The super rich: Britain's billionaires

How much was your Christmas bonus? Last week, one Goldman Sachs employee pocketed a cool £50m. Not bad. But it's not just the City that is churning out multimillionaires. The country's ultra-wealthy tribes have never had it so good. Guy Adams and Sarah Harris report
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The Independent Online

The rich, as Ernest Hemingway said, are different from you and me: they have more money. In fact, they've got an awful lot more, according to the latest reports from the front line of City bonus season.

Last week's £9bn orgy of excess - it seems to get bigger each year - saw more than 4,000 inhabitants of the Square Mile promised new year gifts of more than a million pounds, in addition to their regular salary.

Several hundred of their number even joined the ranks of the super-rich, trousering bonuses in the tens of millions. And in a move branded "obscene" by trade unions, one high-flying Goldman Sachs "rain-maker" received a single payment of £50m.

What is truly staggering, though, is the sheer scale of this cash-wave, which bunged six-figure sums to even relatively junior City workers. At Sachs, which employs 4,500 in the UK, the bonuses averaged£320,000. PAs, secretaries and canteen workers get a share of the booty.

Britain's millionaires club, once a true élite, now boasts hundreds of thousands of members. On the back of what has swiftly been described as this "unprecedented" bonus season, its ranks are being swelled at a rate of 10 per cent a year.

According to Tulip Financial Research, Britain has some 135,000 "high-net-worth" individuals, with liquid assets averaging £6.4m. They are described, by the cognoscenti, as HNWs. People with tens of millions are UHNWs: ultra-high-net-worths.

Much of their money is being poured straight into London's bouncy property market, which is already forecasting double-figure growth for next year. This festive season, other portions will also be splashed out on traditional luxuries: cars, champagne, and fancy holidays.

But after the party: the hangover. Scenes of conspicuous seasonal consumption also promise to illustrate a greater truth: that a fast-growing financial élite is changing the way all Britons live and work, and not necessarily for the better.

Beyond the massed ranks of pinstriped City boys, several super-rich clans are installing themselves on these shores. The international mega-rich are coming in their droves - be they Russian oligarchs, Arab sheikhs or a growing clique of free- spending Hollywood stars.

In the past fortnight, Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, joined Roman Abramovich in the élite club of Premier League proprietors, taking control of Liverpool FC. Meanwhile, down in rural Sussex, residents of a sleepy village near East Grinstead gained new neighbours: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

It's not as if we didn't already boast plenty of homegrown squillionaires. In modern Britain, the scions of inherited wealth are being constantly challenged by entrepreneurial industrialists, over-paid footballers, or some of the 2,000 winners of the National Lottery, which recently celebrated its 12th birthday.

Back in November, one such HNW hit the headlines: mobile phone tycoon John Caudwell decided, out of the goodness of his heart, to give long-serving staff almost £3m, by way of a colourful leaving present from his firm, Phones4u.

Days earlier, Forbes magazine had created waves by declaring London to be the official billionaire's playground of the Western world, with 23 dollar billionaires calling our capital city their home.

Only one city, New York, boasts more resident billionaires - 34. But most of those were American-born; London, by contrast, is now pulling in property barons, internet moguls, and hedge- fund kings from across the developed world.

"Many cities vie for the title of the world's capital, but London attracts the élite of the world's rich and successful," read the magazine's report, by Paul Maidment. "It can lay claim unchallenged to one title: it is now the magnet for the world's billionaires."

The economic impact of this phenomenon is relatively easy to measure. Our capital city - now known, only half in jest, as Switzerland-on-Thames - is overtaking Zurich and Geneva in importance as an international financial hub.

More than 200 foreign law firms now have offices in the UK, while more cash is said to be managed out of a couple of square miles of Mayfair than in the whole of Germany. And industries fuelled by the influx of cash are booming.

At top-end restaurants, a table for two is as rare as hen's teeth. The chef's table at Claridges, run by Gordon Ramsay, is the holy grail of the expense-account blowout - and it's booked up well into next year.

"It seats up to six, and the minimum spend is £550," says a spokesman. "Most bills are nudging £1,000 because they go for pretty decent wines. It's flying, though, as the place for City boys to celebrate or entertain clients. Things have never been better."

Buying luxury cars also puts you to the back of a long queue. Stratstones of Mayfair, an Aston Martin dealership, report a six-month waiting list. "For some customers, it's a whim," says one salesman. "Others say, 'I haven't got that model in my collection.' It's a wonderful world."

