Catching Jackie with Aristotle Onassis
When rumours emerged that Aristotle Onassis was romantically involved
with Jackie Kennedy, a young Greek journalist sneaked on to the shipping
magnate's yacht to see if it was true. Forty years after the death of
the billionaire, he remembers how he got his scoop.
Ted Kennedy was a young
senator in 1968 with a promising career
On a sweltering morning in August 1968, Greek journalist Nico
Mastorakis was in his office in downtown Athens scouring the newspapers
for possible leads when something caught his eye.
"I knew that any story about Onassis was big in Greece, even if it
was just a photo of him drinking coffee," he says. He had spotted a
small piece reporting that the Greek billionaire had invited Giannis
Poulopoulos's bouzouki group to play at a reception on board his yacht
Christina. Poulopoulos was a personal friend of Mastorakis. To add to
the excitement, the journalist knew that Jackie Kennedy, the glamorous
widow of President John F Kennedy, who'd been assassinated five years
earlier, was in Greece. For a while, rumours had been swirling that
Kennedy and Onassis were an item. They had been photographed together,
but always in company and nothing was known for certain.
"It clicked in a reporter's mind that I could go myself to Christina
disguised as a bouzouki player. I had done that [sort of thing] in the
past many times very successfully," says Mastorakis.
Convinced he had a scoop on his hands, he borrowed a bouzouki and
went straight to the airport where he persuaded Poulopoulos to let him
pose as a member of the band. They made their way to Onassis's Ionian
island, Skorpios, and Mastorakis hid his minute camera behind the
strings of his guitar.
Arriving at the Christina, they found Aristotle Onassis in his
bathing trunks carefully cleaning the hull of his ship, a former frigate
that burned 30 tonnes of oil a day when it was on the move.
"Christina at dusk was gleaming with lights. It was a beautiful
yacht," he says.
"Everything was mahogany and wood and polished brass. Dinner was
served on gold-plated china. Everywhere you turned there was crystal,
"It was obviously one of Onassis best-staged evenings of his life.
And the purpose of the glamour was that he was in love with the idea of
stealing the first lady of the United States."
Crucially, Jackie Kennedy was there. Her brother-in-law, US Senator
Ted Kennedy was also on board - to negotiate the financial side of the
impending marriage, Mastorakis later learned. Once Jackie Kennedy
remarried, she would automatically forfeit the money she got from the
Kennedy trust as well as her widow's pension from the government.
"Jackie wore a long gypsy skirt and was very cordial with everybody.
They ate lamb and stuffed vine leaves. Onassis tried to feed her and it
was a very nice moment," says Mastorakis, who managed to take several
Jackie Kennedy and
Aristotle Onassis married on Skorpios later that year
As the evening wore on, Mastorakis watched as the guests became
drunk, dancing and singing old tangos. Jackie Kennedy, caught up in the
party atmosphere, took one of the costly china plates and threw it to
smash it on the deck.
"Onassis grabbed it in mid-air, and asked his staff to bring her some
cheap clay plates instead," he says. The tycoon asked Mastorakis to
record the singing and happily posed for pictures with the band.
"Jackie drank vodka and Ted Kennedy drank only ouzo but Onassis drank
everything. And when he couldn't drink any more, he would go to the side
of the boat and empty his stomach in the sea and drink some more," says
When Jackie eventually went to bed, Onassis stayed on for a bit to
drink with the band.
"Then he said 'I would love to stay with you until daybreak but I've
got to go and make love to my wife.'" The words confirmed to Mastorakis
that the romance was not only real, but serious.
"Onassis wouldn't use random words to describe his feelings. I think
he was bragging that after a night of eating and drinking, he was still
capable of going to make love to somebody. And the word wife came out
with great assurance," he adds.
In addition, Onassis knew Mastorakis was a journalist. He'd run into
him in the past as a member of the paparazzi, and even given him a
camera as he thought Mastorakis' own one wasn't good enough.
Mastorakis had his story. But there was more. He had also seen Ted
Kennedy with an attractive young blonde woman who was not his wife, so
he thought he had a double scoop. According to the yacht's head of
entertainment, Onassis had had her flown in from Sweden "as a gift" for
But Ted Kennedy's security detail became suspicious of Mastorakis's
good English. The agent was worried that photographs with the Swedish
woman could be damaging and he searched the bungalow on the island where
the band was staying. Mastorakis realised he needed to get away.
Mastorakis hid a small
camera in a bouzouki guitar
The next morning he swapped shirts with another band member and gave
the agent the slip.
"As I was flying over the Christina, I spotted the secret service guy
on the deck. He looked at me and raised his fist. And I looked at him
and I raised my middle finger," he says. Back in Athens however,
Mastorakis was apprehended by the Greek secret police. Ted Kennedy and
his agent had leaned on Onassis to pull strings in the military junta
that ran Greece at the time.
The journalist spent a night at the police station and when he was
released found that both his office and his apartment had been
ransacked. All his photographs from on Onassis's yacht had been taken
and he never saw them again.
His newspaper published his article detailing the romance between
Onassis and Jackie Kennedy. It caused a sensation around the world, but
references to Ted Kennedy had been removed.
"It was reprinted by thousands of newspapers and magazines. The
headline ran: 'Ex-first lady of the United States, soon to be first lady
Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis on the island that October,
but seven years on she found herself a widow again, when the Greek
magnate died after a short illness.
Mastorakis went on to write a film script based on his encounters
with Onassis and today hosts a Greek TV-programme interviewing
celebrities. Nico Mastorakis spoke to Witness on the BBC World Service.
BBC World Service