By Caroline Graham and Sharon Churcher
It is a multi-million-pound Royal extravaganza being billed as California’s ‘social event of the decade’ – but a star-studded polo tournament could engulf Prince William and his new bride in a potentially embarrassing ‘cash for access’ controversy.
Questions have been raised about the society bash in the exclusive coastal resort of Santa Barbara, as wealthy tycoons have paid up to £60,000 to mingle with William and Kate.
The July 9 event will be attended by celebrities including David Beckham, Oprah Winfrey and Sylvester Stallone and will raise more than £3 million for a charity only recently set up in the Prince’s name.
Guests of honour: Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
As well as the individuals, corporate sponsors including the jeweller’s Tiffany and German car-maker Audi have paid up to £350,000 to be associated with the Royal shindig.
The Mail on Sunday recently revealed that Audi public relations executive Jon Zammett was invited to William and Kate’s wedding breakfast. The couple are among several Royals who benefit from cut-price leasing deals with the company, including Prince Harry, Prince Charles and the Queen.
Under the sponsorship, William and Kate will be ferried around Santa Barbara Polo And Racquet Club’s exquisitely manicured 36 acres in a top-of-the-range Audi A8.
The couple’s California trip also includes an event thrown by the Los Angeles branch of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta), also sponsored by Audi.
Another sponsor of the polo event is Scotch whisky Royal Salute – which William’s team will be named after.
A £60,000 donation buys a place on one of the three teams, while another 600 people will pay £2,500 just to lunch in the same room as the Royals. It even costs £250 to have a packed lunch and the chance to ‘glimpse William across a polo field’.
The event will benefit a new charity called The American Friends of the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry and, according to the Palace, ‘hoist the flag’ for Britain.
The couple’s days in California have been bolted on to their official visit to Canada, which starts later this month. That trip – largely funded by the Canadian government – was announced as long ago as February.
But in May, after the wedding, Clarence House announced the couple would also be visiting the US. No reason was given for the extension, which will be largely paid for by the taxpayer via the Foreign Office.
According to public records, the first formal steps to set up the American Friends as a foundation were not taken until the day of the wedding, April 29, when it was incorporated in the state of Delaware. It was registered as a charity with New York State regulators on May 13.
A source said: ‘I’m not sure why it was left so late but to maximise the takings they needed to be incorporated in the States. You can’t take a tax deduction for a charitable donation here unless it is to a group that is US-registered. The people coming to the polo are super-rich but, frankly, some of them won’t give a penny unless they get a tax break.’
Controversially, the president of the new US arm of the Princes’ charity is Henry ‘Hank’ Slack. The tycoon, 61, was the right-hand man of mogul Harry Oppenheimer, who controlled South African diamond and gold giants De Beers and Anglo American during the apartheid era.
Glamorous: Melissa Ganzi and her husband Marc - pictured at a polo event earlier this year - have paid £60,000 to play alongside Prince William
Mr Slack married his boss’s daughter Mary and was also a director of a mining conglomerate founded by Charles Engelhard – the inspiration for James Bond villain Goldfinger, who made a fortune thwarting a British wartime ban on the export of South African gold bars.
Mr Slack’s new role will certainly help his standing in American high society, and he is just one of the rich Americans hoping to increase their kudos from the royal visit. Those riding alongside the Prince on the club’s imported Bermudan grass, trimmed to precisely 7/16th of an inch, will include attractive blonde Cadillac heiress Melissa Ganzi and Taiwan-born Wesley Ru, who owns America’s largest maker of credit cards.
The club’s treasurer, Glen Holden, an 83-year-old insurance magnate, said he has been negotiating with the Palace for two years to ‘involve’ William or Harry in the event, which was originally planned as a party to celebrate the club’s centenary.
He first tried to persuade Prince Charles to dispatch one of his sons to be ‘the crown jewel’ of the party in 2009, and eventually secured a meeting with the Princes’ private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton in London last summer, when he guaranteed a £500,000 donation if one of the Princes agreed to play.
Mr Holden said: ‘I know Prince Charles through polo, so I wrote to him and said it would be just marvellous if William or Harry could be involved in the celebrations. I suggested a charity match.
Social Climbing: Hank Slack - pictured with British wife Sarah - will gain enviable kudos from his role as president of Prince William's new American charity
‘I immediately received a lovely letter back from Prince Charles saying he had spoken to the boys and that they were interested.’
By last summer, the discussions had centred on William. ‘We had to commit to raising a certain amount of money because you can’t have Prince William flying off and all the costs involved in that and not have the guarantee of a large payday for his charity. We guaranteed $750,000. Some was already secured from sponsors like Tiffany and I underwrote some from my own pocket.
