Photo from Bespoke Bureau via
London is now home to a total of 104 billionaires. This makes London the city with the highest per-capita concentration of billionaires in the world, and together they're sitting on a combined wealth of £301 billion (€370 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? Thinking 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 holiday. Luckily, for billionaires, there are plenty of people inventing new ways to get them to part with the spare thousands that their money accumulates in interest every second.
First of all, if you have that much money, you're going to want to buy some pretty niche items. What would be the point of just buying a large quantity of the stuff that everyone else 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,” laughs Alexander Martin, creative director of The Envy Group – a highly exclusive service based in Mayfair. “We’ve been dubbed a ‘fixer’," says Alex. “If it’s unobtainable, we can get it.
“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 in the recession, you'd be wrong.
“We’ve been in business five years. 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 the Bespoke Bureau promotional video via
Chatting to a few more 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 time, with many springing up around 2008 – right before the recession hit.
“Despite being based near Bank, we were never touched by the recession,” says Sara Vestin of Bespoke Bureau, an exclusive staffing agency and butler academy, who supply butlers, chefs and domestic staff to run around after some of Britain’s wealthiest individuals.
In case you were in any doubt about how wealthy those individuals can be, Sara tells me: “One of our clients just invested in a five-storey penthouse in Vauxhall. They’ve converted one of the floors to a swimming pool. The entire floor. And one of the others, his wife has had converted into a Union Jack-themed apartment for her chocolate Labrador. They’re very sweet people, but they value their privacy intensely.”
Later, I called a few of London’s exclusive interior designers. Brigitta Spinnochia, who runs 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 lift that spirals like a corkscrew through each level, surrounded by glass stairs. He house also has a seven-metre chandelier that extends over two floors through a void in the ceiling. And this weekend, she’s just managed to source a $68,500 (€50,000) Campana Brothers chair for a client, made entirely from teddy bears. If you don't want to spend more than most people earn in a year to sit on a chair that looks like a spoilt 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 the hallway of a client.
Those who stop short of turning a floor of their house into a colonialist House of Fraser display window are still pretty adept at blowing insane amounts of money on their places. A friend who has over 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 re-fitting 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 anywhere from £1,200 per square metre.” He then told me about a place near Hyde Park he’d recently re-fitted, installing €11,000 remote-controlled toilets into every single 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 British politician George Osborne's brother a call. For just €60,000 a year, his company Parnassus Luxury Travel will organise 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 organise tickets to go and see Bon Jovi or whatever, but we organise passes to go backstage to meet him,” Osborne told the Evening Standard. But hurry! Parnassus is only going to take on ten families.
This is actually pretty good value, as owning a private jet will set you back about €45 million – and that's just the wings. For a further €22 million you can design the interior. You can do all of this at The Jet Business – the world's only high street private jet shop, which is based in Knightsbridge.
Another concierge company is Brown and Hudson – a bespoke Kensington travel company that's been in business since 2008. “We recently had a couple on honeymoon who were interested in travelling down to South Africa. So we put them in touch with Bishop Desmond Tutu. Given it was their honeymoon, he very kindly blessed their marriage,” says 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.
“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," says the founder of Secret Me. For €12,000 you can do a three-day course, where you learn how to make cocktails, take out an assailant with a pen, get to shoot a gun and so on – your basic spy skills weekend as imagined by someone who makes the rewards people get when they win a task on The Apprentice. €49,000 gets you to phase two, a weeklong “mission” in which “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 rounds) then you can move on to stage three. “They’re bespoke,” the co-founder tells 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 bi-plane.”
Well, that goes without saying.