Alexandra Tolstoy (above) was with Sergei Pugachev for five years before it fell apart
A ‘lonely’ English countess will recount how her dream existence in the lap of luxury with a £10bn Russian oligarch turned into a nightmare in a new TV documentary.
Cameras followed Alexandra Tolstoy and Sergei Pugachev over five years for a documentary about their privileged lifestyle, but as they were filming things began to fall apart.
Alexandra, 45, has three children with Sergei, who was once worth so much money he was known as Vladimir Putin‘s banker.
The daughter of Count Nikolai Tolstoy – who had been married once before – says she was ‘besotted’ with the businessman when they first met.
But the relationship took a bad turn when Sergei got on the wrong side of the Russian government. They claim he owes the state $1billion.
‘When I met Sergei it was electric and I fell so in love with him,’ Alexandra – whose family is related to War & Peace author Leo Tolstoy – told The Mirror.
‘I’d never felt such a connection to someone, it was such a love affair.’
She added that he made her feel safe and protected, meaning she could spend as much time as possible with her children.
However Sergei fled London in 2015 and exiled himself in the South of France, claiming he was facing death threats.
Alexandra, 45, (right) the daughter of Count Nikolai Tolstoy, has three children with Sergei (left), who was once worth £10billion and so wealthy he was known as Vladimir Putin’s banker
Alexandra tells a new TV documentary that the couple were blissfully happy and she felt that in Sergei she’d met her soulmate before he fell foul of the Russian government and he changed
Alexandra visited him in Nice a year later to find his behaviour had completely changed – forcing her to take her children and leave the man she had loved.
It marked a stark contrast to the year before when the family had spent time together at their different houses in Chelsea, France and St Bart’s in the Caribbean.
Sergei, now 57, accuses Alexandra of stealing their children – who he has not seen for four years – and turning them against him. This is something which she denies.
In the film, he says he will not pay back the money Russia says he stole and that powerful friends helped him leave the UK to get to safety.
He also claims that Russians threatened to cut off his son’s fingers and that Alexandra is a KGB spy.
Sergei added that he thinks Alexandra only ever wanted him for his money but that he would like to be reunited with their children.
Since their split, Alexandra has returned to her former job leading riding trips and now lives in a cottage in Oxfordshire near where she grew up
‘I love my children,’ he says. ‘I hope they will stay with their father.’
He once owned two major shipyards, the world’s biggest mine and large chunks of real estate in Moscow and St Petersburg, as well as the Mezhprombank, which he co-founded in the 1990s.
Sergei, who left Russia in 2011, claims that after relations between him and Putin cooled, the Kremlin tried to seize or destroy his business empire.
The Russians then accused him of profiting from vast sums of taxpayers’ money given to Mezhprombank by the Russian central bank at the height of the 2008 economic crisis.
The Russian authorities also froze his assets, put him on Interpol’s wanted list and obtained a court order in Britain forcing him to hand over his passports.
Since their split, Alexandra has returned to her former job leading riding trips and now lives in a cottage in Oxfordshire near where she grew up.
She says she is optimistic about the future and now looks back on her old ‘vulgar’ lifestyle – which involved collecting designer shoes and handbags – with regret.
‘I can go back to the things that I love. I’m 45 and have a whole life ahead of me.’
Before she met Sergei, Alexandra was married to a penniless Cossack named Shamil Galimzyanov. The pair met whilst travelling along the Silk Road on horse in 1999.
He was an Uzbek showjumper employed as a guide on the trip. They married in 2003 in London.
Tolstoy first met Sergei, then a Russian senator and trusted friend of Putin who had separated from his wife, when asked to give him English lessons while she was living in Moscow with Galimzyanov.
Alexandra is pictured with her ex-husband Shamil Galimzyanov. The pair met when they were both on a trip travelling along the Silk Road on horse in 1999. They married in London in 2003
A year later, they met again at an awards ceremony attended by the Russian president.
Within months, Tolstoy and was pregnant with Sergei’s child. They had three children together – Alexei, known as Aliosha, Ivan and Maria.
Alexandra is the eldest of Anglo-Russian historian and writer Nikolai Tolstoy’s four children.
She grew up in Oxfordshire before going to Edinburgh University to study philosophy. She spent her gap year in Russia.
In 2008, she spent a month filming Horse People with Alexandra Tolstoy, a television series for The BBC in which she visited five different communities working with horses around the world.
She has also taken extensive riding trips through Mongolia and Siberia and organises riding holidays in central Asia as well as being a writer.
Sergei Pugachev with Vladimir Putin. Sergei claims that Russians threatened to cut off his son’s fingers and that Alexandra is a KGB spy
The Countess and the Russian Billionaire will air on BBC2 on April 8 at 9pm.