Ex-soldier who gave Julian Assange sanctuary at battling 'divorce'

EDEN CONFIDENTIAL: Ex-soldier Vaughan Smith, 59, who once gave Julian Assange sanctuary at his 600-acre estate in Norfolk, is battling ‘acrimonious divorce’

He’s the buccaneering former Guards officer who, as an award-winning freelance cameraman, filmed conflicts from Iraq to Afghanistan and was twice shot – saved, on one occasion, when an incoming round was stopped by his mobile phone and a wad of cash.

Later, he took a different kind of risk – letting Julian Assange take sanctuary at his 600-acre Norfolk estate as the Wikileaks founder began his fight against extradition for alleged sex offences.

Now, though, Vaughan Smith, founder of London’s Frontline Club, much favoured by war reporters and foreign correspondents, is caught up in a battle at home. ‘He’s in an acrimonious divorce,’ I’m told.

Smith, 59, confirms the split from his second wife, Pranvera, describing the divorce as ‘sensitive and distressing for all concerned, not least our children’.

Pranvera, 44, who met Vaughan when she acted as his interpreter during the war in her homeland, Kosovo, in the late 1990s, will say only that it is ‘very complicated’.

‘Total chaos’: Vaughan Smith (left) and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (right)

Distressing: Smith’s second wife Pranvera

I understand that there have already been two court hearings, and that a third was to have been held in February, only for it to be postponed. Pranvera remains in Norfolk with the couple’s children, while Vaughan, who has adult offspring by his first marriage to Sanela Djono, is in London, though periodically he and Pranvera swap places, so as to allow him time with his younger brood.

Friends of the couple are doing their best to avoid taking sides – to the extent, I’m told, of being wary of holding events at the Frontline Club, in Paddington, West London.

It was there that Assange stayed for several months before moving – at Vaughan and Pranvera’s invitation – to the ten-bedroom Smith family seat in Norfolk. Though obliged by a court order to wear an electronic tag and conform to a curfew, Assange didn’t lack for female company. ‘Julian is hunted by a certain type of woman – and hunted is the right word,’ recalled Smith, who said that life at the house could be ‘total chaos’.

Neither he nor Pranvera expected Assange to be with them for more than a few weeks. ‘I wouldn’t say that having anybody stay at your house for almost a year is a prescription for domestic tranquillity,’ mused Smith, after Assange’s departure, though insisting that neither he nor Pranvera regretted giving him refuge.

Will we hear more about that extraordinary time? I ask because Pranvera, who’s founded On Front Line, hosting debates about world events, tells me that she’s writing a book…

The smart set’s talking about… Harry and Meghan landlord taking a Swiss role

Nicholas Johnston with wife Linda

Not content with once counting Prince Harry and Meghan among the tenants on his Oxfordshire estate, Old Etonian Nicholas Johnston snapped up a second estate, Bantham, in South Devon, ‘on a whim’ — for £11.5 million, only to antagonise locals by unveiling startling plans for its development.

Now, I can reveal, Johnston’s fancy has been taken by the chic Swiss Alpine resort of Zermatt, famed for the iconic Matterhorn. He’s set up a property company there, its stated purpose being to ‘advise, market and develop real-estate projects’.

But there’s more to Johnston’s enthusiasm than Zermatt’s commercial opportunities. He and his glamorous, Roedean-educated wife Saskia, pictured, — for whom he ditched his first wife, Linda, six years ago — are now installed in one of the town’s newest chalets.

‘It’s massive — five floors, lots of huge glass windows and balconies,’ I’m told. ‘Must have spectacular views of the Matterhorn.’

Bond girl’s ex Max weds society jeweller Celia 

Dumped: Bond girl Olga Kurylenko and Max Benitz. Right, society jeweller Celia Weinstock

Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is said to have left Max Benitz, the Old Harrovian father of her son, devastated when she dumped him for her Gun Shy co-star Ben Cura in 2018.

Happily, I hear that journalist Benitz, 38, has found love again and has quietly just got married to society jeweller Celia Weinstock.

‘We opted for a small wedding and it was lovely day,’ says Celia, 38, who was once tipped as a potential bride for Prince Harry. ‘We’re very happy together.’

A granddaughter of the late industrialist Lord Weinstock, Celia exchanged vows with Benitz at The King’s Chapel of the Savoy in London.

Her sister Tish got married to stylist Tom Guinness, Lord Moyne’s son, in an extraordinary Halloween-themed wedding last October held at Belvoir Castle, home of the Duke of Rutland, in Leicestershire.

‘My mother is very happy that both of her daughters are now married,’ says Celia, whose brand, Lyme Fine Jewellery, is named after her mother Laura’s ancestral pile, Lyme Park, in Cheshire.

Earl Spencer is mourning his cousin Bobby, who died in Florida last week at the age of 90. Eton-educated Bobby would have been sad to have missed King Charles’s Coronation, as he was an usher at Queen Elizabeth’s in 1953.

He had fond memories of his cousin Princess Diana as a teenager.

He said: ‘She was very happy, full of fun, delightful to be with — a young girl who obviously had to be kept in order from time to time as young girls do, but only in the most delightful way.’ 

Corbyn boys party with Fast Eddie…

Lots of girls: Edward Davenport with Tommy and Ben Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn is banned from standing again for Labour, but his sons are far more interested in a different type of party.

Here are Ben and Tommy Corbyn at a shindig hosted by self-styled ‘Lord’, Edward Davenport, who was jailed for fraud.

It was held at 32 Portland Place, the Marylebone mansion owned by ‘Fast Eddie’, where scenes from Oscar- winning The King’s Speech were filmed. The house is known for its sex parties but Davenport, 56, insists the bash attended by the Corbyns was far from debauched.

‘It was a very civilised affair with lots of good-looking girls,’ he tells me. ‘Ben is a good friend of mine, and Jeremy is more than welcome. I’ve got a big house, so it would be a shame not to have people over.’

Fearne Cotton’s London neighbours shouldn’t be alarmed if they hear pained shrieks and grunts coming from next door: it’s just the sound of her exercising at home.

‘I’ve been making lots of noises when I’m doing workouts, letting it all out,’ admits the broadcaster, 41, who has two children with her husband, Jesse Wood, son of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie. ‘You’re letting out anger and trapped energy.’

She adds: ‘Your neighbours might think you’re being attacked. Apart from that, it’s really good — you feel amazing after.’

Usually known for his easy-going charm, Radio 1 DJ Greg James has made a vicious attack on fellow BBC star Alan Sugar.

‘Look at those people — those billionaires are miserable,’ James claims. ‘Show me a happy billionaire and I’ll show you a liar. They’re all mad. I don’t think they’re having a great time — they wear their meanness on their faces — you can see it.’

Referring to novelist Bella Mackie, daughter of former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, James says: ‘My wife Bella said to me, “They’ve got the face they deserve”. Alan Sugar has got the face he deserves.’

He adds of The Apprentice star: ‘He might have a lovely happy life — I’m talking specifically about his face. He’s got a mean face — you can’t argue with that.’

(Very) modern manners 

Who’d have thought that a car parking pass would be a status symbol?

But that’s exactly what the passes for the Coronation have become, with lucky guests displaying the round badges on their mantelpieces.

Coronation invitees must have a chauffeur, as the passes allow one vehicle to enter Buckingham Palace to drop off guests, with the badge displayed on the dashboard. And it must be the same car that picks them up at the end of the festivities. Guests are not allowed to leave their cars at the palace. ‘Some people are displaying the pass on their mantelpiece to show off to house guests,’ I’m told. ‘Those who haven’t been invited are green with envy.’

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