Byline: Daniel Peres
LONDON — Tim Jeffries strides into the room like a Danielle Steel hero come to life. At 6-2, with grayish-blue eyes and an impeccably tailored bespoke suit, he’s got everything that paperback readers expect in a leading man: the matinee-idol looks, the inheritance, the supermodel girlfriends and the red Ferrari. He even wears a gold pinky ring with the family crest.
But Jeffries, a 38-year-old gallery owner, is no work of fiction. Just ask Elle Macpherson, royal mistress Koo Stark, Lancome model Ines Sastre, singer Kylie Minogue or Claudia Schiffer — all of whom have fallen for him at some point in the past 15 years. (He was married to Stark in the 1980s, just after her scandalous fling with Prince Andrew, and is now engaged to Schiffer, whom he’ll reportedly marry May 20.) Jeffries’s high-profile conquests have made him something of a legend in the English tabloids, which have labeled him not just a womanizer, but a “supermodelizer.”
Just back from a Caribbean New Year’s Eve celebration with Schiffer on Valentino’s yacht, Jefferies is freshly tanned. He’s been dashing in and out of meetings all day at his London photography gallery, Hamiltons. There’s a lot to accomplish before he leaves the next morning for a quick ski trip.
With his business partner, Andy Cowan, Jefferies has been an owner of the gallery since 1985. And while he has never ducked the aim of a camera lens — he’s even become friendly with some of the paparazzi who stake out London celeb-spotting sites like San Lorenzo and The Ivy — he’s eager to get equal recognition for his gallery’s collection of work.
“It’s very rare that reporters are interested in talking to me about what I do,” he says while delicately caressing the edge of a $25,000 Irving Penn photograph. “Okay, I’ve had some extraordinary luck with women,” he acknowledges, trying to contain his smile. “But I’m just a businessman doing my job. What I do in my bedroom should be private, but for some reason, it’s not.”
Indeed, he does deserve kudos for his business skills. In 1985, when he initially invested in Hamiltons, the space was more a well-proportioned party venue than an art gallery. Jeffries and Cowan started selling photographs long before they became popular with collectors. “In those days you could buy an Irving Penn for a few thousand dollars,” Jeffries remembers. The gallery now stocks works from Horst P. Horst, Robert Mappelthorpe and Norman Parkinson. “Investing in this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he says.
Before opening the gallery, in fact, Jeffries had never held a job. The grandson of wealthy English businessman Richard Tompkins, he inherited about $750,000 at age 21. The press has often exaggerated the size of his inheritance.
“I first became visible through my engagement and subsequent marriage to Koo,” he says. “And, yes, I was very young and driving a Ferrari. But I wasn’t loaded. All of a sudden people were talking about me like I was this dashing heir with a zillion dollars.”
In fact, Tompkins remarried late in life and left his entire estate, worth nearly $75 million, to his new wife. “He made a provision for me and my sister, and that was that,” says Jeffries. “I have had to work my entire adult life. I’m definitely not a playboy. The playboys of the Fifties had huge sums of money and could travel to exotic places with beautiful women without having to work.”
Not that Jeffries hasn’t mastered the art of mixing business with pleasure. But he maintains that he has never traded on his famous girlfriends. “I had already been in business for six or seven years before I became well known in the press,” he says. “I am aware that my personal life hasn’t hurt my professional life, but I’ve succeeded on my own merits.”
British photographer David Bailey, whose work is sold at Hamiltons, agrees. “Tim is entirely self-taught when it comes to photography,” he says. “He’s well connected and knows this business very well.”
As for Jeffries’s success outside the office, Bailey has his own theory. “Sure, he’s handsome and charming,” the photographer says. “But most important, he’s a good listener. Women in general love a man who listens. At the end of an evening, they think that this guy was such a great conversationalist, even though he didn’t open his mouth once.
“When he’s not working, he’s chasing women,” Bailey adds. “So what? I wish I had more time to do the same.”
Now that Hamiltons has secured its reputation as one of the best photography galleries in London, Jeffries says he wants to cultivate new talent. He’s particularly excited about his latest discovery, Richard Coldicott, whose colorful photographs of Tupperwear will adorn the walls in an upcoming exhibition.
“Slowly, more is being written about what I’m doing rather than who I’m doing,” says Jeffries. “That sound crass, but it’s about bloody time.”