‘Then my wife Gloria and I went to Cirencester and met Prince William, who was playing in a tournament. He said to me, “I know why you are here and I’d love to come. I hope we can make it happen.”
‘He told me there were many things “on the board” but what I didn’t know at the time was that he would get engaged and married.’
The secret negotiations intensified when the couple returned from their honeymoon last month. Mr Holden – who also says he is ‘good friends’ with Prince Philip – said: ‘We were told a couple of weeks ago that, yes, they were going to commit to it. But it was only last week that we got the final OK to go public. It is an enormous coup for the club.’
The club’s website carries an announcement for the event, along with a plug for Tiffany. In order to meet strict US rules, it warns ticket buyers that the new charity has yet to be approved by the US taxman. Donations will only be tax deductable if the Internal Revenue Service agrees its charity status.
In papers filed in New York, the group gives its mailing address as Mr Slack’s magnificent 65-acre horse farm in the hamlet of Peapack, New Jersey. His imposing Normandy-style stone chateau, which appears to be of relatively recent construction, is hung with oil paintings of horses and hounds.
His elegant British wife Sarah Slack said: ‘You’ve come to the right place,’ when asked about her husband’s role in the new charity. ‘But I really can’t say anything. It’s early days. I don’t want to get it wrong. I will have my husband call you.’
Mr Slack did not respond to repeated requests for comment, although his wife later called back to refer us to Clarence House. A spokesman there said he did not know how the tycoon had come to occupy his new position nor the reason for the apparent haste with which the charity is being set up.
‘He wouldn’t necessarily know the Princes,’ the spokesman stressed.
At the event, William will be playing on the Royal Salute team alongside Mr Holden’s son Glen Holden Jnr, Andy Busch of the Anheuser-Busch beer dynasty and Santi Trotz, an Argentine professional jokingly known as ‘hot to Trotz-ki’.
His ‘entry fee’ of £60,000 – and those of two other professionals – will be paid to the charity by a wealthy ‘patron’.
Opposing Team Audi comprises Ru, Melissa Ganzi’s husband Marc, who made a reported £50 million from mobile phone towers, polo professional Juan Bollini, and frozen bread entrepreneur Scott Devon.
The third team is Team Santa Barbara, which Holden says is about to be renamed under another sponsorship deal. It comprises Melissa, Mr Holden’s grandson Glen Holden III, professional Nic Roldan and hotel magnate Patrick M Nesbitt.
‘Melissa will make this the team to beat,’ said a friend of the Florida heiress. ‘She’s one heck of a looker when she’s on a horse. She wears a baby-pink helmet with Mel embroidered on it in white.
‘I think she and Kate will hit it off. They’re both from self-made families. Melissa’s granddaddy started out as a car salesman and built up a $1.5 billion business.’
Holden said: ‘The day will start at 1pm with a VIP drinks party in which certain people, a small number of maybe 60, will be invited to meet the couple. Then we will go through to the VIP tent for lunch for 600. Prince William will make some remarks and so will I.
‘At 2.45pm we will go outside and the matches will begin. The Duchess will present prizes at 4.45pm.’
He proudly added: ‘We have already raised a guaranteed $2 million (£1.5 million) for the Prince’s foundation. I am reluctant to put a final figure on it, but it’s going to be huge. People are clamouring to sponsor this event. We in America just love the Royal Family and William and Kate are superstars.’
Tiffany is spending £350,000 to be the headline sponsor and supplying the £150,000 silver trophy for the winning team. Audi, Royal Salute and upmarket clothing company Jack Wills are believed to have contributed a further £150,000 each.
Mr Holden says he has personally made a substantial ‘goodwill’ donation to the Princes’ British charity out of gratitude for William’s agreement to patronise the event.
Audi’s North American president Johan de Nysschen is expected to attend the match and the Bafta gala. Asked how much Audi is contributing to the Royal trip, a publicist hired by the firm said: ‘We were all made to sign confidentiality agreements. We will lose our jobs if we reveal how much Audi is paying.’
In a statement, a spokesman for Prince William said: ‘The couple are delighted to be visiting California . . . to [help] create jobs and investment by deepening the strong bonds between the US and UK.’
He added that the polo day was raising money for the Princes’ charities which have ‘captured the imagination of many in the US’.
‘The American Friends was recently formed as a non-profit organisation under Delaware law,’ he said. ‘It is still in its early stages but the polo event will be a great opportunity to raise funds so it can make a difference across many important areas of charitable work.’
The spokesman added: ‘The Duke of Cambridge was delighted to accept the invitation to play in celebration of the Club’s centenary. This was entirely unrelated to the setting up of the American Friends of the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry.’