age of 82 leaving virtually his entire empire to his two granddaughters, India, and her half-sister Fawn, 28. By 2013 India was the youngest person on the Sunday Times Rich List, with a fortune estimated at £329m.

She's all pink-tinged blondeness, with a stripy T-shirt and scuffed Doc Martens. The only material possession that gives her away is the quilted Chanel backpack slung over one shoulder.

It's an hour before 500 people, including an array of Soho's best-known characters, are to descend on her gallery for the grand opening, so perhaps it's understandable that she's a little on edge.

"Oh God, this is a disaster waiting to happen," she exclaims, trying to shove a champagne bar out of the way of the door. "It's stressful having your own gallery."

It's not a stress that most girls her age have to face. But while Fawn is a director of Soho Estates, the company run by their father John James to look after the girls' assets, India is not overly interested in the day-to-day running of the business.

"Occasionally I say to Dad, 'Oh, I went there', and he says, 'Oh, you own that'. But I don't really care. There's a few places I know we own, obviously The Box and this gallery. My dad has a map where everything is highlighted but I'm not really interested."

She has breakfast every day at Soho House and when I ask if she owns it, she says, "Do I own Soho House? I guess I do essentially, that's quite fun, isn't it?" and grins.

It may seem a blessed existence but the family has had its fair share of tragedy. India's mother Debbie died of a heroin overdose at the age of 36 when India was just nine months old. "I don't remember her at all," says India. "Everyone assumes I'm going to follow in my mum's footsteps but I'm not, that's not what I'm like. I'll get drunk occasionally but that's it."

Has her wealth ever been a hindrance? "I have massive trust issues. A couple of years ago I met a group of people I thought were nice and then one night we were standing outside The Box and I overheard one of them whispering 'She owns The Box, get in with her'. And that was it, the end of our friendship. It's going to happen, I'm very aware of that.

"Money means you can do more things but people have expectations and perceptions. I get an allowance like everyone else, although it might be a bit more than other people's. No, I'm not telling you what it is!" she laughs.

Her memories of Paul are all of a doting grandfather, Sunday lunches at his Green Park residence, and trips to Antigua, where he'd play knock down ginger in the corridors of five-star hotels.

"Fawn and I laughed for hours, he was an absolute joker, a real character," India recalls. How does she reconcile this image with the other, sleazier side of his existence? "I embrace it all. He was one of the best people in the world." She's taking a leading role in the re-opening of Soho institution Madame Jojo's. "I'm following in my grandfather's footsteps - I'm going to be an entertainer like him," she exclaims proudly.

The gallery is an effort to shake her "wild child" reputation and "give something back" to Soho. It's on the site of the old Soho Revue bar and India sees it as an "ode to my grandfather".

The walls and ceilings are covered with well-curated contemporary art - a mixture of painting, installations and lightboxes. There's even a short film starring Ruth Wilson, from a selection of up-and-coming young artists including Scarlett Bowman.

There are whispers of turning the upstairs into a members' club for young people in the arts (the new Groucho, perhaps? "No, I love the old Groucho") and next month Liam Neeson's son Micheal will open a fashion gallery in the back room with his friend Topes Calland.

"Soho is my life, it's always going to change," she says. "It's a place that adapts to the culture of the moment. You can still go round the corner into a random place and watch a gig and I hope this gallery will inject new life into the Soho art scene too."

Her business partner is boyfriend Will Pelham, an Eton-educated architect-in-training. He tells me his father is a "farmer from Lincolnshire" but a quick Google reveals that this farmer is Charles Pelham, 8th Earl of Yarborough. The two met at India's "Hot and Cold" themed 18th birthday party, where India was dressed as an ice queen but Will came as a cowboy "because that was the only thing I could find". They were friends at first but got together 18 months ago and now live together in India's Dean Street penthouse.

After what they describe as a "revelation" they drafted in French gallerist Marine Tanguy to help set up the gallery last year. She's a beautiful brunette Cambridge graduate from Ile de Re who had just sold her award-winning De Re Gallery on Melrose Avenue in LA. They are all under 25 and it's hard to ignore their startling wealth and privilege.

That said, nine works have been sold before the exhibition opens and William is keen to stress that the venture is most certainly a business rather than a passion project. "We want to put food on the tables for our artists, that's important to us," he says.

The trio are part of a crowd of young artists and patrons in London, including playwright Polly Stenham and Victoria Williams, who run Cobb Gallery, and art dealer Megan Piper, who launches an east London sculpture trail called The Line this summer.

India is already a collector, but of owning a gallery she says: "I love art, so I wanted to help my generation of young artists get their careers off the ground. I just bought a Howard Hodgkin and I'm buying one of the lightboxes from this exhibition. I think art is the best investment other than property."

She may be the youngest person to own a Hodgkin but she insists her life is far from lavish. "I don't drive and I don't have a driver - it's all cabs and Tubes. I spend a lot on travelling and I put quite a lot of my money (around £80,000) into this gallery."

She's flying to California and will spend two weeks in LA before jetting off to Iceland for a friend's birthday. She scoffs at the suggestion of a "PJ". "Private jet? I thought you meant pyjamas. I'm flying economy. Well, premium economy," she admits.

Belfast Telegraph

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