Nathalie Dauriac has emerged bruised but unbowed from an explosive court case against phone tycoon John Caudwell that has appalled, fascinated and divided the City.
In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, she says that, contrary to his claims, she has emerged the winner, but that her case should be seen as an example of the sexist treatment meted out to professional women.
She claims she and other women in the Caudwell business empire were subjected to poor treatment and described in abusive and sexist language.
Nathalie Dauriac claims she and other women in the Caudwell business empire were subjected to poor treatment and described in abusive and sexist language
This, she says, wasn’t sufficiently acknowledged by the judge, and she has written to the Chancellor of the High Court asking him to look at the attitudes taken by the judiciary towards female professionals.
‘I am not a feminist,’ she says, ‘but I am concerned the court appeared to condone bad language and behaviour against me and other women working in Caudwell businesses.’
Before their acrimonious legal battle, the pair were not only business associates, but the closest of friends. Caudwell, 65, acted as a mentor and paternal figure towards Dauriac, a French money manager 25 years his junior. He was even godfather to her daughter Juliette, now aged six, though he has no relationship with the girl now.
Though both sides say the relationship was platonic, it was close. He invited her on his yacht and skiing in Vail, but in court they interpreted these trips differently. He saw them as holidays, she saw them as business trips, where £600 million of deals were done as a result.
At one point, Caudwell asked one of the QCs: ‘Why did she tell me she loved me, every day?’
And when questioned as to why he told her he loved her, he replied: ‘Because I did. Because I was genuine. Because I meant it.’
There is no love lost now. And, after a blistering battle in court, both sides are claiming victory.
She says she’s the winner because Caudwell was ordered to pay £500,000 for her shares. The judge also ruled she was constructively dismissed, after she was ousted from the wealth management business she set up with him and given a token £2 for her shares.
He says he has come out on top as the judge called Dauriac a ‘remarkably unsatisfactory witness’, agreed that she made £33,000 of improper expense claims and awarded her less than she wanted.
Dauriac claims she and other women in the Caudwell business empire were subjected to poor treatment and described in abusive and sexist language
‘His suggestion that he somehow “won” the case is obvious nonsense,’ Dauriac says, adding that she is ‘shocked’ at the judge’s ‘indifference’ as to what she sees as sexism in the workplace. She says: ‘I don’t want my daughter, or my son, to grow up in a society where oppression and verbal abuse of women is considered acceptable.’
Dauriac does not accept that her expenses – including a £135 bill for hairdressing at Mad Lillies salon in Hampstead or a £104 birthday cake for her former husband Konrad Stoebe – were improper. She says the hairdo was so she looked impeccable at a client event, and the cake was served at a client dinner.
We did £600m of business on the back of £33,000 expenses. I disagree with the judge’s view of it
‘That is a cake I will regret for the rest of my life but it is blown out of proportion. To put it in context, most of the money was spent on travel to see John. We did £600 million of business on the back of £33,000 of expenses over three years. The judge didn’t believe it was wholly and necessarily in the course of business, but this is how our industry works. I disagree with the judge’s view, but there is nothing I can do about it.’
Dauriac’s supporters believe that, as a young and attractive woman, she has been the victim of sexism. For Team Caudwell she is a scheming Machiavellian who spent company money as if it were her own.
Caudwell says she ‘has taken me to hell and back over the past three years.’ He adds: ‘Nathalie is using the extremely important issue of sexism in the workplace as cover for her humiliating defeat.’ He also says she was ‘dishonest’ and was awarded much less than she tried to ‘extort.’ It is clear the courtroom battle has come at a heavy cost to each of them, personal and financial.
Both have spent millions on legal bills, which Caudwell can easily afford as a self-made billionaire who left school at 16. He built Phones 4U from scratch, before selling out to private equity investors in 2006.
Dauriac, by contrast, is not in the super-rich league. ‘I had to sell my house in Hampstead to fight for justice,’ she says. ‘I think John believed I couldn’t afford to go to court, but I felt I had no choice than to fight.’
Legal clash: Nathalie Dauriac and John Caudwell during the court case last year
She now lives with her new partner, Dan, a lawyer, and the four children they have between them. She denies suggestions that third parties were bankrolling her case, saying: ‘I funded it myself. I had to put the financial security of my family at risk. I repeatedly asked to settle this with an independent valuation of my shares, but sadly it didn’t happen or we could have avoided three years of legal action and a lot of expense. John spent large sums on lawyers, which could have gone to the children’s charities he likes to support. What a waste.’
Though her own costs may be huge, Dauriac insists she has no regrets, saying: ‘This is about basic fairness towards a woman who succeeded, as I did, in the male-dominated financial services industry.’
A Frenchwoman brought up in Bordeaux, Dauriac came to England 20 years ago to do a postgraduate diploma at the University of Cambridge and never left the UK. She met Caudwell while working for private bank Coutts. There, she says, she became the youngest senior client partner at 26.
In 2009, aged 29, she left to set up Signia Wealth. Caudwell was the controlling shareholder with a 51 per cent stake and was also a major client. She had a 49 per cent stake.
‘I founded that business from my sofa at home with £300,000. I put in my sweat equity,’ she says.
‘I built it to £2.3 billion of assets under supervision in five years. John and I were super-close. As a client and as a friend, I trusted him implicitly. We never had any problems until 2014. I don’t know why it went wrong then. All I can think is that I disagreed with some of his behaviour and decisions, and he doesn’t like people standing up to him.’
After she fell out with Caudwell, she says she was ‘subjected to relentless pressure’ and ‘a series of outrageous demands’ as the price of keeping her job. The court heard how she was pressured into agreeing to a lie detector test and to see a psychiatrist, accompanied by Caudwell. Dauriac was also asked not to have any more children until the business was a success.
She says: ‘I was called many names including “sociopath”. I was approached by two other women who offered to act as witnesses on my behalf. They had been referred to in derogatory terms by managers in text messages including “lying fat little c*nt”, “nasty bitches”, “fatso” and “fat little f******”.
Nathalie was found dishonest and ended up with a fraction of the money she tried to extort from me
The judge said the abusive messages were unpleasant and offensive but ruled that they were irrelevant to the issues he had to decide.
Though she was awarded £500,000, Dauriac argued her shares were worth far more. So isn’t Caudwell right to say she failed in her efforts to make him pay that sum?
Success: Phones4U, which John Caudwell sold in 2006
‘Well, £500,000 is a lot of money in anyone’s estimation and the judge valued Signia at around £5 million. I was never seeking figures like the £20 million suggested by John, but I believe my shares have been grossly undervalued. I’m considering my options on that,’ she says.
Dauriac has started a new firm, Hay Hill Wealth Management, chaired by City grandee Lord Fink, the former boss of Man Group.
She says Hay Hill has hundreds of millions of pounds of funds under management, and adds: ‘I don’t want any relationship with John but I wish him the best. I’m not interested in some endless feud. I’m looking to the future now.’