This guy is almost as old as I am! Lord Lawson"s new love is beautiful, rich and 43. So what does her 90-year-old father think about her…


This guy is almost as old as I am! Lord Lawson's new love is beautiful, rich and 43. So what does her 90-year-old father think about her octogenarian boyfriend

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UPDATED:

01:28 GMT, 18 March 2012

The first people outside Nigel Lawson’s inner circle to learn of his new relationship with an attractive divorcee little more than half his age were members of the discreet, self-styled ‘Thursday Night Club’.

These are the affluent long-distance commuters who live half their lives in London, where they enjoy successful and well-remunerated careers in advertising, IT, the City and engineering, and half in the rural splendour of South-West France.

The name references their weekly Thursday-night easyJet flight from Gatwick, which leaves London at 6.25pm and arrives at Toulouse’s futuristic airport close to the giant Airbus plant at 9.05pm local time.

New love: Nigel Lawson on a night out with Tina Jennings who, at 43, is almost half the Conservative peer's age

New love: Nigel Lawson on a night out with Tina Jennings who, at 43, is almost half the Conservative peer's age

The Thursday Night Club are a sociable bunch, but Lord Lawson – another regular on the flight – has never really become part of the clique.

The former Chancellor usually slips in at the last minute, carrying a small wheelie bag, and immerses himself in a newspaper.

While the others talk of the weekend to come – and the endless renovation of their continental homesteads – Lord Lawson stays aloof.

Often first off the plane, he cuts a solitary figure as he hurries to his car for the 90-minute drive to his substantial stone house near Vic-Fezensac in the Gers.

The Thursday regulars have always thought there was something a little sad about Lord Lawson’s commute, particularly after his split from his second wife Thrse four years ago.

One said: ‘He was always on his own, looking as if he’d just come from the office. He rarely smiled or looked at anyone. It was head down, sit down, don’t look left or right.

‘We assumed it was because he is so instantly recognisable and he just wanted to avoid eye contact.’

Age gap: The peer's new companion is almost a decade younger than his daughter Nigella

Age gap: The peer's new companion is almost a decade younger than his daughter Nigella

But all that changed several months ago when, to the shock of the Club, he turned up with a much younger, attractive blonde.

‘We couldn’t believe it,’ added the source. ‘We all just went quiet. They were very much a couple and the change in him was startling.

‘Suddenly, he was all smiles and friendly nods towards us. We’d never seen him look so happy. We just stood there with our jaws dropping.’

Since then, the group has seen her a few times but there’s no pattern to her visits. ‘When she’s not there, he’s back to his usual self.’

Octogenarian Lord Lawson – who has made a rule of rarely commenting on his private life – last week went public with his relationship with 43-year-old Tina Jennings, declaring he was ‘very happy’, despite the 37-year age gap between them.

His new companion is almost a decade younger than the peer’s glamorous daughter Nigella, the famous TV cook and wife of advertising guru and art collector Charles Saatchi.

So who is Tina Jennings And how has she captured the eye of a Conservative grandee and statesman almost twice her age

The first thing to stress is that this is not the typical May-to-September relationship involving a wealthy older man and a younger, attractive woman. In everything but age, Canadian-born Mrs Jennings is every bit Lord Lawson’s equal.

It is easy to see why he might be intrigued. To begin with, she is incomparably richer than he is. As a former banker, she has a razor-sharp business brain and is an acknowledged expert on 20th Century Russian art. She was the figurehead of Sotheby’s Russian subsidiary, is a visiting fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a leading authority on post-Soviet business and the rise of the oligarchy.

And in the fevered capitalist free-for-all that characterised post-Glasnost Moscow, she was part of Russia’s first foreign ‘power couple’ – her former husband and father of her three children is investment banker Stephen Jennings, the New Zealander who owns a 4 billion stake in Renaissance Capital, which bankrolled many of the most successful oligarchs.

Indeed, he is often referred to as Russia’s only foreign oligarch and, as a couple, their connections led to the top of the Kremlin and to the new owners of the huge former state industries.

It is an extraordinary life trajectory for a woman born in 1969 in an unremarkable inner suburb of western Toronto to Slovenian immigrant parents.

Her father Anton Podplatnik, a 90-year-old retired mechanic, and mother Michele, 82, still live in the old family home. They fled to Canada to escape the ruins of post-war Europe.

While it is clear that the spirited and sprightly Mr Podplatnik is immensely proud of his intellectual daughter’s success, it is equally apparent that he does not approve of her relationship with a man almost as old as he is. ‘Her brain is gone. Where I don’t know,’ he told The Mail on Sunday.

A studious only child, Tina grew up speaking Slovene at home and English at school.

Parted: Tina with her then husband Stephen in Oxford in 2007. Their split was acrimonious

Parted: Tina with her then husband Stephen in Oxford in 2007. Their split was acrimonious

She graduated in Political Science and Russian from McGill University, Montreal, in 1989 – the year Nigel Lawson resigned after six years as Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor.

