Athina Onassis

Despite being the only surviving descendant of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Athina Onassis Roussel had a remarkably normal upbringing. "I want her to know that money is not everything," said her father Thierry Roussel, who, after his daughter inherited the enormous Onassis empire, brought up the richest girl in the world in a modest five-bedroom villa overlooking Lake Geneva.

Athina's grandfather, Aristotle Onassis, was one of the most exceptional entrepreneurs of the 20th century. He amassed a multi-billion dollar empire which included two Greek islands, priceless artworks and property and investments all over the world. When he passed away in 1975 - two years after his son was killed in a plane crash - the family fortune went to his daughter Christina, Athina's mother. However, Christina's tragic death, when Athina was just three years old, meant the vast estate devolved onto her only offspring, prompting Athina's father - from whom Christina was separated to set about creating a normal environment in which to bring up the heiress.

French national Thierry spent a decade fighting to wrest control of his daughter's inheritance from the Greek businessmen Christina had left in charge, eventually persuading them to hand over $13 million a year to raise Athina. As a child, though, Athina received no more pocket money than her three half-siblings, the children of her father and his new wife Gaby. "I want her to know that money is not a gold statue which you must venerate," he explained. Athina saved the pocket money she received and spent it on her beloved horse. She even attended a regular state school, though kidnap threats meant she had to be watched at all times by a team of former SAS guards, who drove her to and from home in a bullet-proof limousine.

By the time she was 17, Athina was ready to move to Brussels to pursue her passion for riding. And it was at Belgium's prestigious Nelson Pessoa riding academy that she first set eyes on her future husband - Brazilian equestrian and father-of-one Alvaro Alfonso de Miranda Neto, or 'Doda'. Romance blossomed and Athina moved to Sao Paulo to be closer to her new beau. Her father, concerned about Alvaro's intentions, took steps to tighten control over her inheritance. The teenager launched - and won - a legal battle against him, which is said to have taken a bitter toll on their relationship. When the couple wed in a lavish ceremony on December 3, 2005, Thierry and his wife Gaby were not among the 700 guests who witnessed the beautiful Valentino-dressed bride make her vows.

On January 29, 2003, Athina turned 18 and in doing so gained access to the vast empire her grandfather had built. The vast fortune only represented one half of her legacy, though. Aristotle also intended his heir would manage the charitable foundation he'd set up in memory of his son Alexander.

Taking control of the organisation has proved more difficult than Athina might have expected. In 2005 administrators changed its founding charter, removing Athina's automatic birthright to become chairman on her 21st birthday. They insist that as she knows little of Greek culture and does not speak the language, she has no right to head up such an important organisation. The young equestrian seems determined to secure this part of her birthright, however, and has learned Greek in a bid to win over the foundation's executives.
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