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CNN LIVE TODAY

Heiress Comes of Age

Aired January 29, 2003 - 10:55   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is a birthday, a difference a day makes for Athina Onassis Roussel. She steps into adulthood today with an ocean of wealth. She is the granddaughter of the great late shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, and she's laying claim to close to $1 billion on this, her 18th birthday. Our next guest is a former spokesman for the Onassis family, and the author of "Athina: In the Eye of the Storm." And Alexis Mantheakis is joining us from Athens, Greece.
Hello, thank you for joining us.

ALEXIS MANTHEAKIS, ATHINA ONASSIS BIOGRAPHER: Yes, good day to you, to your viewers. Nice to be with you.

KAGAN: How will this actually work today? How does Athina take control of all of this money and all of these assets?

MANTHEAKIS: Well, there's been a lot of discussion on what would happen on the big day today. In fact, her mother said that she would receive her money at the age of 18, this enormous fortune, half of the Onassis fortune. One second after midnight, Athina, 18 years old, is the master of her fortune.

So she is probably the richest girl in the world at that age, and she has an enormous wealth, and she has an enormous legacy, which she has to contend with. But she has been prepared for this by her family for a long time, so it's not something that was unexpected, and Athina knows what she is going to receive, and she knows what she will to have do with her fortune. She has planned this very well, I think.

KAGAN: It has been a very interesting childhood for her. Her mother died when she was three. She's been raised by her father and her stepfather. But some criticism of the way she's been raised, has spent very little time in Greece.

MANTHEAKIS: Well, the criticism was from various causes. One of the points, was why should she go to public and not a private school? You know, and her father said she wanted Athina, because she had this enormous wealth, growing up being in contact with every day people.

As concerns as the matter the criticism of Greece, it's quite simple. Her mother, Christina Onassis, went to -- she didn't go to Greek schools; she lived most of her life outside Greece. It's quite normal for families who have that wealth and her money distributed worldwide, to have several places to live in. Athina was very unfortunate in one way, that she lost her mother when she was only three years old. And of course her father is French. She carried on living in Switzerland, which was a choice of Christina Onassis, her mother, and she was very lucky, though, that she had an excellent stepmother, Gabbie (ph), who brought her up very well, with three stepbrothers and stepsisters, and this is a lucky thing that Athina has had.

As well as wealth, she has not had the unfortunate childhood upbringing that her mother and uncle had, because their parents were very, very busy worldwide with business ventures and so on. So Athina has grown up in a very loving family, and she has grown up with her brothers and sisters in Switzerland, of course. Now that she's older, she's of age, it will be much easier for her to travel. Because she doesn't -- she only travels commercial, and she doesn't go in helicopters and so on, because there have been crashes in the family. She lost her uncle in a plane crash. Other people were lost, also.

KAGAN: It does appear...

MANTHEAKIS: She will come to Greece when she's older?

KAGAN: When she wants to. And it does appear you were talking a lot about her family that has raised her. From all reports, it appears they have raised a very nice young lady, very dedicated to horse riding, perhaps even compete in the 2004 Olympics. We could talk about her all day, fascinating young woman to watch as she gets this money and as she handles it.

Thanks for joining us from Athens, Greece. Appreciate it.

MANTHEAKIS: Thank you very much.

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