Her timing was fortuitous. /03/17/article-0-12305B76000005DC-554_634x433.jpg” width=”634″ height=”433″ alt=”Theft mystery: Tina's Russian painting Reclining Nude on Blue Background ” class=”blkBorder” />

Theft mystery: Tina's Russian painting Reclining Nude on Blue Background

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Ex: The former Chancellor split from his second wife Therese four years ago

The couple were regular fixtures on the social circuit, at art gallery private viewings, opera first nights and glittering, ostentatious parties.

But in the spring of 2005, Stephen moved out of the family’s apartment and subsequently sued for divorce, demanding custody of their three children. The split was one of the most public and dramatic, yet mysterious, in Moscow in recent years.

‘They were seen as the ideal couple. It was a real shock,’ said a former colleague at Renaissance Capital. ‘They were both business success stories in Moscow, a place where very few Westerners truly succeeded. They had a young family. Everything seemed right, then suddenly it all went haywire.’ The cause has never been explained.

Later that year, the mass-market Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper reported that Tina was showing Sotheby’s director Lord Poltimore –better known as expert Mark Poltimore from the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow – around Moscow’s antique markets.

Then, in April 2006, Lord Poltimore
became involved in an auction of elite cars in Moscow – and took her
along – seeking Sotheby’s entry into a market he labelled ‘one of the
fastest-growing and most attractive in the world’.

Tina later admitted
the car auction was a ‘failure’, adding: ‘Rich Russian people were not
born yesterday – instead of the auction, they go directly to the dealer
and buy the same thing, but cheaper.’

Nevertheless, her expertise so impressed Lord Poltimore that he appointed her the figurehead of Sotheby’s Moscow auction house.

Then, six months later, a curious rumour began circulating about a multi-million-pound art theft at the Jennings’ family home.

The Russian edition of the business magazine Forbes reported that thieves had taken the most valuable 20 paintings of a 120-strong art collection from the two-storey apartment, including Reclining Nude On Blue Background.

Both parties engaged Moscow’s most expensive divorce lawyers, but before the case could be heard, Tina flew to Canada, purportedly to nurse her father.

The court refused to rule in the absence of Mrs Jennings and soon afterwards, Stephen Jennings dropped the lawsuit.

Some say the decision was for the good of their children, others argued the couple were negotiating a settlement for which estimates vary from 120 million to 340 million.

In 2009, a Moscow newspaper reported that they remained married. As late as last Thursday, one source extremely close to the family said: ‘As far as I know, they are just separated.’

But yesterday a close friend confirmed: ‘They are, in fact, officially divorced.’

A friend of Tina’s said ‘she is absolutely, totally happy’ in her relationship with Lord Lawson.

But it appears she has yet to convince her feisty father.

Speaking from his home in Toronto, Mr Podplatnik said: ‘I know about her new boyfriend, but I’ve never met him, I don’t want to – why should I I have nothing against her being remarried, having a boyfriend – but to the right person. This guy is almost the same age as I am! He is twice as old as Tina! That doesn’t go together.

‘She has managed with her brain up
until now. Tina got a good education. She’s got a house in England, two
houses in Toronto and a business in Mexico – a little hotel in Cancun,
in the jungle.

‘But now her brain is gone. Where I don’t know.’

The then Chancellor with his wife Therese, son Tom and Daughter Emily

The then Chancellor with his wife Therese, son Tom and Daughter Emily

Asked if she thought his daughter would marry and become Lady Lawson, he added: ‘Don’t scare me. Don’t scare me, OK Does she need that I don’t think I could be happy with a 130-year-old lady.’

Mr Podplatnik who cares for his ailing wife, said he liked his former son-in-law ‘very, very much’ and a close friend of Tina insisted the relationship between her and her former husband was now amicable.

She added that despite living in Moscow and owning homes in New Zealand, Mr Jennings spends around half his time in England to be close to his children.

‘They live close to each other in the UK for that reason. She is a wonderful mother,’ added the friend, who blamed Stephen for the marital split: ‘You can guess the reason.’

Certainly Stephen – who has not remarried – gave a clue when he was recently asked in an interview why Western men in Moscow always seem to marry Russian women.

‘Russian women are incredibly beautiful,’ he said. ‘In addition, Western women are taught to lose a lot of their femininity, unfortunately, whereas Russian women are very happy being women.

‘They are very comfortable expressing their femininity.

‘They have rich souls. Russians are very rich people – inside. This combination packaged in a woman is a hard thing to turn down.’

Mr Jennings declined to comment on his divorce or his ex-wife’s relationship with Lord Lawson.

And who can begrudge the former Chancellor, who remains active in politics even in his ninth decade, the pleasure of the company of an intelligent, cultured and worldly younger lady as he enjoys his private library and swimming pool behind swaying cypress trees in the South of France