Behind the high iron gates of her double-fronted villa in a suburb of Antwerp, Belgium, the world’s richest young woman pursues a dream of domesticity.
Every morning Athina Onassis helps her two stepchildren get ready for school and fusses over their breakfast. Two maids assist her with the household chores before she leaves in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce to watch 14-year-old Fernando at football practice, or to supervise ten-year-old Vivienne’s riding lesson. In the evening, she likes to watch DVDs with her husband, the debonair showjumper Alvaro ‘Doda’ Alfonso de Miranda Neto.
Last night, however, the 26-year-old billionairess was struggling to cope with the discovery that, despite her dedication to what is described as a ‘simple, healthy life’, she is the latest victim of the ‘Onassis curse’.
The sole surviving heiress to her grandfather Aristotle Onassis’s shipping fortune, she grew up hearing tales of the scandals, tragedies and sudden deaths that have played out in the splendour of her family’s great estates and on Skorpios, their private Mediterranean island.
It is a legacy that Athina blamed on their incredible extravagance, and one that she has tried to avoid in the six years since she married the reportedly impecunious but doting Doda, 38.
However, her contented routine has been shattered by horrific news from Doda’s hometown of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where just over a week ago his ex-lover Cibele
Dorsa hurled herself to her death in the early hours from her luxurious seventh-floor flat.
To Athina’s embarrassment, the beautiful but troubled 36-year-old actress and Playboy model left behind suicide notes in which she bitterly complained about an arrangement under which the heiress and Doda are bringing up Vivienne – Cibele’s daughter by Doda – and Fernando.
The boy was born to Cibele during her first marriage, to Brazilian businessman Fernando Oliva Snr. She agreed to hand over the children to Athina and Doda, but missed the youngsters so unbearably that, as she said in one of her last notes, it felt as if ‘my heart has been cut out’.
‘Cibele decided to do this. It was her decision to allow the children to live with Athina and Doda,’ Mr Oliva told The Mail on Sunday. ‘Her life was very complicated. She was a working actress, emotional and unstable. With Athina and Doda they have a very simple and healthy lifestyle.’
Alexis Mantheakis, a former aide to Athina’s father, Thierry Roussel, said last night: ‘It seems the Onassis curse has struck again. I am sure everyone thought they were taking the best decisions but, according to her last messages, Cibele was despondent that she had given up the children.
‘This poor woman saw herself as Athina’s rival but she had little to fight her with except her looks. She felt she was no match for this billionaire heiress who was younger and had enormous riches, fame and power.
‘The Onassis money caused nothing but problems. I am sure the children will grow up in a good environment but the question is whether anything can make up for the loss of the mother who loved them very much.’
Shortly after she discovered that Doda was dating the then 17-year-old Athina, Cibele impulsively poured her heart out to me during a late-night meeting in 2002 at her Sao Paulo flat.
‘Doda and I were happy. The only problem was money,’ she said. ‘He doesn’t make much but he has a passion for expensive horses.’
He met the heiress at a Belgian equestrian school where, allegedly, she was bowled over by what Cibele described as Doda’s sex appeal. ‘He is incredibly charismatic,’ she said.
Athina was only three when her mother Christina died of a heart attack. ‘She is the last surviving heiress of this jinxed family,’ says Mantheakis.
Cibele is depicted by her first husband, Mr Oliva, as a fragile woman, all too aware, he says, of her inadequacies as a mother. He took over the care of Fernando when the boy was about three, he says. And she agreed that Doda would be the better parent for Vivienne.
‘She couldn’t take care of the children,’ Mr Oliva contends. Fernando Jnr moved to Belgium in 2009. ‘He asked if he could live with his sister,’ says Mr Oliva, who confirms that Cibele approved the plan and that Doda thoughtfully tried to persuade her to stay in close touch with both children.
‘He was very good to her. He went on supporting her until the end.’
Recently Cibele suffered what Mantheakis calls ‘the final straw’. She was engaged to a Brazilian TV presenter, Gilberto Scarpa, and they were due to marry this month.
But on January 30, he tumbled to his death from the window of her flat in an apparent suicide. Cibele later wrote on Facebook: ‘To live without my two children and without the love of my life has wounded my whole self.’
A Brazilian magazine reported that it had received a statement from Doda, saying: ‘I don’t have to defend myself against criticism by Cibele.
‘I have many emails from her, praising me as a father who never failed to give her moral and financial support.’