Photo via the Bespoke Bureau
The UK is now home to a total of 104 billionaires, which makes it the nation with the highest per-capita concentration of the ultra-rich in the world. Collectively, these billionaires are sitting on a combined wealth of £301 billion ($504 billion) at a time when most of us are sitting on a forest of unpaid utility bills.
But what do they do with all that money? When I think about what I would do if I had limitless money, I quickly run out of ideas after eating and drinking whatever I want all the time and going on a nice vacation. Luckily for billionaires, there are plenty of people who are inventing new ways for them to spend the thousands that their bank accounts accumulate in interest every second.
The first rule of spending like a billionaire is buying niche items. What's the point of spending a few million on something someone else already has?
That's where concierge services come in.
“He wanted to give his wife a diamond. A very large diamond. So we went one better, and delivered it encased in a solid block of ice for her birthday,” said Alexander Martin, director of the Envy Group, a highly exclusive service based in Mayfair, London. When clients like Martin's diamond lover ask the Envy Group to fetch something, it's the company's job to say, "At once, sir."
“If it’s unobtainable, we can get it,” said Martin. “We’ve sourced llamas for clients, refurbished supercars in Louis Vuitton, had chess sets built from black and white diamonds, arranged dinners for clients with people like Al Pacino—everything. We’ve got something really far-out we’re working on now. It’s a Tiffany-blue Bentley that comes in its own Tiffany-style box. The whole thing’s powered by robotics. It’s even got an eight-foot bow on top.”
If you thought this kind of overblown peacocking has taken a hit because of the worldwide recession, you'd be wrong.
“We’ve been in business five years," Martin told me. "In the last two, we’ve seen things grow continually. We don’t really get involved in advertising. We work solely on introductions. To be honest, at the elite level, all that really counts is what you can do.”
Screenshot of a butler serving a silver platter of food to a dog from a Bespoke Bureau promotional video
Based on conversations with employees at these companies, it seems that London-based bespoke concierges like GC Prive, Black Diamond, and First Ladies (Britain’s first female-only concierge) are experiencing a boom, with many springing up around 2008—right before the recession hit.
“We were never touched by the recession,” said Sara Vestin Rahmani of Bespoke Bureau, an exclusive staffing agency and butler academy that supplies butlers, chefs, and domestic staff to service some of Britain’s wealthiest individuals.
In case you were in any doubt about what wealthy means, Rahmani told me, “One of our clients just invested in a five-story penthouse in Vauxhall. They’ve converted one of the floors to a swimming pool. The entire floor. And his wife has converted one of the others into a Union Jack–themed apartment for her chocolate Labrador. They’re very sweet people, but they value their privacy intensely.”
Screengrab via Phillips
I called a few of London’s exclusive interior designers to see how billionaires are furnishing their private pads. Brigitta Spinocchia, who runs the Mayfair-based Bespoke, walked me through some of her recent projects: She's working on a house in Kensington with the world’s first rotating elevator, which spirals like a corkscrew through each level, surrounded by glass stairs. He house also has a 25-foot chandelier that extends over two floors through a hole in the ceiling. And this weekend, she’s just managed to source a $68,500 Campana Brothers chair for a client that's made entirely of teddy bears. If you don't want to spend more than many people earn in a year to sit on a chair that looks like a spoiled child's bedside table, you could seek out Alexis Turner, owner of London Taxidermy. He told me he’s sourced everything from bears and camels to “a whole giraffe” for a client's hallway.
Those who stop short of turning a floor of their house into a Hemingway-esque nightmare are still pretty adept at blowing insane amounts of money on decor. A friend who has more than 15 years' construction industry experience in some of London’s most prestigious locales filled me in: “The majority of places will be fitted out twice. They’ll fit and furnish them to sell them, and then when the client moves in—stone, marble, mirrors, everything—it’ll all get ripped out and they’ll start refitting it to their own tastes. Some of the skips around West London—you should see what gets chucked out—like brand-new marbling that costs £1,200 [$2,000] per square meter.” He told me about one place near Hyde Park he’d recently refitted, installing £9,000 ($15,000) remote-controlled toilets into every bathroom.
Once you've spent an obscene amount of money on your house, you'll probably want to get as far away from it as possible. So it might pay to give Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's brother a call. For just £50,000 ($83,500) a year, his company Parnassus Luxury Travel will organize a private jet to wherever you want and set up pretty much anything you could possibly ask for when you arrive. “I have access to all the Grands Prix, tickets to the Oscars, paddock passes, backstage passes. Some companies will organize tickets to go and see Bon Jovi or whatever, but we organize passes to go backstage to meet him,” Osborne told the Evening Standard. But if you want that kind of service, you'll need to hurry: Parnassus is only going to take on ten families.
Another concierge company is Brown + Hudson, a bespoke Kensington travel company that's been in business since 2008. “We recently had a couple on honeymoon who were interested in traveling down to South Africa. So we put them in touch with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Given it was their honeymoon, he very kindly blessed their marriage,” said Elizabeth Ellis, the company’s marketing manager. “Everything is possible. And we can involve award-winning documentary makers and BBC wildlife cameramen to document the experience.”
What happens if you become bored by trips to absolutely wherever you want in the entire world? What if your documentary film crew sets up to capture the joyful moment you first see the aurora borealis with a reincarnated Frank Sinatra singing "Fly Me to the Moon" and all you've got is "meh" written on your face? If all this luxury gets a bit dull, you can always turn the globe into your own personal adventure playground and live out your most juvenile James Bond fantasies.
“People want to be Bond, people want to be Bourne, but people also want skills that are applicable to everyday life and transferrable to the boardroom," said the anonymous founder of Secret Me, which offers a course for £10,000 ($16,700) in which you learn how to make cocktails, take out an assailant with a pen, shoot a gun, and other ripped-from-spy-movies skills. If you want to take the next step, £40,000 ($67,000) gets you a weeklong “mission” in which, the founder told me, “you’ll experience an attack that we will have orchestrated. Different modes of transport—helicopters, boats, cars—all of which will culminate in a hostage rescue of sorts.”
If money is no object in getting people to pretend to attack you (with live ammunition) then you can move on to stage three. “They’re bespoke,” the founder told me. “A client may enjoy skiing, they may enjoy boats, casinos, the Caribbean. And we’ll combine it so they’re literally in a movie set for a week. We don’t really put a figure on those. Because if you want to jump from the edge of space, it’s obviously going to cost you a little bit more than if you want to tandem-skydive out of a biplane.”
Well, that goes without saying.
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