Tory co-chair and Mr Fix-it Ben Elliot won’t be enjoying donors’ club row

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
<span>Photograph: WPA/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Cinematic music builds over crisp black and white footage showing Ben Elliot – nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall and co-chair of the Tory party – striding in slow motion on to a balcony to survey the London skyline.

“Our world is more complex than ever … It is sometimes more difficult to be close to the people that matter the most,” booms a voiceover from Elliot in a promotional video for Quintessentially, the luxury lifestyle group and global concierge service he co-founded in 2000.

Yet while the 46-year-old has made a fortune from helping the super rich “forge relationships” and fix whatever they desire – whether it be closing off Times Square for a wedding proposal or drawing on “insider knowledge” to secure a place in an elite school – he now stands accused from within the Conservative party’s own ranks of blurring the line between business and politics.

Related: Labour questions link between Tory’s co-chair and Huawei PR firm

It’s been an uncomfortable week for Elliot – a self-professed “relentless, bossy fucker” who one acquaintance says will nevertheless hate the media spotlight – since it was reported that he had created an “advisory board” for wealthy Conservative donors who have received regular access to the prime minister and Rishi Sunak.

Perhaps even more awkwardly, Prince Charles himself is said to be concerned at becoming “collateral damage” in an increasingly bitter dispute dividing the party after Conservative donor Mohamed Amersi claimed Elliot introduced him to the heir to the throne because he was a member of an “elite” tier of Quintessentially.

A Conservative party spokesperson has said in response to allegations about the “advisory board”: “Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

Such alleged practices do little to endear him to Conservative MPs such as one who told the Guardian that Elliot was not well liked within the party as he tended to move in more rarefied circles than the Commons tea room and appeared to have little time for the grassroots.

Then there is the question of a perceived cosy power nexus involving Elliot, the prime minister’s wife, Carrie, and their mutual friend Zac Goldsmith, whose failed 2016 London mayoral campaign he helped to fund. That demonstration of ability – Goldsmith told Conservative Home that his childhood pal and fellow Etonian was “without doubt the most effective person I know in terms of getting things done – he is the go-to person, he has an amazing ability to get people onside” – was a prelude to Boris Johnson bringing him in two years later as the Tory party’s co-chair.

Nevertheless, one Tory MP said he was best known for being “very close to Carrie” while a former CCHQ staffer said the “general impression among those who know him was that he was in a strong clique with Zac and Boris, and can be both extremely charming to those he needs and brutal to those he doesn’t.”

However, others suggest that discontent among some Tories with Elliot is motivated by deeper-felt unease that can be traced back to the approach of David Cameron.

“Some Conservative MPs are bound to be suspicious of Elliot because he isn’t one of their own – not an elected politician like, say, Eric Pickles under David Cameron,” says Paul Goodman, editor of Conservative Home.

“They’re bound to feel that it’s an insult to the parliamentary party that one of its own isn’t trusted to be the sole party chairman.”

“They’ve got a point – but, then again, Johnson isn’t doing anything new in putting a friend in charge. Cameron did the same with Andrew Feldman.”

Either way, Elliot is a figure who divides. This week, former university acquaintances recalled him standing out at the University of Bristol talking loudly in the library on his mobile phone, one of the first students to possess one.

From university – unlike some other senior Tories who would begin the long march back to power while Labour held the keys to Downing Street – his trajectory was not into politics but rather the London club scene, or rather the upper crust variant centred on outlets such as Chinawhite and other favoured haunts of aristocratic and monied sets.

“It was basically a posh boy party crew. He was basically dossing around the party scene doing bits and pieces and, obviously, in that world there was quite a bit of money to be made,” says acquaintance of Elliot. The typical thing was that you get 10%, so if people were paying five grand for a table, and someone like Ben was bringing them in, you might make 500 quid.”

The seeds of Quintessentially were laid.

“Where they got lucky was the fact that you had all these Russians coming over in the early 2000s. Not many British people would pay 15 grand a year for concierge service but there were people turning up with more money than sense and didn’t know where to go,” maintains the same source, who draws a direct line through what Elliot has been doing ever since.

“He’s quite good at that kind of thing basically, where you get these kind of people who are on the outside but want to get in. He would walk those kind of guys into it.”

Quintessentially was created in 2000 after Elliot was introduced by Camilla’s son, Tom Parker Bowles, to the firm’s other co-founders film producer Aaron Simpson and lawyer Paul Drummond.

“We had lots of access at lots of different points because of our connections,” Simpson recalled in a 2017 interview with Business Insider. “I was looking after film people coming into London – that gives you great access, I just got to know everybody. So did Ben, he had nightclubs, and Paul put all the legal framework together.”

Today, the company that describes itself as a “wish fulfilment empire” has grown in size to what its website says is 60 offices worldwide, although recent sets of results have been marked by losses and the company has had to fend off allegations about its work culture, reportedly paying millions in 2019 to settle an out of court claim by two senior female executives. Quintessentially and Elliot have described the claims as categorically untrue.

Few believe Elliot’s ambitions will have been dimmed, however.

“The thing with Ben is that he is very careful about his image. He always has been and if you talk to him privately he always wants to turn Quintessentially into a Virgin-type brand, where you grow a customer base who identify with your product,” said one source.

Whether the events of the past week have put a brake on that rise remains an open question.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting