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New York investment banker Euan Rellie, 45, goes out four nights a week. He and his wife, the London-born fashionista Lucy Sykes, receive some eighty invitations a month. Not long ago, I sent him an e-mail asking if he was free for a drink. “Totally up for it,” he wrote back forty-two minutes later.
This story first appeared in the March 3, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Although he is the cofounder and senior managing director of the firm Business Development Asia, Rellie is better known as a man-about-town. Since moving to New York two decades ago, the British-born graduate of Eton and Cambridge has been a regular in the fashion, society, and gossip press. The New York Post once referred to him as “the husband of gorgeous Brit socialite Lucy Sykes,” and The Telegraph labeled him “the token heterosexual at fashion parties.”
The jabs in the press make him laugh. He doesn’t mind playing the rogue, the rake, the roué. On his Twitter bio, he calls himself an “aesthete; show-off”; on Pinterest, he describes himself as a “pretentious Brit.”
He suggested cocktails at ZZ’s Clam Bar in Greenwich Village—and maybe dinner down the street, at Carbone. “They’re both good fun,” he said. On the appointed evening, I got to ZZ’s half an hour early.
It looked closed. A large man with an earpiece and clipboard appeared. He told me ZZ’s was open, adding, “Unfortunately, we’re booked solid. Sorry.”
I mentioned the name “Euan Rellie,” and the gatekeeper’s icy expression melted. He lowered his head, opened the door, and stepped aside. Inside the speakeasy-like joint, I saw a bartender, a waitress, and three female patrons. I ordered a tequila. Rellie phoned to say he was waiting for the godmother of his two sons to arrive at his Horatio Street apartment. Twenty minutes later, he burst in, apologized, and sipped a rum drink. Very soon he was talking about women.
“From the age of 14 until 28 years old, I walked around in more or less a permanent state of arousal,” he began. “I took the opportunity during that period to try most things men are supposed to try. Like having an older girlfriend, a younger girlfriend, a girlfriend who, in theory, is an exotic dancer but might possibly have some other, less legal line. I never slept with a mother and daughter, but I tried all of those things, everything that you could sensibly try.
“And I do think back wistfully on those times. But the good thing about being forty-five-and-three-fourths years old is that even though I fall in love with the waitress at lunch three days a week, my libido’s under control. So I don’t need to ask her for her phone number. I still need to flirt with her. And annoy my wife. But I don’t need to sleep with her. And also, by the way, she won’t sleep with me, because I’m 45. But no, that’s not true. In New York, I think, if you can pay for lunch, even if you’re 45, you can get laid.”
He clarified that puritanical morality is not what keeps him from straying. “I love my wife, I love my kids, and I don’t want to fuck it up,” he said, adding that he has friends who cheat on business trips, something he could never do. “I’m a really bad liar. I couldn’t possibly fake it. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I would tell her! It’s not to say that I will never have an affair, because married life involves peaks and troughs in the love life. And, I’m afraid to confess, the troughs, over time, get deeper and longer—but sex is really nice. Married sex is really great! I adore being married. But I still like the hunt. I still like to wink at the coat-check girl to see whether she might possibly give the hint that in a parallel universe, we’ll have sex together.”
“You never cross the line?”
“Every man draws his own line,” he said. For some married men, he went on to explain, the line is having sex without falling in love. “For me,” he said, “it’s way short of the sex line. I could probably dance intimately at a benefit or crappy nightclub, but I can’t make out in the corner. I just can’t do that! But that’s my line. I’ve been married eleven years and haven’t crossed that line, somehow. If I cross that line, if the dam breaks, it’s going to be a flood. I’m sorry to sound corny for a moment, but I love my wife. I really fucking love my wife. A guy can get into trouble even talking about it to a journalist, but she’s got these lovely, pillowy mommy boobs, and Titus, our 6-year-old child, says, ‘I love your fluffy boobs, Mummy,’ and I always say, ‘I feel the same way.’ They’re fluffy. Should we have one more drink?”
Rellie switched from rum to gin. I stuck with tequila and asked him what it was like being a successful urban male in 2014.
“Moderately successful,” he said. “I’m in the prime of my life. Forty-five is a really good age, because you’re young enough to remember the worst vices and partake in them occasionally, or dabble.
“I loved being 20, I loved being 30, and I loved being 35. I don’t need to do any of those things again. I’m not looking forward to being 75, and quite often when I wake up in the morning, I have a lower backache. But we’re in the prime of our life! And I’ve worked really hard to build a business and to perfect the art of trying to be a Brit in New York. I used to be a really cocky little shit. Luckily, in New York, they approve of that. In London, they really disapprove! I had to come here to avoid being criticized.
“This is an incredibly generous country, an incredibly generous city. And I don’t think [newly elected mayor] Bill de Blasio is going to fuck it up. I think he’s OK—and we shouldn’t be ashamed of having fun. We should relish the beautiful things in life. God knows I’ve worked hard for it. I don’t feel guilty about anything. I pay a lot of tax, and I work hard. I’d love another drink, please.”
Euan switched to a vodka drink. I stuck with tequila.
“I’m not some arrogant rich guy who doesn’t care,” he went on. “I’ll give you my politics, briefly. Centrist. Damn right! Even fiscally, I’m not totally conservative. I’m all for a social safety net. We’ve got to give education and health care to poor people, and I’m willing to give up a fair chunk of my income for that. What I worry about is if the government starts taking more than 50 percent of the income of people who are successful.”
He called America “a damn good country” and said he is “proud and passionate” to be a permanent resident. “The only reason I haven’t applied for citizenship is that my dad said, ‘I hope you’ll always be British.’ Soon I have to have a conversation with him. I would like to be both British and American. This is home.”
Rellie texted the godmother of his boys, asking her to please order pizza and telling her he would pay her back. I asked him to take me through a typical day. He said that on this day, he woke up at 7:15.
“There were two young children in between me and my wife, a 10-year-old boy called Heathcliff and a 6-year-old boy called Titus. Then we have something called a boys’ bath. It’s a bit creepy. Heathcliff, Titus, and I all get in the bath together. That’s ridiculous, I know. Is it illegal? I hope it’s not illegal.”
Breakfast is a ritual in his relationship with his wife: “Lucy once had a therapist, twelve or fourteen years ago, and said, ‘I’ve got this great new boyfriend, Euan. I don’t want to fuck it up—what can I do to make sure this is a successful long-term relationship?’ And the therapist said, ‘What is the one thing that’s really magical about your relationship?’ Lucy said, ‘Quite often, before we go to work, we go out to a café together, and we just have a croissant, a cup of coffee, and spend fifteen, twenty minutes together before we go to our offices, and it’s an incredible thing.’ And the therapist said, ‘Make sure you do that as often as possible.’ And to this day, two or three times a week, we have breakfast together. It might just be a cup of coffee, or it might be sitting down at Cafe Cluny, having an egg-white omelet.”
Whenever he can, in his morning routine, he exercises with his wife at FlyBarre. “It’s like a ballet class,” he said. “I love doing it with Lucy. They don’t even have gay guys there. It’s only women.”
I asked him if he had ever visited a shrink.
“Once. One session. Lucy said she thought it would be good for us to see a couples therapist, and I said, ‘That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard!’ And she said, ‘I feel like you don’t understand me,’ and I said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I understand you!’ And she said, ‘That’s because you’re English.’ And I said, ‘If it will quiet you down’—I wanted to say, ‘If it will shut you up,’ but that seemed too harsh. So we went for one meeting. Halfway through, the guy said, ‘It seems to me like you don’t necessarily want to get divorced.’ I looked at him: ‘Listen, this is completely ridiculous! Who said ‘divorce’?”
We were late for our dinner reservation. “They’re playing Dr. Dre,” he said with approval. Waiting for the check, I told him he didn’t seem like some vapid socialite; there was something warm and considerate about him.
“Thank you,” Rellie said. “Most investment bankers don’t tweet and [they don’t] like fashion parties, but I do. I love them. And I’m not ashamed of that.”
He was wearing a suit made for him by Burlington’s of Bombay, the tailor in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, in Mumbai; a bold checked Savile Row shirt; an off-black tie by Calvin Klein; and shoes by his friend Thom Browne. Before we made our exit, he suggested I leave more of a tip. Then he led the way to Carbone, a restaurant with a fifties, Palm Springs vibe, full of attractive people. “It’s reasonably difficult to get a table at Carbone,” Rellie said.
He spotted his wife and her friends, over by the coat check. They were in the middle of a girls’ night out. He went to say hello to her and quickly returned, saying, “My wife is angry at me for nonspecific reasons.”
I suggested she might have wanted him to keep his distance while she was out with her friends.
“I think mainly it’s nonspecific reasons,” he said. “She wants to assert her dominance.”
