Billionaires, Break Ups & Bankruptcy – Untold Story of Mt Kenya Safari Club

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An aerial view of Mt Kenya Safari Club
  • Sitting in over 100 acres of landscaped gardens, and surrounded by the Mount Kenya forest, the Mount Kenya Safari Club is a beautiful resort that is a feast for the eyes.

    The rich history of the scenic luxurious destination is interesting in how the land, acquired from local natives by white settlers, saw it return to the hands of a Kenyan, wealthy Nairobi businessman Humphrey Kariuki. 

    The hotel was first built by a couple Rhoda Lewihnson and Gabriel Prudhomme, a pilot who liked to fly and savour the breathtaking scenery beneath. 

    An aerial view of Mt Kenya Safari Club
    File

    The land was sold to them by American from San Francisco, Myra Wheeler, who disposed of the land following the heartbreaking death of her husband, whose ashes she scattered over the dense jungle. 

    Coincidentally, Gabriel was the pilot who flew Myra over the forest so that she could sprinkle her husband’s ashes from the clouds. 

    Within a year after Rhoda and her husband Gabriel bought the parcel from the American widow, they put up the hotel and named in Mawingo (Mawingu). 

    Sometime in 1939, Rhoda gave Mawingo as a present to her lover Gabriel. Years later when World War II broke out, he had a stint in the French military, serving in Algeria and later flew to New York to join Rhoda. 

    While in the United States, the couple’s relationship worsened, leading to a divorce and just like that, a fairytale romance nestled at the foot of Africa’s second-highest mountain came to an end.

    The hotel was left in Gabriel’s custody since she had given it to him as a gift. After the breakup he travelled back to his home country France which was suffering the aftermath of the war.

    On a cold winter afternoon on 11th February 1945, tucked in a wretched family house that lacked heating infrastructure, he succumbed to pneumonia. He died before signing his will which was supposed to transfer the Kenyan property to his ex-wife.

    A newspaper cutting announcing the auction of Mawingo (now Mt Kenya Safari Club)
    A newspaper cutting announcing the auction of Mawingo (now Mt Kenya Safari Club)
    File

    At the mercy of Gabriel’s lawyers, the hotel was auctioned and acquired by hotelier Abraham Block who at one time owned The Norfolk Hotel, New Stanley Hotel, Outspan and the Nyali Beach Hotel.

    He passed down Mawingo to American movie star William Holden who renamed it Mt Kenya Safari Club. Holden bought the property alongside Ray Ryan and Carl Hirschmann who turned it into a luxurious getaway. Ryan designed the arch cottages and brought in designers and builders to re-landscape 300 acres.

    Unfortunately, Holden died in an accident in 1981 and the hotel was acquired by Saudi billionaire businessman Adnan Khashoggi and a one-time world richest businessman. 

    Adnan was an uncle to Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi whose brutal murder in 2018 shocked the world. 

    Inside the Mt Kenya Safari Club
    Inside the Mt Kenya Safari Club
    File

    A friend of the late former President Daniel Moi, Adnan Khashoggi was known for his extravagant lifestyle that saw him spend almost Ksh 25 million daily. 

    While in Kenya, the Saudi billionaire often flew directly to his private airstrip in Laikipia where immigration officials would travel to record his sntry to Kenya. 

    He often defended his wealth and lavish lifestyle, saying it was all part of doing business.

    “My lifestyle was my only way of making important contracts, in a few years, everyone wanted to be on my guest list,” he would say.

    Unfortunately, He fell into financial hard times and had to dispose of some of his property and in 2007, the hotel was acquired by the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts group, who operate it to this day on behalf of Kenyan billionaire Humphrey Kariuki. 

    Mt. Kenya Safari Club has throughout its history played host to a number of famous foreign personalities among them Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, John Travolta and Charlie Chaplin.

    A photo of the Mt Kenya Safari Club
    A photo of the Mt Kenya Safari Club
    File
  • Source: KENYAGIST.COM

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