Scottish Daily Mail

So much money but not a shred of taste!

As a £65m home goes on sale with a purple cinema and more marble than the Taj Mahal, A.N. WILSON laments the vulgarity of Britain’s super-rich


THOSE of you having difficulty selling your house — and feeling sore at the idea of dropping the price by the odd £10,000 — spare a thought for property magnate Andreas Panayiotou, who has just been persuaded by estate agents Knight Frank to swallow a drop of £35 million.

Heath Hall, his 14-bedroom mansion on The Bishop’s Avenue in Hampstead, North London, could now be yours for an absolute snip. For you, my friend, just £65 million.

While you shake out your piggy bank to see if you can rustle up the readies, let me tell you what you would get for your money: a 25ft swimming pool, with a fully-equipped gym and sauna, bathrooms thick with Italian marble, plus a private cinema as well as luxury bedrooms and kitchens.

There is a climate-controlled wine cellar where you can store all your fine vintages (it has room for 600 bottles, so do feel free to invite some friends round), an entrance hall which would seem over-the-top in a royal palace and a billiards room.

There’s just one drawback — glaringly obvious to anyone with taste, but perhaps not apparent to the owner. It is hideous.

Heath Hall was constructe­d in the Edwardian era for sugar magnate William Park Lyle. He was the ‘& Lyle’ bit of Tate & Lyle.

When he built it, you can be sure that although he was ‘new money’, he would have aped old taste. The oak-panelled hall and rooms would have had thick oriental carpets and the furniture would have put you i n mind of an old English country house.

Andreas Panayiotou has chosen a different path. He has gone for sheer swanky opulence. It is what I would call gold taps syndrome.

BATHROOMS at Heath Hall have more marble than your average Italian high altar. But though tons of stone have been excavated from the best quarries to make them, they have not one ounce of personalit­y. The cinema, with its pale purple walls and matching lilac sofas, reminds me of the swankiest restaurant­s in modern St Petersburg, where the Russian oligarchs hang out with their expensive women. It is as impersonal­ly hideous as a brothel. (In fact, those St Petersburg restaurant­s often turn out to be brothels!)

Heath Hall’s hallway probably looks, to the proud owner and to the designer, like Hollywood’s stateliest. But it sure as hell does not look like an English stately. It simply yells: ‘I’m rich — Very rich! My chandelier is bigger than your chandelier! I’m richer than you can imagine!’

Estate agent Tony Abrahmsohn, who specialise­s in the area, says that the world’s mega-rich believe The Bishops Avenue is one of the swankiest addresses in England, a sign to potential overseas billionair­e buyers that they have really arrived.

It may be a sign that you have arrived, but it is also a sign that you have not, as it were, unpacked. In other words, you are not ready to be presented to polite society.

Bernie Ecclestone, Joan Collins, and Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian businessma­n said to be the richest man in England, have all owned houses in The Bishops Avenue.

Yet though their purchases make us gasp, though we might aspire to some of their wealth, they do not exactly fill most normal people with the smallest flicker of envy. In fact when someone such as Tamara Ecclestone announces that she has spent £1 million on a crystal bath tub for her £50 million home, we feel revulsion.

In this country, with its proud tradition of Empire and industry, we are no strangers to the rich. But on the whole, when big industrial magnates made money in the past, they tried to ape the taste and manners of the aristocrac­y.

One of the first industrial millionair­es in England was Josiah Wedgwood, patriarch of Britain’s finest pottery. He immediatel­y built the poshest house you could imagine — Etruria Hall in Staffordsh­ire. (He even invented a version of the first indoor lavatories for it).

But although, like all self-made men, Wedgwood wanted to flaunt his wealth by having a big house, he also had perfect taste. That was how he had made his money, after all. So he built a house for himself which was like the house of a duke or an earl — only with better vases.

We used to mock American vulgarity, and imagine that spectacula­rly ugly houses, such as Elvis Presley’s Gracelands or Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, could only happen over there.