Besides being aware of her as the Sykes sister who liked to yell “Yeah, baby!” in the late nineties, I knew that Lucy had been a fashion editor and a designer of baby clothes; also, her great-grandfather was Sir Mark Sykes, who (along with François Georges-Picot) redrew the map of the Middle East after the First World War.
“My wife comes from a faded aristocratic family,” Rellie said at the table. “Lucy’s grandfather was Evelyn Waugh’s best friend and biographer. When I met Lucy in New York, she had a sense of…not entitlement, that’s the wrong word. But she had a confidence that came from—she came from a refined family. But she was good fun. She had beautiful friends, and she was always happy to introduce them to me. And she could get into Moomba.”
Rellie comes from an upper-middle-class family. His mother, Annalisa, was a 21-year-old
actress when she married Alastair Rellie. Euan’s earliest memories are of living in a “reasonably lavish” house in Kinshasa, Congo, where Mr. Rellie—officially a diplomat—was the MI6 station chief.
“My first friend was the neighbor, a French-speaking black boy,” he said. “And my dad would drive his MG BGT home from work, and I was always excited to have him come home.” Euan’s mum was literary, flirty, hippieish: “She was always barefoot at dinner parties, very irreverent, and my dad was always the respectable bastion of the family, so he was horrified.”
In 1973, the Rellies moved to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Euan remembers being embarrassed by his parents, who went to jazz clubs and threw “wild, lively, noisy dinner parties.” He would lie under the covers and listen to Yankees games on his transistor radio. After three years at New York’s Lycée Français, he was sent to Cheam, the same boarding school Prince Charles attended. He won a history prize, read espionage novels, and was beaten “all the time” with a cricket bat. Otherwise, it was fun.
At 13, he transferred to Eton College, founded in 1440 by King Henry VI. During weekend visits to the family home in London, he noticed “weird, exotic” people hanging around. His father took the 14-year-old Euan to dinner and said, “I think you already know this, but I’m not exactly a diplomat. I’m a spy.”
“I was horrified,” Rellie recalled. “I said, ‘Which side?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, the good guys.’ ” For a month afterward, Euan was in shock—“but quite quickly I thought it was really fucking cool.”
At Eton, he says, he was beaten only once: twelve strokes with a cane, for drinking vodka. He was one of thirty-five boys (out of 250) who got into Cambridge, mainly thanks to tutors. (“It was no reflection of my own talent.”) Once there, Rellie was “a cocky little shit from Eton,” as he put it, but he got along with
everyone—perhaps especially the Middle Easterners, Asians, and Americans.
ne day, his history professor, who had ties to MI6, asked if he might like to work for “one of the more exotic departments of the foreign offices.” After graduating in 1990, he went for an interview. A recruiter told Euan he believed he knew of his father’s service and asked if he might be interested in joining up—but he warned him that a career in intelligence would not pay much. Rellie agreed to try Wall Street and get back in touch if a career in finance didn’t agree with him.
“I never talked to them again,” Rellie said at Carbone. “Lucy’s convinced I’m a spy. She doesn’t believe the whole investment-banking thing.”
As a baby banker at Schroders, he spent two years in New York and lived in the Police Building at 240 Centre Street. He shared an apartment with Chris Weitz, who later made the American Pie movies with his older brother, Paul. In 2003, the Weitz brothers created a WB Network show, Off Centre, that featured a Brit named Euan. In a review, TV Guide noted that the character had “the sexual morals of a ferret in heat.”
After stints in London and Singapore, Rellie quit Schroders and found an apartment in Greenwich Village with writer Toby Young, who made Rellie a character in his 2001 memoir How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. In 1996, Rellie used his life savings ($75,000) to cofound Business Development Asia with a friend, Charles Maynard. This boutique mergers-and-acquisitions firm, with eighty-five employees in ten offices around the world, brings in around $25 million in revenue per annum.
“Slightly less this year,” said Rellie, who owns 25 percent of the company. “It’s not super-lucrative yet; it’s remunerative. I can make a really good living. I’ve propelled myself into the 1 percent not by lying, cheating, or stealing, but by actually working hard and trying to be original and creative.
