Collapse: Chantal Coady built Rococo into a thriving business with five shops selling £2.5million of chocolate a year
When the Duke of Cambridge presented her with an OBE in 2014, life was sweet for businesswoman Chantal Coady, the founder of luxury chocolate brand Rococo. On meeting Prince William, she revealed in a newspaper interview: ‘He said how wonderful to get an honour for making chocolate. We both roared with laughter.’
Yet, just eight years on, that taste of success has long since gone after a painful ordeal that Coady has said ‘took me to the brink, both emotionally and financially’ – and has left her family home on the line.
Rococo, once a thriving business that sold more than £2.5million of chocolate a year, has collapsed owing more than £1.5million to creditors and Coady has been pushed out of the company she spent almost four decades building up.
Even worse, Coady faces losing the family home she shares with husband James Booth, an acupuncturist, and their two children after using the South London property as security for loans taken out to try to save the company.
Court filings show that Coady will this week launch legal action against NatWest, which had been her company’s lender since the 1990s.
It is understood that Coady is trying to protect herself from paying debts owed by Rococo to the high street bank after the company was finally liquidated two years ago. Meanwhile, a feud with Rococo’s chief executive and shareholder, financier Rupert Morley, has left a bitter taste.
Coady is understood to be aggrieved by the way he bought her business out of administration for £700,000 in 2019 and set up a new company using the Rococo brand name. At its peak, with five central London shops, the company had been valued at £10million.
A source close to the case says: ‘Losing Rococo was utterly devastating for Coady. She lost a fortune and has been forced to launch this legal action to save her home.
‘NatWest should be ashamed of itself for not looking after a longstanding customer better.’
Coady, 63, started out selling chocolate at Harrods aged 19 and founded Rococo in 1983 when she opened a shop on the King’s Road in Chelsea, South West London.
Enjoyed by supermodels, Hollywood actors and even the Queen, who reportedly kept Rococo chocolates in a secret cupboard at Buckingham Palace, Rococo grew into a leading brand that was stocked in Waitrose and Harvey Nichols, and served on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights.
But the business started to struggle after the 2008 financial crisis and it turned to NatWest to raise more money to stay afloat.
In 2012, Coady and her husband reluctantly agreed to put their Victorian terraced house on the line under a joint personal guarantee for Rococo’s debt.
The couple believed they would be protected from losing their home by an agreement with NatWest, called a debenture. The two sides disagree over whether that protection, first provided by NatWest in 2006, is still in place.
Court papers show Coady is applying to ensure the original agreement with NatWest is upheld, and to freeze any payments to creditors until the legal tangle is resolved.
Morley, who is a trustee of Comic Relief and a non-executive director at US billionaire Bill Ackman’s hedge fund Pershing Square Capital, came in as an investor in 2017.
He bought 33 per cent of the business for £350,000 that year and the following year supplied a £200,000 loan. By 2019, however, Rococo had been loss-making for a number of years, and insolvency documents said its working capital was ‘not sufficient to support its cash flow requirements’.
The report, from insolvency firm BDO, also said that some of the firm’s creditors were threatening legal action if overdue payments were not made. Morley applied to the courts in May that year to put the company into administration and urgently find a rescue buyer.
Following a marketing process to almost 200 potential buyers, resulting in eight offers, Morley bought the business for £700,000 himself in June 2019 through a new firm he had set up called Rococo London.
BDO said the offer represented the best outcome for creditors, but Coady disputes this. Coady’s original company, Rococo Chocolates Ltd, went into liquidation in May 2020.
Both Morley and Coady declined to comment for this report. However, in a recent interview, Coady hinted that relations between the two were not cordial.
‘Losing Rococo was like watching everything I loved being thrown off a cliff,’ she said. ‘I got absolutely nothing for a lifetime’s work.’
A spokesperson for BDO, which handled Rococo’s collapse and is named in the upcoming High Court case alongside NatWest, said: ‘Since a court order to place Rococo Chocolates Ltd into administration in 2019 and its subsequent liquidation, the joint administrators and joint liquidators have discharged their duties entirely properly in this matter and will continue to do so.
‘The joint liquidators have issued a cross-application for directions to fulfil their duties to creditors.’
NatWest said: ‘We cannot comment on this case as it is subject to ongoing legal proceedings.’
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