How the Ultra-Rich Are Doing Coronavirus Lockdown

Private jets, piano deliveries and underground shooting ranges – this is what life is like for the 1 percent in the age of corona.
April 16, 2020, 8:00am
man in jacuzzi

Not all quarantines are created equal. While key workers are unable to self-isolate – putting themselves at risk to provide essential services – lots of us are working from home, trying to bake sourdough, playing The Sims too much and compulsively shaving our heads as a way to pass the time. And then there are the one percenters, who are able to live by different rules altogether.

Granted, many have chosen to follow government advice and stay at home – it's just that their homes tend to be mansions kitted out with all the amenities others might be tempted to leave the house for. So while you joined the four-man shower queue in your house-share, J. Lo was being served poolside drinks and OG sadboy Drake was home alone, with nothing but the automated shooting machine on his private basketball court to keep him company.

Meanwhile, some of those who were on holiday as lockdowns hit chose to simply stay put. Luxury resorts in Mexico, the West Indies and the Bahamas are reporting that wealthy guests have extended their stays indefinitely, choosing to WFHotel and stomach the cost of upwards of £812 a night, rather than facing crowded airports and the prospect of quarantining at home.

Thailand's monarch Maha Vajiralongkorn took it one step further, reportedly renting out an entire resort in the German Alps, complete with a pool, spa and golf course for himself and his 20-woman harem, while the rest of the region's hotels were ordered shut.

Villa Marbella Malaga

Rent-a-Resort's Villa Marbella, near Malaga.

Of course, you don't need a crown to buy out a hotel: one travel company, which specialises in exclusive resort rentals, has seen an upsurge in requests from individuals looking for a safe place to escape to once the peak isolation period is over and they're able to leave their homes.

"We have a client who asked for a private chateau in France for his birthday party with close friends," explains Rent-a-Resort's head of marketing, Daniel Rudolf. "Another just wants to enjoy their time in one of our villas near Malaga, which will be exclusively available for them while the outside world is talking about how corona destroys the world."

In the case of that Malaga villa, the privilege of creating your own alternate reality bubble will set you back €9,000 (£7,907) a night. The comparatively cheaper option – if you have the option, that is – is to follow in the footsteps of Scotland's chief medical officer, who decided to shun her own government’s advice and migrate to her family's second home, much like the droves of wealthy New Yorkers who have descended on the Hamptons.

With all these properties to get to, jet charter services like Hertfordshire-based PrivateFly saw demand increase by more than 60 percent this March compared to the same month last year – although the company expects this to teeter off as people settle into their quarantine nest of choice.

"We arranged a flight from Grand Bahama to Gibraltar for two adults and a dog, with a stop off in Miami," says PrivateFly CEO Adam Twidell. "In this case the clients were British citizens with residency in both places."

privatefly jet

The interior of one private jet. Photo courtesy of PrivateFly.

Instead of flying off to rented homes, the more paranoid sector of the ultra-rich have resorted to building entire doomsday shelters in their back gardens, as part of what preppers lovingly call their SHTF, or "Shit Hits The Fan" Plans. Recent demand for bunkers has been "astronomical", according to Gary Lynch, general manager of the Texas-based manufacturer Rising S Company. "In a typical week we'll sell one to two, but this week we've sold 14," he explains.

One of the most recent sales was for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom shelter, which cost $400,000 (£320,000), plus an extra $243,000 (£195,000) to add a 1,000-square-foot greenhouse so the owners can grow their own food in case a future pandemic turns into a full-on resource war. Another common request has been underground shooting ranges – which sounds outrageous, but makes a lot of sense if you think about the type of person who might be inclined to install a bomb shelter in their backyard.

Robert Vicina, founder of Vivos Shelters, says the company has had to switch to automated email responses because they're getting inundated with inquiries, including "from some very successful people that you would know". "People are asking for a separate bunker for all of their toys – art pieces, a wine collection, collectible vehicles," he says. "Some are actually putting in tunnels between their bunkers so that they can go back and forth under a lockdown situation."

Most of those who own a yacht seem to have stayed away from their floating mansions, perhaps after watching multiple cruise ships turn into stateless coronavirus hotspots. But media magnate David Geffen is among those who decided to brave the open seas on his $590 million (£472 million) superyacht Rising Sun, with liquid courage courtesy of its on-board wine cellar.

"We have a couple of clients who are on their own boats around the Caribbean at the moment," says Raphael Sauleau, CEO of Fraser Yachts, which sells and charters yachts. "Some of them left a while ago now, probably to get ahead of the situation. Their yacht is like an extension of their own home, so they feel safe on there. They go on board with the family and even a tutor for the kids."

Even when it comes to the unavoidable, quarantine-induced desire for self-improvement, re-downloading Duolingo or streaming Yoga with Adriene won't do if you if you have enough money to feasibly build your own home yoga studio. That's why, according to concierge service Quintessentially, some of its members decided to order self-care pianos, drum sets and entire at-home gyms, just in time for the lockdown.

Meanwhile, corona refugees in the Hamptons have rinsed local shops of their stock, reportedly spending up to $8,000 (£6,400) in one go on entire trays of steak and bottles of wine with triple digit price tags. Rather than risk going out themselves, others have taken to getting private chefs to deliver meals straight to their door. Hayley Bellenie, a private chef with London's Galor agency, has taken on more clients due to the pandemic, and now hand delivers pretty much all of their meals – for £250 a day, on top of food costs.

"One client is celebrating her 60th in isolation and she requested a three-course dinner," she says. "Scallops and prawn to start, a beef wellington with dauphinoise potatoes and green beans for a main, followed by a mojito cake instead of dessert."

Money doesn't just buy you the ability to self-isolate in ultimate comfort, but also the invaluable knowledge of whether you have the coronavirus and could pass it on to vulnerable family members. Despite the global shortage in supplies, celebrities from Kris Jenner to Idris Elba – as well as two entire NBA basketball teams and Michael Gove's daughter – were able to get tested, while frontline healthcare workers and everyone but patients showing the most severe symptoms have had to go without.

One way to get access to these tests is through medical concierge companies, which offer personal, on-call doctor services on a membership basis. London's HealthClic practice, for example, is offering its members the option to get a nasal and throat swab test following a phone consultation. The test costs £425 on top of the membership fees, which start at £10,000 per year.

"The demand for consultations has been very, very high, and we've done around a few dozen tests," explains the company's CEO, Priyanka Chaturvedi. "If members decide to go for the test, we will courier it out to them in London on the same day. The courier will then pick it up and take it back to the lab, and patients will receive their results within one to three days."

Although the tests were originally opened up to the general public, limited stocks have meant that, for now, they are reserved for members – who Chaturvedi describes as "top in their industry, whether it's film, music or business" – as well as their relatives and staff. US concierge doctor services have even reported being approached by members to help them procure ventilators, which could otherwise be used to help treat countless intensive care patients.

So it's clear that the pandemic has been far from the "great equaliser" Madonna declared it to be from her rose petal-filled bathtub. But hey, at least we've got Comrade Britney calling for the redistribution of wealth.

@theotherjenhahn

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.