She’s been dubbed the ‘Diva of Divorce’, but Aryesha Vardag the UK divorce law supremo is actually more than just a top divorce lawyer handling major matrimonial splits, she is truly a ‘femme fatale’ of divorce law.
She keeps her client list secret, but has at different times represented celebrities, royalty, footballers, entrepreneurs and heiresses, including recently securing a £64 million divorce deal for Pauline Chai, the wife of Khoo Kay Peng, the former boss of the Laura Ashley fashion chain, when their marriage ended after 42 years.
Profiled in LawFuel’s ‘Fearsome 13’ article some time ago, she continues to reign supreme in the divorce law battles, as well as regularly featuring in media in divorce matters, including the situation facing divorcing or rowing couples during and after the pandemic.
|Born – March 1968|
|Education – University of Cambridge|
|Law Firms – Trained at Linklaters, worked in New York for Weil, Gotshal & Manges and in London at Sears Tooth. Incorporated Vardag Solicitors in 2005.|
|Homes – Islington, London; Dubai and Italy|
|Awards – Outstanding achievements in law, 2019; a Duke of Edinburgh award for membership of the Inner Temple. She was a Cambridge Wiener Anspach scholar for a Masters in European Law at the Université Libre Brussels. Also holds the 2015 Natwest Everywoman Award.|
Vardag got a first-hand taste of big-money divorce work in 2001 when she was getting divorced from her first husband, a partner at Big Law firm Linklaters. She hired Raymond Tooth— who famously represented the wives of Eric Clapton, Jude Law and billionaire Roman Abramovich—to help with her own divorce.
She was herself employed by Tooth’s firm, but stayed only 10 months. She became a law lecturer at Queen Mary’s University of London, after which she decided she would be better off launching her own firm, tapping into her social network for clients. Vardag — who claims to be shy — spread the word by attending every high-society party, ball and gala in London. “God, I remember one person saying, “You’re the ultimate social butterfly,”” she laughs.
She acted for Pauline Chai, former wife of Laura Ashley owner and multimillionaire Khoo Kay Peng, because the relationship had turned “abusive [and] oppressive.”
One of her first major cases was in 2010 when she worked on the case of German paper industry heiress, Katrin Radmacher, who is worth $100 million.
The Supreme Court ruled that Radmacher’s German prenuptial agreement was enforceable, a first in England and Wales, but stopped short of making ‘prenups’ legally binding on a statutory level. “That was amazing, because it changed the course of English legal history,” Vardag says of the outdated approach that came from a time when divorce was deemed illegal. “Nobody thought I could do it.”
In 2014, a judge granted the American ex-wife of businessman, Chris Hohn, 36 per cent of their $1.5 billion fortune.
In 2017, Russian oligarch Farkhad Akhmedov was ordered to pay £453 million ($629 million) to his ex-wife Tatiana in what is thought to be one of the biggest divorce awards in history.
One lawyer commenting on the size of the settlement said the unparalleled generosity of the English courts “is rooted in the fundamental principle that breadwinners’ and homemakers’ respective contributions to a marriage are of equal importance.”
Professional & Personal
A former opera singer, (“so they coined the ‘diva of divorce’ name, which I really like”) Vardag is one of Britain’s most expensive lawyers. She has built her firm up a decade from a room in her apartment to a $15 million firm with offices in London and Dubai and with costs at £1,200 an hour she won’t touch a case unless there is $100 million or more at stake.
She is married to Stephen Bence, a financial consultant who is MD/CEO of Vardags and a former McKinleys consultant. As of April 2016, the couple has five children. two Two of her sons work in the law firm, one of whom is training as a lawyer and the other working in the firm’s strategy team.
For relaxation she prefers opera, travel, movies and dramas. With six children from her marriages she also has six dogs, six cats and twenty horses.
She is an accomplushed amateur horsewoman, enjoying eventing and showjumping, and has a small private competition yard in West Sussex competing as Vardags Equestrian.
Appropriately for legal royalty, she has a Medici-style villa in Florence from which the picture (above) was taken. It is her success and her flamouyant approach to her professional that has also brought out the naysayers who have criticized her approach to the law and life generally. However, unbowed by the critics, she continues to handle the major family law cases that have seen her firm Vardag Solicitors continue to grow and prosper.
“My clients love me and members of my firm I’m very close to. Those outside it, I’m delighted if they’re all friendly.’ She adds: ‘I’m sure they think I’m too flamboyant as I busily promote myself to promote my firm, because I’m so inextricably linked with it,” she said in one interview.
Since hiring Vardag in 2013, Pauline Chai had paid $6.5 million to her firm by 2018, according to a TIME report. “What you pay could be the difference between winning or losing,” says Angeline Francis Khoo, 34, one of Chai’s five children. “I think Mom would say she wasn’t bothered about the cost because she knew she was getting the best and you pay for that expertise.”
“She has presence,” Chai says of her first impression of Vardag. “Her background showed she really understood women, and you really understood when meeting her that Ayesha is a fighter.”
High Profile clients are part of the way she lives and breathes her legal life.
Raised in Oxford she came from a family without money and which was “utterly financially stretched,” she told TIME in an interview. To pay the bills, her English mother worked as a secretary by day and at night typed postgraduate doctoral theses for students. Vardag hardly knew her father, Asaf Vardag, who is a Pashtun-Pakistani politician of royal descent. His work kept him in Pakistan, and his brief visits to the U.K. stopped after her mother filed for divorce when Ayesha was 14-years-old.
Vardag threw herself into work, gaining a scholarship to a prestigious high school in Oxford, eventually gaining a degree in English literature and a masters in law at the University of Cambridge, before starting a career in commercial law.
Her firm posted revenues of Vardag £20.8m for the year to 31 March 2020, but did not have a vintage 2021 thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.