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Winchester divorce lawyer to the rich marries at Cathedral
10:00am Monday 30th June 2014 in Winchester
AYESHA Vardag will not be hurried.
Waiting in the formal sitting room of her house in Winchester’s Cathedral Close, I think I can hear feet pad-padding around the room above.
Outside, her three dogs rocket across a yawning lawn, closely followed by a handyman wielding what must surely be the world’s largest poop-scoop.
When Ayesha Vardag, divorce lawyer to the jet-drippingly rich, finally erupts into the room, she’s exquisitely buffed in a designer dress, has tresses as bouncy as a hair advert and is sporting an engagement ring so stonking I suddenly fret she may develop RSI of the arm.
She’s lived beside the Norman cathedral’s east end for the past four years.
Once the Bishop of Basingstoke’s official residence, when the rental of the multi-million pound home was advertised in Country Life, Ayesha pounced, securing the deal despite the fact “there were lots of Russians who wanted to throw a lot more money at it”.
The monthly price tag for the home, which possesses both the dignified air of a Trollope novel and several stunning examples of Heywood Sumner sgraffito, is one she can afford with ease.
Her career is so maxi-turbo-charged it warrants a mention on Top Gear.
A sliver of steel runs through her sentences as she outlines how she exploded into the world of matrimonial law, forming Ayesha Vardag Solicitors in 2005.
“I care a lot, I get involved,” she declares, pouring filter coffee.
“I meet my clients at what is the worst period of their lives, when they are at ground zero.
“You work, side-by-side, to get them to a better place. When you then achieve something it has an immediate impact on their lives.
“You’re dealing with emotions in the raw. My work has such a powerful impact on people.”
The watershed case came in 2010, when she “made pre-nups work in England” during a supreme court battle on behalf of German heiress Katrin Radmacher.
“I think everyone thought I was a bit barmy and unrealistic – but we won.”
Today, Ayesha oversees billionaires’ marital bust-ups, occasionally putting in TV sofa time to explain legal nuances to the public – even if some of us would only have a rotund tortoiseshell and some back copies of Private Eye to carve up should someone’s snoring [pointed look] become unbearable.
The 46-year-old’s unyielding work ethic was probably formed during her Oxford childhood. Mother Barbara raised her largely alone, toiling hard as a secretary to put mince and potatoes on the table by day and typing up student theses to earn extra cash by night.
Relentless scrimping enabled Ayesha to attend fee-paying Oxford High School, from where she leapfrogged to Cambridge University, a cluster of awards and a fledgling career as a corporate barrister.
It was her own divorce from fellow lawyer Xavier Hunter in 1999 which prompted the shift into matrimonial matters, after she wowed her lawyer with the meticulous preparation of her own case.
Legal legend Raymond Tooth, dubbed “Jaws” – out of affection or, just possibly, fear – swiftly poached Ayesha |to be his assistant.
It’s apparent these experiences, not least the strong maternal role model of a woman bent on her daughter attaining her full potential, have all contributed to the creation of something of a legal tigress.
“I’m not afraid of what people think. If somebody tells me I can’t do something and I think I can, I’m not discouraged.
“I’m very emotional about family, friends, the firm and clients.”
Ayesha may have forever resided in London but for the quest to find exactly the right secondary school for elder son Jasper, now 18.
After considering Eton and Marlborough, she plumped for Winchester College: “It’s the best school in the country, it was important to do everything to support the boys getting here.”
Soon she was renting a flat in Southgate Street and younger son, Felix, currently 17, was installed at Pilgrims’ preparatory school.
Daughter Helena, 9, born during a long-term relationship after her first marriage ended, is now at Twyford, another nearby prep school.
Days after Ayesha moved into The Close, she popped into the Wykeham Arms for a swift glass of champagne only to strike up conversation with the man standing next to her at the bar.
On Saturday (June 28), the Dean of Winchester married them in the cathedral – with the bride wearing a scarlet dress sewn by her mother and a jewelled tiara bought in Istanbul.
There’s a pre-nup – natch - which she and Vardags’ in-house forensic financial and commercial consultant Dr Stephen Bence recently signed at a castle in the Italian mountains.
The memory of it makes the bride go a little misty-eyed.
For Ayesha’s professional ambition is matched by an equally-strong determination to build around her the large, bustling family she never had as an only child.
“We wanted a house close to the school,” she happily chatters.
“It is always full of Wykemists and Swithunites; we have big Sunday lunches.”
You can’t but admire her gutsy response to adversity.
And I infer a deeply-held desire to |repel all memories of the dark times, look firmly forward and reach for the stars – especially if they happen to be divorcing.
Pretty similar to the rest of us, really, but what probably defines Ayesha is the zeal with which she pursues her goals and a resolve to relish everything she’s worked so hard to attain.
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