“I’m the pussycat of Wall Street. That’s what I am. It’s about love. It’s about love and kindness. And fun. I’m not trying to get rich. I’ve never been interested in getting rich. But I believe in living life as fully as possible. I’d like to buy the nicest cup of coffee, even if it costs a lot more. I spend my money on restaurants, on throwing parties, and on foreign travel. I love good hotels and good restaurants, and it’s easy to waste money on those things. But maybe it’s not really a waste of money, because we’ve got a finite amount of time to enjoy those things.”
“What do investment bankers do all day?” I asked.
“We try to help our clients sell their businesses. The client might be a private-equity firm or a single entrepreneur or maybe a big corporation. Sometimes we invest in new business, but for me, it’s less typical. So we’ve become like a glorified corporate dating agency.”
“What do you do all day?”
“Try to help our clients describe their businesses as attractively as possible to persuade the buyers to pay.”
He mentioned two qualities that have served him well. The first, typical of many Brits, he said, is “to take small things very, very seriously and important things rather lightly.” The other has to do with appearances. “In accounting, the edict is substance over form,” he said. “The reality matters, not the impression. My view is that form is often more important than substance, because we live a life that’s, by definition, aesthetic. All right, so without seeming too pretentious, I really care about trying to project some type of image.
“One of the most important skills as an investment banker is gravitas,” he continued. “A sort of weightiness. Sufficient seriousness, so that people will listen to you. The best way to impart gravitas is not by excessive formality or pretending to be something. Actually, the clients like the fact that I’m a bit informal and irreverent. Lots of people fail, I think, by trying too hard. I think sometimes you need to inject a little humor to reel in your counterpart, in your love life and your professional life.”
A moment later, Rellie asked the restaurant hostess out on a date.
“Oh, I can’t,” she said.
“So it’ll only work if: A, my wife gets hit by a bus; B, your lovely husband gets hit by a bus; and C, if, for some inexplicable reason, you decide that you’d like to go on a date with me,” he said. “Sorry for being annoying.”
“Oh no, please,” she said. “It’s very, very flattering.”
“Thank you!” he cried out as she drifted away. “Fantastic. How chic is this restaurant? I’m excited. We’re in the best restaurant in New York!”
His resolutions for 2014 are to lose eight pounds (he’s now 178) and to drink less alcohol (Lucy’s idea). And still go out four nights a week?
“No. Three. But it’s quite important for all of us to go to restaurants with waiters in faded burgundy-colored dinner jackets—we’ve got to have fun! Eat, drink, and be merry, because we might get hit by a bus on the way home tonight. I’d like to look at the wine list.”
Rellie ordered an earthy Italian red wine. Then he started up with the young couple next to us, asking them if they were on a date. The woman (from New York) said her male dining companion (from Denver) was actually her client.
“Is there any chance that this could cross the line?” Rellie asked.
“I don’t think so,” the woman replied. “I mean, he’s married.”
“Some married guys apparently do bad things sometimes,” Rellie said.
“Yeah,” the man said. “I’m kind of a good guy.”
“Me, too!” Rellie said. “You look good together. You’re a good-looking guy. She is beautiful. I think you should cross the line.”
The sommelier presented the bottle. Rellie tasted. “God, that’s good. I think I’m a genius. No!” he said, now focusing on the sommelier. “You’re a genius, for putting that on the list!”
Rellie’s formidable wife appeared: five feet ten, blond hair tied back, turtleneck sweater, leather pants, heels. She had filched cigarettes from the maître d’ and was ready to go outside. Rellie followed her to the sidewalk, with me in tow.
“You look lovely, very chic,” Rellie called to a trio of beautiful young Manhattanites who were stepping out of the restaurant. “The only reason this restaurant is successful is because of you!”
“Oh no, here we go,” his wife said. “Match.”
Rellie lit her cigarette and then his own. “She is nonspecifically angry with me,” he said.
“No, I’m not,” said Sykes.
“My wife created me,” said Rellie.
“He is the boy me, and I’m the girl him,” said Sykes. “But I’ve grown up a bit.”
I asked how they met.
“He was wearing a towel,” his wife said, “and Toby Young was in front of him, short, fat, and bald. Can you imagine? I saw Toby, and I saw this guy behind him.”
Exit Lucy Sykes.
“She tried to set me up with her twin sister, Plum, when she moved to New York,” said Rellie. “Lucy said, ‘I’m going to set you up with the English Tom Cruise!’ For some reason, Plum had no interest in me at all. Plum never has a hair out of place, and Lucy is chaotic and blond and effusive.”
There is a third Sykes sister, too: Alice. “Alice is fine,” Rellie said. “I always used to say, If my wife got hit by a bus, I’d go with Alice, actually. She’s kind. She’s kind and good.”
