Restless lord seeks ideal home
FOR SALE: one of the finest houses in London, convenient for House of Lords, six floors, six bedrooms, swimming pool; neighbours very tolerant about music . Price pounds 15m. By Jonathan Glancey
Tuesday 28 January 1997
Just another case of a rich man selling one used home to buy another? Not quite. The remarkable thing about the house on sale this week at Savills' Belgravia office is that it is the first of the many London homes that Lloyd Webber has owned to be sold for matter-of-fact reasons (he wants a smaller one) rather than for emotional ones. Each previous sale of a Lloyd Webber pied-a-terre has been prompted by the arrival and departure of new and old wives. Each house has reflected aspects of Lloyd Webber's serial love life. Remarkably, each house has been within a stone's throw of the next. Marriage, Lloyd Webber style, is very much a stage, with players exiting left and right, but never very far.
The Lloyd Webbers have been at home here during the week when not at Sydmonton Court, a 10,000 acre seat in Berkshire, or at Kiltinan Castle, a 400-acre Tipperary stud farm bought for pounds 1m ("sounds frightfully grand", says Sir Andrew, "but it's not really"), or a $6m duplex in Manhattan's showy Trump Tower, or their south of France getaway in Cap Ferrat.
As Mr Lloyd Webber, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and now Lord Lloyd Webber (or whatever title he chooses), the plutocratically rich composer has spent most weekends at Sydmonton, family home and repository for his near peerless collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings (with an pounds 18m Picasso - the Angel Fernandez de Soto - hung for good measure under the grand stair of the black and white, marble-floored entrance hall).
Sydmonton has seen Lloyd Webber through three titles and as many wives: Sarah 1 (Sarah Jane Tudor, early Evita to Cats period, 1971-83), Sarah 2 (Sarah Brightman, middle Phantom of the Opera to Aspects of Love, period 1984-90) and Madeleine (Madeleine Gurdon, late Sunset Boulevard period, 1991-). The installation of successive wives has seen subtle changes at Sydmonton, as it has changed from comfy Sloaney home with live-in couples (the Sarah 1 phase), through showbiz retreat for ra-ra skirted Sarah 2, to stately home, with a downstairs of servants and 24-hour security, for Madeleine and the horses that this brisk young brigadier's daughter breeds. Lloyd Webber is clearly a man whose homes reflect the wife of the moment. Each, you could say, is an aspect of love.
In London each title and each wife has been associated with a separate house. All of them, however, have been within minutes' walk of his mother and none has been much more than a mile from the flat at 10 Harrington Court, SW7, in which he was brought up.
The Lloyd Webbers are selling up in Eaton Square because, as Sir Andrew has said in the past, Madeleine prefers houses that are easy to run, and you can't say fairer than that. Six floors, six bedrooms and an indoor swimming pool flanked by couchant stone lions five minutes from Sloane Square is a mite lavish even for residents of Belgravia, a slice of early Victorian real estate that has always been fashionable among those with Starlight Express money. "Oh, you know", suggests estate agent Jonathan Hewlett, "the sons of daughters of royal families, the odd ambassador, the most successful international businessmen ..."
Inside, the house is very grand, but more like a museum (Apsley House, perhaps, the first Duke of Wellington's London hideaway on Hyde Park Corner) than your normal Sloaney home. It's finished in that late Victorian or Edwardian never-never style that, whilst deeply unfashionable, is likely to tug at the purse-strings of the Ivana Trumps of the world. Come to think of it, you could air-freight this house (no problem for Sir Andrew) to Bel Air or Puerto Rico and its interior would not be out of place.
Lloyd Webber bought the house for pounds 11m in 1990, a year before his marriage to Madeleine. It was the culmination of a 20-year programme of upward mobility that began nearby, in a basement flat in Gledhow Gardens. Now it's a case of another wife, another move: so what does that say for his lordship's own taste in homes, interiors and soft furnishings?
Sydmonton is the constant fixture. The house in the country, picture rails groaning with Burne-Joneses (15 in the hall alone), Arthur Hughes' The Death of Ophelia (bought for pounds 595,000 at auction in 1994), Rossetti's Vision of Fiammetta and mad Richard Dadd's Oberon and Titania (bought last year for pounds 1.7m, bidding against the Tate and Jean Paul Getty Jr), is the best summation of his taste.
Lloyd Webber's passion for Victorian paintings and architecture is real enough. As a child he dreamt of becoming Director of Ancient Monuments at the old Ministry of Works and he still talks of opening an Andrew Lloyd Webber museum, perhaps on London's South Bank, an annexe, or perhaps even a rival, to the Tate Gallery's showing of Pre-Raphaelites.
Oddly, his taste for Victorian Gothic architecture is not evident in his other homes, which are, despite changes of wives and subtle changes of style, lavish symbols of typically English ambition.
Which, strangely, makes the vast Eaton Square pile seem rather ordinary, for all its pounds 15m price tag. Even the estate agent seems to think so. "It's just one of at least a dozen houses at this price I can think of off the top of my head," says Jonathan Hewlett. "It's not the sort of house we'll be advertising in Country Life and, no, we haven't printed a brochure. We sell houses at this price by tipping the wink to those most likely to buy. It's much like selling a grand master painting, a racehorse or a vintage wine cellar." Or half a million tickets for Catsn
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