According to Knight Frank, there are now 167,669 super-rich, or “ultra high net worth individuals”. This is roughly equivalent to the population of Kensington and Chelsea, where indeed many of them have a pad. Altogether, they control a mind-boggling $20trn in assets, more than the national output of the US and Germany put together. And London is home to more of them (4,224) than any other city, even New York.
This huge influx of wealth has changed the capital dramatically, but not just for the worse. “The money presently swilling around London is alienating to many of us who live here as well as those of us who don’t,” says Guardian columnist Ian Jack. And yet, as he also says, one can at least take pleasure in some of its effects.
One of these is the re-emergence of independent food shops. Butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers are in retreat all across Britain, but not in some London postcodes. Where Jack lives in Islington, three new fish shops have opened recently, a couple with “jokey names” (Meek & Wild and Prawn on the Lawn) and all with produce labelled not just by species but also the way it died (line-caught, day-boat). A new butcher, Turner & George, has arrived in the areatoo. Upmarket shops are springing up in other places across London (a new one selling cheese in Portobello, for example).
I agree with Jack, that this is nice to see. Most of us have no love for the super-rich and their unnecessary billions. But while they may have had a debilitating effect on London’s property market, at least they’ve helped give us better restaurants and, in some places, shops.
An admirably modest divorce
One man who’s had his fill of the super-rich is the former maths teacher from south London who married Britain’s richest woman entrepreneur, Xiu Li Hawken. Mrs Hawken’s 22 shoppingcentres in China, built into former air-raid shelters, have given her a net worth of £1.1 billion, according to The Sunday Times Rich List.
Now she and her husband, Tony, are divorcing. A man of modest tastes with a long beard, Mr Hawken is said by The Times to prefer his local Wetherspoon pub to posh restaurants. He buys books at charity shops and describes himself as “scruffy”. On a recent trip to China, he was astonished by the ostentatiousness of the billionaire lifestyle. “We took my son and my sister-in-law. On the yacht, my wife selected some wine to drink. It was £900 a bottle. I’m quite happy drinking wine that’s £10 a bottle.” (To be fair, Mr Hawken says his wife isn’t usually extravagant either.)
You can drink nice wine for £10, as MoneyWeek’s wine expert, Matthew Jukes, often affirms. And I admire Mr Hawken for walking away from his marriage with little fuss and less than £1m. “I have got a settlement which is not great, but it’s enough for me because I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle. I won’t have to work if I’m careful.”
Tabloid money: pop starlet sets worthy example on debt
• “Multi-millionaire Tony Blair is in discussions with the Labour Party about making a substantial donation to its coffers,” says Ephraim Hardcastle in the Daily Mail. “What’s to discuss? Surely Blair hopes he can rely on Ed Miliband’s support if the long-delayed Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War criticises his behaviour.”
• Rod Liddle wonders, in The Sun, if Vladimir Putin is afraid of the West. “It must be pretty scary for the poor bloke. After all, it’s not just lantern-jawed halfwit US Secretary of State John Kerry threatening Putin with all manner of unspecified sanctions. He’s now got the might of the European Union on his back, too. Yikes, etc… The French are so angry with Russia that they’re about to sell two huge battleships to Putin for almost a billion quid. That’ll teach the old rogue. Meanwhile, in the UK we will undoubtedly continue our policy of flogging the Russkies whatever military hardware they fancy.”
• Well done Suzanne Shaw from the pop band Hear’Say, says Jan Moir in the Daily Mail. “Yes, she was a bit of a silly girl who blew £1m in 18 months when she was catapulted to stardom – via a reality show, of course. Suzanne ended up £200,000 in debt but refused to be made bankrupt – now she is back on track. Good for her. She sets an example to those who blithely go bankrupt when they get into trouble – thereby avoiding paying back their creditors. It also makes me wonder: pop kids and stars who have managers, accountants and advisers but still get into trouble – why do so many seem to get such lousy advice?”