Meanwhile, among the list of Britain's fastest-growing sports lies polo. At Guards Polo Club in Windsor Great Park, Britain's poshest place to play, the membership lists are full; any new players are faced with a hefty bill for horseflesh. "To play at the low goal level, you need at least five or six ponies," says a spokesman. "But you can double or treble that for high goal. A polo pony will go for around £25,000 but at the top level people just keep hold of the best ones; they're priceless."

That, at least, is a flavour of the wilder financial effects of the HNW invasion. The social impact of the trend is harder to quantify, though.

On one level, its effect on the property market helps to prop up traditional dinner-party conversations (can any normal bachelor still afford a flat in Knightsbridge?); on quite another, the influx of HNWs provides a significant threat to the chattering classes.

The word "banker", once the preserve of Cockney rhyming slang, is now an accepted term of abuse in many corners of London. Indeed, Rachel Johnson's zeitgeist-catching recent novel, Notting Hell, depicts various yummy mummies using it as an exclamation, when confronted with examples of free-spending tastelessness.

The social commentator Peter York is also writing a book that aims to do to the super-wealthy what his Sloane Ranger Handbook did to young toffs in the 1980s.

"One of the great ironies is that 25 years ago, high-minded liberal folk made fun of the world's Alf Garnetts, because they wanted to sneer at the fact that the working classes couldn't get with the picture of multiculturalism," he says.

"Today, people are making fun of the super-rich. All these old Sloane grannies are being defenestrated. They are being forced out of their former territories, and they are starting to resent it. Local élites are supplanted by a global élite, who just don't get it."

Historic areas of London are being taken over by international HNW tribes. In Belgravia, it's the Russians; in Chelsea the Americans. They have scant regard for historic codes, and often rub-up uncomfortably with their new neighbours.

"They don't understand things like listed building consent," adds York. "People who run planning groups are finding more and more of these people who have no regard for history and just say, 'I've got £1bn I can do what I want.' They also don't get the Christmas party mulled wine scene. There were East Coast Americans who would try to muck in, but the new lot just don'tcare."

The HNWs interfere with the social structure, change property values, and cause the ordinary to disappear. In parts of Belgravia, it is now more or less impossible to buy a loaf of white sliced: instead, you must visit Poilâne and pay £5 for a baguette.

Meanwhile, entire districts get taken over by boutiques, beauty salons, and interior design outfits run by the likes of Kelly Hoppen and Nina Campbell, who are experts in helping plutocrats buy wallpaper.

At home, HNW tastes hark back to a bygone era. They have been partly responsible for a renaissance of the servant class. "The British would say, 'Here's Annie, who does the cleaning', but try to pretend she wasn't a servant," notes one domestic agent.

"These people have bought servants back with a vengeance. Filipino, Eastern European, whatever. They believe in servants, they want lots of them, and they want to jolly well dress them in uniforms and call them servants."

An entire mini-industry has sprung up documenting the HNW's rise. The publisher William Cash recently launched a quarterly magazine, Spears Wealth Management Survey, aimed entirely at 50,000 of the richest residents of the UK.

You have to be "invited" to subscribe (the quarterly glossy sets you back £195 a year), and readers are assailed with ads for luxury yachts and banking products, together with articles on, for example, how to avoid a kidnapping.

According to Cash, Britain's former ruling classes are swiftly becoming adept at making a living servicing the global financial élite. Sixty-five per cent of the magazine's recent "power list" of influential wealth-managers were educated at Eton or Oxford.

"They used to own the wealth. Now they've basically become the fee-earning servants," he says. "The British have found a new vocation and that is being financial bag carriers of the world."

"London is now the most exclusive and expensive city in the world and that effects everyone from Polish workmen plumbing in a staff flat, to the waiters at, say, Cliveden. Every single aspect of life is being touched by the spider's web of wealth."

Cash adds, though, that domestic wealth is also being overlooked. "The other phenomenon is the number of English people who have no idea or appreciation of just how wealthy they really are," he adds.

"You could be a lawyer who's worked for 20 years, and is a partner in a firm, with a house in London and another in the country. In the past you would have been upper middle class or whatever. Well now these people on paper are suddenly worth £15m."

The great irony, of course, is that the very things attracting UHNWs to London may also be destroyed by them. They come for exclusive clubs and schools, for example, yet are snobbishly accused of failing to appreciate that these were founded on the basis of discreet wealth.

Britain's favourable tax regime only applies if it is treated as an occasional base (tax exiles are allowed 90 days a year here) rather than a proper home. As a result, Britons are divided as to whether the super-rich make good neighbours.

