The Billionaire, The Butler, and The Boyfriend: A true story of extreme wealth, manipulation, and politics

By Louie Fecou
Published: November 15, 2023 (Last updated: November 21, 2023)
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The True Story Behind The Billionaire, The Butler, and the Boyfriend
The Billionaire, the Butler, and the Boyfriend | Image via Netflix

Documentary fans, and documentary filmmakers love the hidden world of the super-rich, and the Netflix feature The Billionaire, The Butler, and the Boyfriend takes a deep dive into the scandals that surrounded Liliane Bettencourt, who at the time of her death, was considered to be the richest woman in the world. You may think the panel on Dragon’s Den is rich, but Liliane moved in the circles of the super-wealthy, being the heiress of L’Oreal and finding herself in the company of some interesting people. The Netflix series explores the life of Liliane, but the circumstances were so incredulous that many have wondered about the true story behind it all and how much of it the documentary series included.

The Billionaire, The Butler and the Boyfriend details pretty much everything that you need to know about the true story of Liliane and the people who were involved in her life in the years before her death.

The players that are at the heart of the story include the daughter of Liliane, Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, photographer Francois-Marie Banier, and the butler who would expose much of the events, Pascal Bonnefoy.

Liliane was born in 1922, and in 1950, she married French politician Andre Bettencourt, who became the deputy chairman of L’Oreal. Liliane would eventually become a major shareholder of the company, but it would be later in 2007 that the spotlight would fall on Liliane. The L’Oreal heiress opted to veer away from any publicity, and rarely gave interviews, however, her relationship with her daughter became strained, and speculation in the press and media arose about her friendship with the photographer Banier.

On top of that, there were allegations of funding the presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as other politicians connected to Liliane’s asset manager, Patrice de Maistre. These events all form the true story basis of The Billionaire, The Butler, and the Boyfriend, along with the butler of Liliane, who, unknown to all involved, would record hours of secret conversations between Liliane and Banier, conversations that would become public knowledge and be used in court cases brought against Banier, accused of taking advantage of the woman, who had gifted him over one billion Euros in works of art, insurance policies, and a private island, as well as naming him as a benefactor in her will, a claim that infuriated her daughter.

What was Francois-Marie Banier convicted for?

Francois-Marie Banier

Francois-Marie Banier | Image via GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images)

After conning Liliane out of billions, Francois-Marie Banier was accused of, and eventually found guilty of, “abus de faiblesse”, a French term translating to “abuse of weakness”, or in other words taking advantage of someone vulnerable.

Banier was prone to high-society connections and had met Liliane through his work as a photographer. Multiple recordings would suggest that he was coercive. Liliane expressed confusion in several of the recordings, especially around the island she was gifting him, and it was clear that Banier was benefitting from the arrangement much more than Liliane was.

Despite being found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison, Banier won an appeal that kept him out of prison. He was also deemed not responsible for the damages that the Bettencourt family were awarded, so he didn’t have to pay a penny.

Who was the Butler, Pascal Bonnefoy?

Pascal Bonnefoy, Liliane Bettencourt's Butler

Pascal Bonnefoy | Image via Netflix

Pascal Bonnefoy started to work as a butler for Liliane Bettencourt and her husband, André Bettencourt, in 1989.

He had feared that the photographer was essentially conning the heiress out of her money, and there was also a suspicion that Liliane’s health was in decline and she may have been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, although she refused to take any medical examinations.

It is noteworthy that Liliane would be one of the biggest investors in the Ponzi scheme established by Bernie Madoff. Reportedly she would lose twenty-two million Euros through the scam.

Bonnefoy would take a tape recorder into the meetings that he was suspicious about and hide it on a tray so that it would record the conversations between Liliane and her entourage, including the photographer Banier.

Bonnefoy was concerned about the relationship between his employer and the society photographer, was suspicious of his motives, and was also concerned that his position in the household was at risk.

The Netflix series would explain how Bonnefoy would reveal the contents of the recordings to his lawyer. The decision to make the recordings public came from Liliane’s daughter, who knew that the contents would be of public interest, even though they exposed some of her mother’s financial dealings with various politicians.

What was the connection to Nicolas Sarkozy?

Patrice de Maistre, Liliane Bettencourt's former asset manager

Patrice de Maistre | Image via Netflix

The political connection comes courtesy of Lilian’s asset manager Patrice de Maistre, who was in charge of the billionaire’s entire fortune and the director general of Clymène, which handled part of Liliane’s assets. Through his financial connections de Maistre was friendly with the former French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and the former budget minister, Eric Woerth.

Through Clymène, Maistre gave Woerth’s wife a job, leading to his induction into the National Order of The Legion of Honour in 2007. The secret recordings revealed that de Maistre had been pushing Liliane to illegally finance the Presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy.

What happened after the court case?

Liliane would have a brief reconciliation with her daughter but later would claim she needed psychiatric help, leading to the relationship deteriorating further.

Banier was removed from the will, and forced to settle with the family for damages after the case.

On October 17th, 2011, a decision was made by a French judge that her daughter Francoise and two grandsons would take control of her wealth and property, due to the decline in her health.

After the events covered by the documentary, de Maistre was sentenced to thirty months in jail, however, one year was suspended, and he was also fined a quarter of a million Euros. On top of this, he was ordered to reimburse Liliane Bettencourt a staggering twelve million Euros in damages. He made a direct deal with the family over the money, waiving his right to an appeal.

Bonnefoy would leave her employ in 2010, and face charges for recording the conversations illegally, but no action was taken against him. He would be acquitted of the charges on the same day as Liliane’s death, the 21st of September 2017. She was 94 years old.

Do you have any thoughts on the true story behind The Billionaire, The Butler and the Boyfriend? Let us know in the comments. 

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