Together they’re worth £5.5 billion. It was always going to be pricey…

In any acrimonious divorce there’s always going to be the gnashing of teeth as both sides proclaim themselves the wronged party. But when there’s an estimated £5.5 billion fortune to play for, it’s arguably something of a game-changer.

Meet Petra Ecclestone, youngest daughter of billionaire Formula 1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone, who last week attended a hearing at Central Family Court in London to try to boot her estranged husband out of their 14-bedroom Chelsea pad, worth a staggering £100 million.

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Now enter James Stunt, Petra’s husband of six years and father of her three children – Lavinia, four, and two-year-old twins James Jr and Andrew. Mr Stunt runs a gold bullion firm and is said to be worth £3.3 billion on his own.

Accused of being abusive, violent and of taking overdoses, James, 35, is said to have put on a courtroom display worthy of an Oscar.

During the hearing he’s reported to have slammed his hand down on the table before making a gun gesture and calling Mr Ecclestone a ‘c**t’ under his breath.

Moments later, he’s said to have tapped Bernie on the shoulder before walking out of the room. Mr Ecclestone stood up, but recorder Richard Anelay QC said: ‘Please Mr Ecclestone, don’t respond. I know it’s tempting. For the record, I saw [Mr Stunt] clearly tap Mr Ecclestone on the shoulder.

‘I think my intervention prevented Mr Ecclestone from wanting to retaliate. Don’t carry it on outside, please; it will not help you in the long run.’

James and Petra, 28, married at Odescalchi Castle in Rome, where Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise got hitched. Petra wore an £80,000 designer dress and the lavish affair saw Eric Clapton, the Black Eyed Peas and DJ David Guetta all perform for guests. With no shortage of cash, £4,000-a- bottle wine was served.

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But now their marriage has hit the rocks the battle may be bloody and the eventual settlement is likely to be the biggest on record – with the lawyers arguably being the only real winners.

Petra has hired Baroness Fiona Shackleton, who represented Sir Paul McCartney in his much-publicised divorce from Heather Mills and charges £600 an hour for her time, while James’ team includes Hugh Grant’s former barrister David Sherborne.

The hearing, last Thursday (29 June), exposed incredible details of the pair’s marriage. It ended with the judge finding in favour of Petra and ordering James to vacate the property, saying: ‘It’s clear to me that the children should be there – it’s their home – and that the mother should be there with them as well… It’s quite apparent to me that he has more than sufficient money to rent a property over the next few months.’

But it’s far from over. Clearly desperate to make things work, James – who was wearing his wedding ring – said: ‘I ask that Petra and I are given time and space to work through our difficulties. If our marriage were to fail, it would be a tragedy. The situation is deeply upsetting.’

But despite his hopes of saving the relationship, the pair are preparing for a High Court clash later this month – and with so much money at stake, the gloves will surely be off.

Words: Hannah Fernando