"There used to be a feeling about 10 years ago, particularly in rural areas, of people being anti rich buyers coming in," says Justin Marking, a property buyer with Prime Purchase.

"But that has now changed a bit, because people see what actually happens. The classic case is people buying in country properties who have the wherewithal to renovate estates that have been let slip by the current owners."

"You've got the builders and suppliers, and the people who work in the house all benefiting, and also the local farmers. Most of the HNW buyers are not interested in farming, so they rent out the land, giving farmers an opportunity to spread their fixed costs."

Even in gritty areas, the affluent ripple is felt. Bentley, the luxury car manufacturer, employs 4,000 people at its Crewe headquarters, an increase of roughly 40 percent since 1998. "This year we launched the GTC. If you were to place an order now, you'd be looking at early 2008 to take delivery," says a spokesman. "We only build in small numbers, so when demand is high there's always a wait."

In the workplace, HNWs divide opinion. Last week, office cleaners at Goldman Sachs threatened to strike over changes to their working patterns.

It was a timely reminder that not everyone yet subscribes to Gordon Gekko's famous maxim, in the Oliver Stone film Wall Street: that greed is good.

OLD MONEY

No making do, no mending. Today's young aristocrats are happy to spend the family fortune

London's flashy foreign contingent may have usurped the aristocrats and Sloane grannies in the spending stakes, but the capital's oldest families are still some of the wealthiest. Richard Beresford, compiler of The Sunday Times Rich List says that these people, "will be on the Rich List until an atomic bomb hits London or a Bolshevik revolution strips them of their assets".

The Duke of Westminster is Britain's third richest man and London's most powerful landlord, with a £6.6bn fortune. Roman Abramovich's swanky Belgravia address pales in comparison to the Duke's 100 acres of Mayfair and 200-acre Belgravia estates. Coming in second is the Earl of Cadogan, below, whose £1.9bn fortune includes 90 acres of Chelsea. But the earl's millions have not been squandered on Cristal and private jets; Cadogan has plunged his fortune into a £150m transformation of the Duke of York Barracks and parade ground on the Kings Road. There has been criticism, though, of his conservative contributions to charity - some £100,000 to £500,000 a year. But where their predecessors just sat on millions of pounds of London property and art, the young toffs are often seen out on the town enjoying their ancestral wealth. The Duke of Westminster's model niece, Lady Eloise Anson, left, is part of the same blue-blooded set as Princes William and Harry, who have £30m fortunes. I hear their granny isn't short of a bob either.

Sarah Harris

CITY BOYS AND GIRLS

Christmas is merrier at the trading desks as record bonuses turn the Square Mile into the Golden Mile

It promises to be a very merry Christmas in the City this year, as the pockets of merchant bankers and hedge-fund managers - such as Crispin Odey - jingle with an estimated £8.8bn in bonuses. The City players - dubbed the "have-and-have-yachts" - are the rock stars of the Square Mile, with their lavish Kensington residences, private jets and expensive wives.

Last week, Goldman Sachs is rumoured to have broken all records by awarding Driss Ben-Brahim a £50m bonus. The City's highest-paid trader, Ben-Brahim runs the highly lucrative Goldman Sachs proprietary trading desk and his bonus is around 2,000 times the average British wage.

According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, around £5bn of the bonus money will find its way into property.

Estate agent Andrew Rettie says that City bonuses have sparked an unprecedented rise in the demand for Highland estates. In London the bonus season drives house prices up in desirable Kensington, Chelsea, Notting Hill and Knightsbridge, where, according to Savills estate agents, houses have been selling for 20 per cent more than the asking price.

Educating the City's privileged offspring doesn't come cheap either; exclusive schools such as Wetherby, Pembridge Hall and Sussex House cost in excess of £3,500 a term. But it's not all long hours and hard graft: Michael Spencer's wife hired Robbie Williams at a reported cost of £1m to sing at her husband's 50th birthday party. Spencer, CEO of InterCapital, is said to have been paid £5m in bonuses last year. SH

CELEBRITIES

From Bel-Air to Belsize Park: the stars are flocking to Britain

London has become the most desirable location in recent years, for the celebrity big-spenders, from Hollywood actors to Premiership footballers. We've already got Madonna and Guy in Marylebone, Gwyneth and Chris in Belsize Park, Kevin Spacey in Lambeth - and now even Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are rumoured to be sniffing round the capital for a piece of the action.