“What about Lucy?” I asked.
“She’s a demanding and challenging and exciting partner. There’s a reason we live in New York—to be provoked. The cliché about marriage is about having a partner who’s supposed to double your happiness and halve your pain.”
Back inside, we ordered antipasti, uni, oysters, lobster, pork chops, fish. Rellie told the waiter, “We’re not technically homosexuals, but we can play that role. Who knows…who knows what might happen?”
The waiter left.
“This is the place!” Rellie said. “You’re going to get protein. It’s a real man’s restaurant. This is the best restaurant in New York, in my humble opinion. I am a New Yorker. ‘It’s not where you’re from; it’s where you’re at.’ That’s a line from Eric B. & Rakim.”
Appetizers. More drinks.
“I’d like to have more children. I just feel like I love my kids, and I’m 45, my wife is 40-ish. It might be medically possible. If we don’t have kids, I’d like to adopt. And it’s totally impractical, because we have a wild, peripatetic, chaotic life. Over the holidays, we went to Plum Sykes’ place in Gloucestershire. I went foxhunting on the back of a horse.
England’s fine. Sometimes, when I go to England now, they say, ‘You’re not English, are you?’ Sometimes they are genuinely befuddled. And I say, ‘Well, I used to be.’ There is a twang. I’m not quite a Londoner anymore, apparently. Lucy’s American accent is worse than mine. She says budder, not but-ter.”
Main courses. More drinks.
“We just had a lovely country Christmas. I saw my parents in the middle of London, who are living a proper English life, and it was really wonderful. I saw my lesbian sister with her wife and their three daughters. Had an amazing time. We went to dinner with Lily Allen, the pop star. She bought a house near Plum’s, and she’s making friends with the neighbors. She had a fleeting moment of extreme fame a few years ago, and she’s very young but incredibly sophisticated and very kind, and she’s got this lovely husband, and we went to their fifteenth-century house in Gloucestershire. She had a chef, and I said to the chef, ‘The food’s lovely,’ and he said, ‘Lily cooked it.’ She made soup and roast pheasant.”
Two tables away were four young journalists from Town & Country, BuzzFeed, New York magazine, and The New York Times.
“How did you get a table at this joint?” Rellie asked them.
We moved our food and drinks to the table next to theirs. Rellie was thrilled to meet Jessica Pressler, of New York, calling her his “intimate Twitter friend. I’m your single biggest fan,” he told her. “So, no romantic interest after following me for years and years and years?”
He got some laughs when he claimed that Jezebel once called him “Tinsley Mortimer with a penis.” Then he launched into a story about being hazed by older boys at Eton. “One day, I was asked to go to tea, and they made me stand on a chair, and they said, ‘You’re one of the prettiest freshers!’ The freshers were the new boys, and—”
Suddenly, his wife was towering over him. She said she wanted to have a word.
They had their word. Sykes made her exit, and Rellie returned to the table, saying, “She’s very tough, my wife. Can you see how strong she is? It’s a power thing. She’s going to outpower me.”
Pressler asked Rellie if he actually worked for a living.
“Do I actually work?” he said in mock outrage. “I’m an investment banker at my own investment-banking firm. Seventeen years! I go there at eleven in the morning.” Lots of laughter from the table. “George,” he told me, “pay the bill! We’re going home! When Lucy gets home, we’ll go out again!”
Rellie took a breath and continued: “I once slow-danced with Anna Wintour at a benefit for the ballet. There were eight people at the table, and each of the couples stood up and said, ‘Let’s dance,’ and I was left with Anna. So I said, ‘Would you like to dance?’ She said, ‘Yes, I’d love to, thank you.’ We got up and danced together. I swear there were a thousand photographs taken by a hundred photographers, and none of them were ever printed!”
He turned his attention to the Times’ new Paris correspondent, Julie Bloom, who has been living in the seventh arrondissement.
“It’s every American girl’s dream,” he said, meaning the stint in Paris. “Please, may I have your business card, with a view to dangerous liaisons? Les liaisons dangereuses! I’m serious. Give me a business card. I go all the time. Give it to me right now!”
More laughs from the table.
We took a cab to Horatio Street. We looked in on his sleeping children. Rellie had a word with his wife, and then, just as he had promised, we went back out…eventually making our way to a club called the Electric Room. And the rest of the night, dear reader, is a blur.