EDINBURGH — UK public relations practitioner Victoria Geoghegan, for many South Africans, is the face of evil. Many believe she should face criminal and civil legal action for her role in stirring up racial hatred on behalf of the Gupta and Zuma families. Victoria Geoghegan, a senior employee of London-headquartered Bell Pottinger, has worked directly with President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane to build support for Zuma and friends. The #GuptaLeaks have exposed the role of Bell Pottinger in fake news and propaganda that have heightened political tensions in South Africa. The big question is: how is it that a young, angel-faced public relations officer who studiously developed an image for working for charity managed to wreak so much havoc in South Africa? Caryn Dolley of News24 looks at the fairytale rise of 34-year-old Victoria Geoghegan, who leveraged her father’s connections to get her foot in the door of the Gupta empire. – Jackie Cameron
By Caryn Dolley, News24
Cape Town – Nine days after her birthday and about a year after celebrating her wedding in two lavish ceremonies, UK spin doctor Victoria Geoghegan was fired from PR company Bell Pottinger.
Geoghegan, 34, has been blamed for helping to create the racially divisive “white monopoly capital” PR campaign on behalf of the Gupta family. She has however not been idle. She is still an active director at the Oanda Foundation, an independent charity registered in the US and UK. It was started in 2011 to increase the quality of, and access to, basic education in Nigeria.
According to the UK Companies House website, which makes company information public, Geoghegan resigned from Bell Pottinger on July 6.
This was the day the firm issued a statement apologising for its work with the Gupta’s Oakbay Capital. It said it had dismissed the lead partner involved.
According to Companies House, Geoghegan was appointed a director at the Oando Foundation on September 18, 2014.
On the foundation’s website, Geoghegan is listed as a trustee and a member of its UK board.
Attempts to contact the foundation failed and it did not respond to messages.
Just more than a year ago, Geoghegan appeared to be living a fairy tale. Her career was in full swing and she got married. Around this time, reports about the Gupta family and state capture were mounting.
Fast forward to the present. A Facebook campaign with pictures of her and the word “wanted” has started circulating. She has been called a “terrorist” on social media.
News24 was unable to reach her for comment. Her relatives did not respond to requests for interviews.
However, with the help of online documents, websites, press releases and social media posts, a clearer picture of her emerges.
She was born Victoria Louise Geoghegan on June 27, 1983, and has a brother and sister.
Her parents are Christopher and Rosemary Geoghegan. According to an online UK business directory, the couple ran Camelot UK Consulting Ltd together, but Rosemary stepped back from this in 2013.
Christopher, a prominent businessman, was previously the head of a global defence company. In 2006, it was reportedly one of South Africa’s biggest foreign investment facilitators.
According to her LinkedIn profile, between 1991 and 2001 she attended the Sidcot School in Somerset, an independent school for boarders and day pupils aged three to 18.
Between 2001 and 2004, she studied at the University of Manchester’s business school.
She started working at Bell Pottinger in March 2005. During her time there, she showed her philanthropic side.
In November 2016, she was part of Bell Pottinger’s Sleep Out 2016 team, an event which raises money to help young homeless people.
She had planned to raise £400 (R6 771), but exceeded this and raised R22 442.
Her father apparently helped put her in touch with the Guptas.
Controversial arms deal businessman Fana Hlongwane, who was advisor to former defence minister Joe Modise, reportedly introduced Christopher to members of the Gupta family. Christopher reportedly put the Guptas in touch with Bell Pottinger.
In mid-December 2016, Geoghegan was appointed managing director of Bell Pottinger’s financial and corporate division, UK publication PR Week reported.
Highs and lows
Based on a public Facebook post, Geoghegan got engaged to George Dunn on or around June 18, 2015. They married in May 2016.
According to her mother’s public Facebook posts, this ceremony was “just the beginning”.
“Next weekend 80 guests join us in Tuscany for the wedding weekend,” Rosemary told a friend on the platform. She described the wedding as a fairy tale.
Photographs of Geoghegan at this event, understood to have been held on May 21, 2016, at the Villa di Ulignano in Tuscany, Italy, show her dressed in a strapless lace gown and floor-length sheer veil. She is smiling and laughing with guests.
According to the villa’s website, a three-night mid-season stay costs €6 600, or about R100 000.
On July 6 this year, six months after she was made an MD at Bell Pottinger, she was sacked. On July 11, 2017, PR Week reported that Geoghegan was seven months pregnant and due to go on maternity leave.
The publication said she declined to comment on the advice of lawyers.
Ties to SA
Geoghegan is widely reported to own property in South Africa and to have holidayed in the country, specifically in Cape Town. News24 was not able to confirm this.
Christopher Geoghegan reportedly joined BAE Systems, an international defence, aerospace and security company, in the mid-1970s. He resigned in 2007.
In 2006, the website www.engineeringnews.co.za reported that BAE Systems was one of South Africa’s biggest foreign investment facilitators.
“Our offset programme in South Africa has a total value of $8,7bn and is the biggest commitment our company has ever made,” it quoted Christopher, who was then chief operating officer for Europe, Africa and Asia, as saying.
According to minutes of a 2002 public enterprises portfolio committee meeting about the restructuring of state-owned defence and technology company Denel, BAE Systems was a proposed equity partner.
Catch up on the role of Victoria Geoghegan and Bell Pottinger in corruption and inciting racism:
- Evil mastermind Victoria Geoghegan: How does she sleep at night? #GuptaLeaks
- News ‘prostitute’ Bell Pottinger’s Victoria Geoghegan has ‘sold her soul’: Mailbox – #GuptaLeaks
- Singapore, UK clients fire Bell Pottinger as Saffers turn on the heat
- Bell Pottinger pushed SA into jaws of kleptocracy. Can we claw country back? MUST READ!
- It’s war between Lord Bell and ‘smelly’ Pottinger execs
- Angry, disgusted SA reacts: Too little, too late Bell Pottinger – there’s blood on your hands!