But that is true no longer. I once had a university friend who, rather to everyone’s surprise, married a modern, super-rich member of the internatio­nal jet-set. They moved into one of these Bishops Avenue houses and I visited them there a few times.

It was surely symptomati­c that I could never guess whether they had bought the house or it was rented; whether they owned the furniture or it came with the property. All personalit­y was absent.

My friends long ago decamped to America. I often drive down The Bishops Avenue where their palace and Mr Panayiotou’s mansion are to be found — not because I mix with the oligarchs, but because it is a good short cut to my daughter’s school.

Mega-rich Salman Rushdie lives here, or used to, with his pointless squillions, and Andreas Panayiotou may be the richest property developer in the road, but he is not the only one.

It is a true billionair­e’s row. Huge houses cower behind electrical­ly operated high railings, and German shepherd dogs prowl to keep out nosy intruders such as myself.

This is where the super-rich trade homes like commoditie­s.

During the first Gulf war, the Saudi royal family bought ten of the street’s mansions for use as boltholes i n case t hey were deposed. In recent years, the Russian and East European oligarchs have arrived as they move their billion-dollar oil and metal fortunes out of Russia.

What the houses, and speciallyd­esigned yachts, car interiors and private jets of the super-rich all have in common is a lack of taste. I choose my words with care.

It is not so much that they are in crashingly ‘bad taste’. Bad taste is at least ‘taste’ of some sort, and can be expressive of personalit­y. These owners do not actually have taste, as such, at all. These places are not homes, they are exercises in selfpromot­ion and self-advertisem­ent.

Whereas you and I, when deciding how to decorate our rooms, will express certain aspects of our personalit­ies, the super-rich compulsive­ly want to advertise the size of their bank accounts.

Such people have seldom spent much of their lives making friends — they are too busy making money — so they will not model their newlyacqui­red houses on those of anyone they have known.

ONCE t hey have enough, they show off by luxuriatin­g in the most expensive hotels. Their houses reflect this: they live in homes that seem to be modelled on them and are as soulless as only a luxury hotel can be.

There is actually something terribly sad about Heath Hall, and houses like it. Not one inch of its huge square footage has been chosen because it is homelike. Not one stick of the furniture belongs to the owner’s own past.

In his scabrous diaries, the former Tory Defence minister Alan Clark quoted Chief Whip Michael Jopling on their Cabinet colleague and selfmade millionair­e Michael Heseltine. ‘The trouble with Michael,’ said Jopling, ‘is that he had to buy all his furniture.’

It was a comment that only a snob could have made — but there was some truth in it.

Andreas Panayiotou will never be able to look across a shabby bit of carpet or battered chair owned by his grandmothe­r, or see his father’s old clock ticking on the mantelpiec­e. Even the antiques will have been bought as if they were brand-new.

How different from the rooms at Balmoral which we glimpsed on the recent programme about the Queen, where she unpretenti­ously kicked straight a two-bar electric fire and where there is a homely mix of family photograph­s in frames, old furniture and welltrodde­n tartan carpets.

Of course, the mention of Balmoral will make some readers say that bad taste has always been with us. The last Liberal Prime Minister in Queen Victoria’s reign, Lord Rosebery, used to say that he thought the drawing room at Osborne — the Queen’s house on the Isle of Wight — was the ugliest room he had ever seen until he saw the drawing room at Balmoral.

Lord Rosebery, who came from a world of ‘old money’, looked down his nose at these two newly-built royal palaces. But if a snob like Rosebery sneered at the Queen’s taste, at least it was taste he was sneering at. Whereas the soulless houses of today’s mega-rich are tasteless in every sense of the word.

 ??  ?? ‘Hideous’: Heath Hall’s bathroom, swimming pool and cinema
‘Hideous’: Heath Hall’s bathroom, swimming pool and cinema

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