For the celebrity about town, "conspicuously inconspicuous" consumption has been honed to a fine art. Famous Anglophiles Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin, are so keen to maintain their privacy, they have enlisted the help of London's exclusive lifestyle concierge service Quintessentially.

The highly sought-after memberships buy you a dedicated personal assistant who is employed to know everything from your favourite table at The Ivy to your bra size. It's a shame that Madonna's concierge failed to step in when she decided to buy that £35,000 chinchilla fur coat from a Fendi store in Knightsbridge recently.

Madonna loves spending her millions in London so much, that she even splashed out on a brand new £3.6m venue for her fellow British Kabbalah followers - unlike singer Joss Stone, the youngest woman on the Sunday Times Rich List, who keeps a pretty modest profile.

But it's still the London footballers, keen to impress their Wags, who really know how to spend the big money. Footballers make up 25 per cent of the country's 100 wealthiest young millionaires, ahead of models, actors and rock stars, according to the list.

Portsmouth's Sol Campbell is worth £25m, former team mate Thierry Henry £18m. Along with the cars, houses and lavish weddings, the football celebrity posse are most likely to flash their cash in London's most exclusive bars, clubs and restaurants such as Locanda Locatelli, Le Caprice or Nobu.

And the West End clubs are always prepared - Mo*vida makes sure it keeps 150 bottles, 60 magnums and seven jeroboams of Cristal on ice for its flashy celebrity clientele. SH

ENTREPRENEURS

The romance of rags to riches, and the billionaire who spent £30m on his daughter's wedding

There's nothing we Brits love more than the story of a self-made man or woman - and as Peter Mandelson once put it, we're relaxed about people getting "filthy rich".

There's something about rags to riches, and the thrill of watching them spend it on small Pacific islands, vast yachts and lavish parties that really gets us going. So it was with glee that we saw entrepreneurs Sir Philip Green, Lakshmi Mittal, Sir Richard Branson and Bernie Ecclestone make it to the top of the Sunday Times Rich List.

Philip Green has amassed £3.6bn through a retail empire, including Bhs and the Arcadia Group, with a total of 2,300 shops in the UK. And the flamboyant Sir Philip is not shy about it. He spent millions on a three-day Bar Mitzvah for his son, with live concerts by Andrea Bocelli and Destiny's Child, and erected a giant synagogue in the garden, designed by his wife, Tina.

Not to be outdone, Kensington-based Indian billionaire industrialist Mittal held his daughter's wedding at Versailles. It cost £30m - the most expensive ever.

Branson, the UK's favourite bearded businessman and head of Virgin, is decidedly less conspicuous in his spending. Despite a £2.6bn fortune, Branson claims he doesn't have much money in his personal bank account: "I think one's personal wealth is there to create new companies, to create new jobs, to tackle some social issues. I hope I will never know what I am worth because any money I make gets very quickly ploughed into new ventures."

Similarly, Carphone Warehouse billionaire Charles Dunstone may have an annual turnover of £1.6bn, but still has his offices in Acton and takes the Tube to work. Even the stony-faced Alan Sugar donates his fee for The Apprentice to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. SH

RUSSIAN OLIGARCHS

'Londongrad' - why the new tsars are bringing their billions to the capital to spend, spend, spend

Thanks to Britain's notoriously supine tax code (well, when it comes to the wealthy), London has become a honey pot for the Russian super-rich. It is estimated that 700 oil-rich multi-millionaires and entrepreneurs have poured into our cash-friendly capital to buy the best residences, education, fine art, cars, football clubs and diamonds.

"The Russians are to this decade what the Japanese were to the 1990s and the Arabs were to the 1980s," says Richard Gray, of Harvey Nichols. The exclusive shopping emporium employs Russian speakers on its shop floor, and at Harrods, sales to Russian customers have increased by 200 per cent since the year 2000. Leader of the pack is billionaire Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, who topped the Sunday Times Rich List this year with his fortune of £7.5bn. His £350m purchase of Chelsea, plus the money spent on a Belgravia town house, a villa in St Tropez, four yachts and two Boeing jets, are all just small change.

And Abramovich's good mate, billionaire businessman Oleg Deripaska lives in a £25m house just round the corner. The billionaires of "Londongrad" have also been making their presence felt in property. James Simpson, of Knight Frank in St John's Wood, says: "When one pays £20m it has a ripple effect all the way down."

The Russians have also been turning their attention to fine art. On a single day last June, the Russian pound was responsible for £27m in sales at Sotheby's. One art dealer cuttingly said: "They like to buy at auction and show off to each other. They are still very nouveau." SH

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