House of Gucci - the Norfolk connection

Adam Driver stars as Maurizio Gucci and Lady Gaga stars as Patrizia Reggiani

Adam Driver stars as Maurizio Gucci and Lady Gaga stars as Patrizia Reggiani in Ridley Scott’s HOUSE OF GUCCI A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film - Credit: Fabio Lovino © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc

Maurizio Gucci was murdered outside his Milan office 26 years ago.  

The story of the bitter rifts which led to murder in the fabulously wealthy fashion family is told in the new Hollywood film House of Gucci, directed by Ridley Scott and out in cinemas this week.

It is also told by Mary Harboe, of tiny Burgh, near Aylsham, who first met one of the key players in the turbulent story, more than a decade ago. 

Mary Harboe

Mary Harboe - Credit: Debby Besford

Today Mary is a Norfolk writer and wedding and ceremonies celebrant but she was a radio presenter in Marbella, Spain, when she first met Jenny Gucci. 

“Over numerous cups of tea, Jenny told me all about her amazing life as a Gucci and also the dark side - the dreadful things that happened - when she tried to leave her husband, Paolo. It is a truly remarkable story,” said Mary. 

Jenny had been married to Maurizio’s cousin, Paolo, and the story of her life in the bitterly divided fashion family was so riveting that Mary helped Jenny turn it into a book. “She has been through unbelievable things in her life and has come through. I just thought, this would make a book, this is just amazing,” said Mary. 

Maurizio and Paolo were grandsons of fashion house founder, Guccio Gucci and grew up surrounded by enormous wealth – and embroiled in bitter family feuds which raged from the boardroom to the bedroom and set fathers against sons and husbands against wives. 

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Maurizio was murdered in Milan in 1995 and within months Paolo was dead too.  

Jenny and Paolo had once lived next door to Maurizio and his wife Patrizia. “At the time Patrizia and Maurizio appeared happily married with their two young daughters.” said Mary.   

More than a decade after the murder Mary and Jenny met in Marbella and turned Jenny’s extraordinary foray into the Gucci family into Gucci Wars, How I Survived Murder and Intrigue at the Heart of the World’s Biggest Fashion House.  

Gucci Wars, How I Survived Murder and Intrigue at the Heart of the World’s Biggest Fashion House.

Pages from Gucci Wars, How I Survived Murder and Intrigue at the Heart of the World’s Biggest Fashion House - which Mary Harboe wrote with Jenny Gucci - Credit: Staff picture

Jenny had been a divorced dental nurse with a beautiful singing voice when she moved from London to Florence to study opera.  

It was here she met Gucci designer, Paolo. They fell in love and married but the fairy story beginning had no happy ending. Behind the huge wealth and jet-setting glamour Jenny found greed, conflict and betrayal. After 10 years she asked for a divorce – and Paolo vowed to make Jenny and their daughter homeless and penniless.  

Jenny’s Story, ghost-written by Mary was published to critical acclaim, becoming a Daily Mail critics’ choice read, with a review which warned: “Anyone who still believes money buys you happiness should read this book.”  

Gucci Wars, Jenny Gucci's Story, by Mary Harboe

Gucci Wars, Jenny Gucci's Story, by Mary Harboe - Credit: SilverWood books

Now Mary has brought the book up to date as Gucci Wars, Jenny Gucci’s Story to coincide with the release of Ridley Scott’s new film House of Gucci. The film stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia, Adam Driver (Ben Solo/Kylo Ren in Star Wars) as Maurizio, Al Pacino as Maurizio’s uncle and Jeremy Irons as his father. Paolo is played by Jared Leto and Jenny by West End actress Florence Andrews. 

“My book is set in the same period as the film but looks at the events from Jenny’s perspective,” said Mary.  

She said Ridley Scott had considered using the original book as the basis for his film before deciding to focus on Patrizia and Maurizio’s story.  

“I was sitting here in the pandemic,” said Mary, “And I thought this is an amazing opportunity to update the book and put it out there again.” 

Mary, grew up in a farming family near King’s Lynn and trained as a journalist in Norfolk before working around the world. She met Jenny at a charity event in Marbella and the two women became friends as they worked on the book. But even in Marbella there was drama. Jenny’s home was repossessed and she arrived back in London with just a single suitcase – where, now in her 70s, she is working as a singing teacher.  

“I feel that she’s a strong and resilient person. She’s always had a very optimistic, glass-half-full attitude and I think that comes across in her story,” said Mary. 

Mary was able to put actor Jared Leto in contact with Jenny ahead of the House of Gucci film. “He was keen to know more about Paolo’s personality and mannerisms” says Mary, “And Jenny agreed to speak to him as she wanted to be sure that, despite his failings, Paolo’s legacy as a designer was in safe hands.” 

The film is packed with dramatic Italian locations and Gucci-inspired fashion as well as its starry cast and shocking plot. 

Mary, who has grown-up children who live with their families in Barcelona and Brussels, returned to Norfolk in 2015.  She and her husband moved to Burgh, and the bucolic water-meadows where Norfolk’s River Mermaid slips into the slow-flowing Bure, seem very far from glitzy Marbella. But now Mary is writing her first novel, set in Norfolk and Spain.

She also presides over weddings, vow renewals, naming ceremonies and funerals as a celebrant. After hearing about disappointingly impersonal funerals, and reading about the role of celebrants, she realised a new career was beckoning. “I took a look at the skills I had. I can interview people, I can speak in public, I can write,” she said. “This is something that I was born to do!”  

It’s a new chapter in a story which began in Norfolk and took her around the world and back to her home county – via the chance to step into the deadly scandals, feuds and betrayals of life as a Gucci. 

House of Gucci is in cinemas from November 26. 

Gucci Wars - Jenny Gucci’s Story, by Mary Harboe, is published by SilverWood Books.

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