Peter Foster — emollient, duplicitous and utterly without principle — is one of the world’s most accomplished conmen.
He famously duped Page 3 girl Sam Fox, inveigled his way into the trust of the then Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Blair and persuaded the Duchess of York to endorse his bogus slimming products.
But few people outside her home city of Liverpool know the story of former Young Slimmer of the Year Michele Deakin, the impressionable and starstruck teenager he hoodwinked and deceived more monstrously than any of the thousands of victims of his many scams.
Foster has earned millions from defrauding the gullible, but his crimes against Michele, now 51, were far more heinous.
‘I was a virgin when I met him and he groomed me, seduced me and proposed to me,’ she tells me. ‘I loved him and thought he was this amazing, charismatic person. But he promised me the Earth and delivered nothing.
‘Then he destroyed my good name and left me standing alone in the dock at Liverpool Crown Court pregnant with his twins. He never saw them and now he denies they are his. I brought them up alone without a penny from him and lived as a virtual recluse.
‘Every day has been a battle, but I’ve coped,’ she smiles ruefully. ‘Perhaps I’m stronger than I thought.’
Michele is speaking for the first time now, exclusively to the Mail, as Foster, 57, who has served multiple prison sentences for fraud, announces his intention to write his autobiography while making the improbable declaration that he has ‘reformed’. I ask Michele if she thinks he is capable of rehabilitation. She laughs. She has a Liverpudlian’s wry humour.
‘That man has more faces than a town hall clock,’ she says. ‘Do I think he’s reformed? No, it’s baloney. He’s a narcissist. He exploits other people without any guilt or shame and he believes his own lies.
‘He’s still conning people out of millions but no prosecution seems to stick. I’d like to confront him. He ruined me but I want him to know I’m not broken.’
Foster, an Australian, drives an open-top Bentley sports car, lives in a luxury waterside mansion on Queensland’s Gold Coast and spends as ostentatiously as he ever did, thanks to the proceeds of the estimated £18 million he has allegedly fleeced from investors in his latest scam, a phoney Sports Trading Club.
Michele’s means are more modest. She is a lone parent, recently separated from her husband, and a full-time carer for her non-verbal, severely autistic son Troy, five. She shares a detached house on a neat estate in Liverpool with mum Esther, 82.
At times she struggles to stem tears, which are rarely more than a blink away. Her twins, born Rachael and Rebecca in February 1991, are now 29. Rachael is an air steward with Emirates airways, living in Dubai. Rebecca has transitioned, lives as a man, Maxwell Deakin, and owns two tattoo parlours. ‘I’m proud of them both. They’ve done well,’ she says.
While Foster first gained notoriety in the UK for flogging ‘miracle’ slimming products, he burst into the news again in 2002 when he helped negotiate the purchase price of two flats in Bristol on behalf of Cherie Blair, the QC wife of the then Prime Minister Tony.
Foster was then the boyfriend of the Blairs’ personal trainer Carole Caplin. He has always had a beguiling way with women and the naïve, teenage Michele was easy prey for a man as practised in both wheedling and charm.
Michele was just 19 when she first came to his attention. The privately educated, only child of taxi driver Lenny Deakin and his wife Esther, a stay-at-home mum, she was the apple of her doting parents’ eyes.
‘As an only child I was spoilt rotten,’ she says. ‘I had lots of toys and sweets, which I shared with everyone. Friends were always ringing the doorbell.
‘But as I got older I put on a lot of weight. I got so big I stopped enjoying life. My friends were all going out with boys and I was sitting at home on my own.
‘I was due to go on a family holiday and I was dreading it. That’s when I decided to lose weight.’
Michele did so with spectacular results. At almost 5 ft 10 in tall, she whittled her weight down from 22 st to 10 st in just over a year. The transformation was so dramatic that in 1988 she won national acclaim as Young Slimmer of the Year. Her secret?
‘Sensible eating and exercise,’ she says. ‘It was all down to willpower and determination.’
Michele was the star of an awards ceremony at London Zoo where the paparazzi gathered. ‘I had my hair and make-up done, I was all dressed up. I said I wanted to help people lose weight with the Deakin Diet,’ she remembers.
She won £1,000 and a holiday at a sports resort in La Manga, Spain. The attention was dizzying.
But it was the dramatic transformation of her appearance — encapsulated in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of her in the tabloids — that caught Foster’s attention and set his rapacious mind whirring.
He wasted no time in ringing the family home and ingratiating himself with Michele’s dad. ‘He said he was going to set up a company for my Deakin Diet and make me a millionaire,’ she says.
‘There were promises beyond my wildest dreams. Dad, who’d been ill with cancer, just wanted the best for me and here was Foster saying he’d pay us £1,000 if we just came to talk to him.’
Lured by these extravagant pledges, the family was ensnared. A Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit with a liveried chauffeur arrived at the Deakins’ home the next day.
‘I was just swept away with the glamour of it all,’ says Michele. ‘I was a young girl being whisked away down the motorway in an expensive car.
‘Mum and Dad came with me and we arrived at a beautiful five-star country house hotel in Hadley Wood, North London.
‘An open fire was crackling; waitresses were scurrying around bringing us drinks. Foster wasn’t there but the scene was set. He had arranged it all to impress us.
‘He sent his Rolls-Royce to take us to his house. It was so opulent, a billionaire’s mansion with a swimming pool, helipad and tennis courts.
‘And inside it was like a party: balloons, banners with my name on them; huge bouquets of flowers and a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne [the equivalent of 20 standard bottles] all in my honour.
‘He greeted me with, ‘G’day’ and a kiss on each cheek. He was expensively suited and booted with a showy watch and he smelt gorgeous. But what struck me most was his charm. He cast a spell over me.
