'Mr Access All Areas' has transformed Tory party coffers but left series of scandals in his wake

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Ben Elliot, nephew to the Duchess of Cornwall
Ben Elliot, nephew to the Duchess of Cornwall

He is the nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall and, by marriage, of the Prince of Wales; an Old Etonian who founded Quintessentially, a concierge service for the super-rich.

And for the past two years Ben Elliot has also been the Conservative Party’s chairman, raising stupendous sums for Boris Johnson in the run up to the 2019 General Election. No wonder professional colleagues refer to Mr Elliot as “Mr Access All Areas”.

Asked by the Telegraph in 2011 what he was most ashamed of, his response was typically insouciant. “I don’t have much shame. I don’t really regret anything,” he replied.

Last night, the Tories’ financial fixer-in-chief was thrust into the spotlight after it emerged he had arranged for one of his clients, Mohamed Amersi, a telecoms millionaire, to meet Prince Charles over an intimate dinner at Dumfries House in Scotland in 2013.

Mr Amersi went on to donate £1.2 million to Prince Charles’s charities and, along with his Russian-born partner, has given £750,000 to the Conservative Party since 2017.

Mr Elliot, 45, is the common link, the ultimate networker who is close friends with the prime minister. One of Mr Johnson’s first acts on being elected Tory party leader in July 2019 was to make Mr Elliot its co-chairman.

Boris Johnson and Ben Elliot
Boris Johnson and Ben Elliot

Perhaps it’s not surprising that somebody with fingers in so many pies - although friends of Mr Elliot insist he keeps his various interests separate and there is no conflict - has been dogged by controversy since taking over such a key political role.

Mr Elliot was in overall charge of a Tory fundraising dinner that enabled Richard Desmond to sit next to Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, and lobby him over a planning development that in another era would have ended with the Cabinet Minister’s resignation.

Mr Elliot was later forced to issue a humiliating apology in person to the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, promising never to put senior ministers in such a compromising position again.

Scandal

Then at the turn of the year, it emerged Mr Elliot was embroiled in the scandal over the £200,000 refurbishment of the prime minister’s Downing Street flat, paid for initially by Tory party donors, and for which Mr Johnson eventually footed the bill.

Mr Elliot is the product of the marriage of Annabel Shand, sister of the Duchess of Cornwall, and Simon Elliot, a Dorset landowner.

His grandfather Major Bruce Shand, Camilla’s father, was awarded two military crosses during the Second World War commanding a squadron of armoured vehicles with, according to one political commentator, “an elan … displayed by Elliot in the less heroic roles offered by peacetime”.

Mr Elliot has described himself as a “West Country man”, who missed his native Dorset “massively” while co-founding Quintessentially in London and in New York a little over 20 years ago at the age of just 24.

Quintessentially offers three tiers of membership, up to a reported $40,000 a year, a fee that can secure access to all sorts of VIP events and access to celebrities and now, it seems, Royals.

Mr Elliot attended Eton College before studying politics and economics at Bristol University. His close friend is his cousin Tom Parker Bowles, Camilla’s oldest child from her first marriage.

Ben Elliot with his aunt, the Duchess of Cornwall
Ben Elliot with his aunt, the Duchess of Cornwall

For a man whose livelihood depends on connections, it is perhaps unsurprising Mr Elliot met his future wife Mary-Clare, the daughter of the American rock star Steve Winwood, backstage at an Eric Clapton concert in Madison Square Gardens in New York. Tom Parker Bowles was his best man at the subsequent wedding in 2011.

Mr Elliot has harboured political ambition for some years and had previously declared that he would “love to represent a West Country seat” as an MP and more recently has been accused - an allegation his friends deny - of undermining Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the MP for The Cotswolds since 1997, where Mr Elliot now lives.

Sir Geoffrey told the Financial Times that there was “plenty of evidence… that Ben Elliot is behind the scenes attempting to obtain the candidacy of the Cotswolds constituency. And those shenanigans are still going on today”. Sir Geoffrey said he remained “quite bitter about it”.

Inner circle

Mr Elliot is a decade younger than the prime minister but firmly part of his inner circle. The connections are multifarious. Mr Elliot is also old friends with Lord - formerly Zac - Goldsmith, the Environment Minister (each is godfather to the other’s children), who in turn is a confidante of Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s third wife.

Mr Elliot had told friends he was Mr Goldsmith's unofficial campaign manager and fundraiser when he tried, and failed, in 2016 to succeed Mr Johnson as London mayor. The pair used to play poker in their younger days at a private gaming club in Mayfair.

But it is in his role as Tory Party chairman that Mr Elliot has enjoyed spectacular success. Experienced and supremely confident in his ability to ask the super rich for donations, Mr Elliot succeeded in raising a record £8.6 million in donations to the 2019 General Election campaign.

One Tory HQ insider told the Financial Times: “He’s very forceful. Ben squeezes the pips from the donors. His follow-ups for money are blunt, along the lines of ‘You owe us the money, you promised us the money.’ He’s like a bailiff.” In the year up to the 2019 election win, the party raised a staggering £37.4m in large donations.

Mr Elliot doesn’t just seek out the cash. Although co-chairman of the party (his co-chair is the MP Amanda Milling), he is also the sole chairman of the Conservative Party Board and the party’s chief executive is said to report directly to Mr Elliot rather than Ms Milling. He is also a regular in Number 10 and a sounding board for the prime minister.

Super-rich donors

Under Mr Elliot’s stewardship the potential for super-rich donors to influence the prime minister appears greater than ever - even if the Conservative Party insists policy and donations are not linked.

The Financial Times claims that a ‘secretive’ Advisory Board now exists consisting of an unknown group of ‘elite donors’ who are guaranteed a meeting with either Mr Johnson or Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, once a month. The threshold for admission to the Advisory Board is unclear but is said to be in the region of £250,000.

Mr Amersi has been supremely generous to the Conservatives, as well as to the Prince of Wales, but has become embroiled in a bitter dispute with the former Conservative MPs Sir Nicholas Soames and Charlotte Leslie over the party's Middle East outreach group.

Suffice to say that Mr Elliot’s connections to Mr Amersi, first through Quintessentially, have laid the foundations for the problems that have now dragged Prince Charles into what was a row between the donor and Tory MPs.

Perhaps it is inevitable that Mr Elliot, with all his connections, should create in his wake a complex web of controversies. He may be bringing in the cash, but backbench MPs won’t like that one jot.

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