‘I was this teenager from Liverpool and he was showing me his house and making a big fuss of me. Then he said, ‘This is your house now. My home is yours.’
‘He gave Dad an envelope with £1,000 in cash in it, gave him huge cigars and opened a £1,000 bottle of wine.’
Michele was ushered into a dining room where Foster had gathered an array of business associates, among them his girlfriend, glamour model Sam Fox, a producer from Blind Date and a Sky TV executive. She was introduced to retired boxer Bunny Johnson (a former British heavyweight champ) who was to be her minder. ‘Everyone there was in awe of Foster,’ she says. It is easy to imagine how she found the ostentatious wealth and the extravagant display of approbation irresistible.
‘He told me he was going to launch the Deakin Diet and said it would be marketed with a slimming aid, granules which he called ‘willpower in a bottle’. Sam Fox told me she’d made a lot of money promoting Bai Lin tea, another of his weight-loss products. She had advertised it and it all seemed legitimate. I signed a contract and was promised £1,000 a week [which never materialised] as long as I didn’t put on any weight.’
A less credulous person may have questioned the authenticity of Foster’s scheme, but he was adept in the techniques of manipulation and sweet-talking. His mother Louise, whom Michele describes as a ‘Ghislaine Maxwell figure’, was the conduit between the two of them, welcoming her into their family, orchestrating the scam which relied on her compliance.
Foster sent Michele’s parents on extravagant holidays in private villas in Malta and Marbella: ‘I realise now it was all part of the plot. He wanted them out of the way so they didn’t question what I was doing,’ she says. She was appearing on TV shows, promoting his slimming aid alongside her Deakin Diet and falsely claiming she had lost 12 st with the help of the granules.
After her first meeting with Foster, she remained with him and says she did not return home to Liverpool for almost two years.
‘I was given the main bedroom in his house with a hot tub, Jacuzzi and en-suite. It was unbelievable.
‘He took me to posh restaurants and London casinos. He’d flash the cash and give huge tips. He’d give me thousands of pounds worth of chips and I’d gamble and lose them all.
‘He sent me on shopping sprees with wads of cash with his security guard. I had a rail of Dior and Versace dresses in my bedroom and mink coats. It was a totally different world from the one I’d known and I was blown away.’
What Michele did not realise, however, was that she was Foster’s cash cow. Pre-paid orders for his slimming granules — which it later emerged were made from guar gum and merely induced flatulence — were flooding in thanks to her endorsement of them.
He had also seduced Michele. She now believes he was two- timing her with Sam Fox. ‘We’d been out for the evening to a restaurant, had a drink. I was a virgin, totally innocent and he charmed me,’ she says. He set the scene at his house in Hadley Wood with champagne, flowers and candles.
‘Afterwards, he proposed to me. He bought me a ring with a huge, pink Chopard diamond in the shape of a heart.
‘Of course I said yes. He had such charisma. It was like a magic power. I was so happy.’
But Michele barely had time to luxuriate in her engagement when her life of affluence turned to dust. ‘People had been complaining to Trading Standards about the diet granules. Stories had started to appear in the papers that they’d sent money and never received the product,’ she says.
‘Everything was unravelling. Peter said there was a problem at the factory. He asked me to go back home while he ‘sorted it all out’.’ So Michele returned to Liverpool and there the scope and scale of Foster’s deception swiftly emerged. Their anxiety mounting, her Dad drove down to Hadley Wood to confront him.
‘When he got to the mansion there was no one there. The house was deserted, completely empty. Apparently, it had been rented and as soon as Foster knew trouble was brewing he’d packed up and fled.
‘We all realised then that it had been a huge con. Foster had duped us all. I think the shock and stress of it made Dad ill — shortly after he died of a heart attack — and for me it was just horrific.’
Worse was to come. Trading Standards raided the Deakins’ home. Michele was charged with conspiracy (with Foster) to offer the Deakin Diet under a false trade description.
At Liverpool Crown Court, on the advice of her lawyers, she pleaded guilty. But she stood in the dock alone as Foster had absconded. (The law did not catch up with him for five years and he was imprisoned for the offence for two years in 1996.)
It was as she stood in the dock that Michele realised she was pregnant.
‘I’d missed my period. I was being sick. I was scared but I just kept it secret,’ she recalls. ‘I felt ashamed about the fat con, scared about the future. Everything I’d dreamed of had crumbled to dust.’
She was given a six-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. Her daughters were born in 1991 and she faced life as a lone parent of twins.
‘I thought, ‘How the hell will I cope?’ ‘ she says. But I did. I got by. I worked for 12 years as a hotel receptionist.’
Foster, meanwhile, was uncontactable. When the twins were three, Michele secured a meeting — typically stage- managed and ostentatious — with his mother Louise. Michele, her mum and the twins met her in a private room at an exclusive hotel in Oxford Street, London.
‘There were dozens of cuddly toys piled on the table alongside an envelope stuffed with thousands of pounds in cash,’ says Michele. ‘Louise gushed, ‘The girls are princesses! Peter will love them. We will look after you.’ ‘
Foster failed to materialise. ‘I took two big dolls for the girls but left all the money on the table. I decided I didn’t want anything to do with it — or him any more.
When I contacted Peter Foster he insisted he is not the father of Michele’s twins, claiming he left England for Australia in 1988 when a warrant was issued for his arrest. ‘Unless I sh***ed her from 18,000 miles then it’s complete bull****,’ he says, claiming he has also offered to take a DNA test.
Michele, who hopes to lose weight and relaunch her Deakin Diet, has this riposte: ‘I’d say to him, ‘You could have had a lovely life with a family and you’re clever and charismatic enough to have made a lot of money legitimately. Instead, you chose to con people.’
‘I’d love to believe he’d reformed. But I think it’s just another of his empty promises.’