At a Top-Drawer Bash, Blini, Bub­bly and Gorby

The Washington Post - - World News - Two Hours on Lon­don’s Bil­lion­aires’ Row By Kevin Sul­li­van

LON­DON olls-Royces and Range Rovers lined The Bishops Av­enue as hun­dreds of guests poured into Royal Man­sion, the bold­est and brassi­est house in the neigh­bor­hood — quite a feat on a street where the Saudi royal fam­ily owns 10 homes.

Al­most com­i­cally large men with im­pec­ca­ble man­ners, like aris­to­cratic bears, checked in­vi­ta­tions at the gates at 7 on a Mon­day evening. Five hun­dred guests filed through the enor­mous mar­ble foyer and into the 80-foot-long salon, where uni­formed servers poured from $100 bot­tles of French cham­pagne as if they were wa­ter­ing the plants.

The swells nib­bled blini loaded with wal­lop­ing dol­lops of Rus­sian caviar, flanked on one side by a silently ris­ing and fall­ing glass el­e­va­tor and on the other by a plat­inum blonde in pointy leop­ard-print pumps singing jazz.

Some­where in here, Mikhail Gor­bachev was wait­ing to speak. The man who presided over the Soviet Union’s go­ing-away party was now the guest of honor at the 30th an­niver­sary party of a Lon­don real es­tate firm.

Asked to ex­plain why, Trevor Abrahm­sohn, the real es­tate whiz host­ing the party, said he and Gor­bachev both sup­ported leukemia char­i­ties and had Rus­sian friends in com­mon. Gor­bachev and the Royal Man­sion were both “icons,” he ob­served, so the pair­ing made sense.

The Raisa Gor­bachev Foun­da­tion, named in honor of Gor­bachev’s wife, who died of leukemia in 1999, said that the for­mer leader re­ceived no fee for at­tend­ing the party but that the foun­da­tion had re­ceived a “five-fig­ure” — in pounds — do­na­tion.

The guests didn’t ap­pear to be dwelling on the de­tails. All that mat­tered, it seemed, was that on a Lon­don night as cool as a bucket of di­a­monds, the Other Half was hav­ing what amounted to a big old cash bon­fire.

“They spent 50,000 pounds on caviar!” said one slightly wob­bly blond wo­man, in a way that sug­gested she knew what she was talk­ing about, even af­ter a cou­ple of flutes of bub­bly.

Abrahm­sohn and his com­pany, Glen­tree In­ter­na­tional, han­dle some of Lon­don’s prici­est homes, with spe­cial em­pha­sis on The Bishops Av­enue, a row of bil­lion­aires’ tro­phies nes­tled re­gally next to Hamp­stead Heath. In the long-ago days when mere mil­lion­aires could af­ford to live here, El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor had a place around the cor­ner. But she has given way to the Saudis, the sul­tan of Brunei and Bri­tain’s rich­est man, steel mag­nate Lak­shmi Mit­tal.

The world’s fi­nan­cial mar­kets may have the jit­ters, and house prices are drop­ping, but The Bishops Av­enue is in­su­lated from all that by thick fortress walls of money. No subprime mort­gages here — buy­ers pay cash.

And no house screams cash like the Royal Man­sion, which re­cently changed hands for about $100 mil­lion and has eight kitchens, a Turk­ish bath for 20 peo­ple and a 28-car un­der­ground garage. Ac­cord­ing to Glen­tree, the new own­ers plan to spend an ad­di­tional $60 mil­lion to spruce the place up and add a cin­ema and he­li­pad.

Abrahm­sohn said the new own­ers are the fam­ily of Hourieh Pera­maa, a prop­erty mogul in her 70s who is orig­i­nally from Kaza­khstan. At the party, her daugh­ter-in-law, Yass­min, 33, an el­e­gant and tow­er­ing wo­man in a re­mark­able red “hello, boys” dress, worked the room but po­litely de­clined to com­ment when ap­proached by a re­porter.

She then glided back into the chat­ter­ing throng, among peo­ple sip­ping Cuban rum and Rus­sian vodka and nib­bling from a vast sushi bar set up next to a 40-foot-long din­ing room ta­ble.

One man wore a black vel­vet din­ner jacket and a sin­gle pearl ear­ring. An­other wore a nar­row black tie made from what ap­peared to be al­li­ga­tor skin. Sev­eral women were wrapped in fur while oth­ers wore barely any­thing, the com­pet­ing sen­si­bil­i­ties of guests who jet­ted in from Palm Beach and var­i­ous win­ter-bound Euro­pean cap­i­tals.

Then Gor­bachev emerged from a private room and made his way to a lectern. A month shy of 77, he looked a lit­tle heav­ier, maybe, per­haps a lit­tle glassier in the eyes, but still force­fully en­er­getic.

Speak­ing in Rus­sian through an in­ter­preter, Gor­bachev re­counted with ob­vi­ous melan­choly a child­hood in which he had “learned the value of work­ing on the land” and de­vel­oped an affin­ity for “the work­ing per­son.” He spoke ten­derly about meet­ing his late wife, Raisa, when he was 22 and she was 21. “We were a good fit,” he said, softly. Gor­bachev picked up steam when talk­ing about his meet­ing ear­lier in the day with Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown. He said that the two had dis­cussed re­cent ten­sions be­tween Lon­don and Moscow and that he had told Brown: “We re­gard you and the Euro­peans as our friends. But you do not have enough pa­tience with the Rus­sians. Please have more pa­tience. We can’t cre­ate democ­racy like in­stant cof­fee.”

He got his big­gest cheer of the night at the ex­pense of the United States: “I tell the Amer­i­cans, you want us to have a democ­racy like yours. Well, we don’t want to have a democ­racy like yours. We want a bet­ter democ­racy.”

He said many coun­tries were “rolling back democ­racy” be­cause “it had not de­liv­ered ev­ery­thing.” He said that the world needed “strong demo­cratic lead­er­ship” and that Rus­sia, Europe and the United States needed to work to­gether against poverty and ter­ror­ism. “Our his­tory is a com­mon his­tory,” he said.

Gor­bachev made a joke that res­onated with his cash-bathed au­di­ence. “Many Rus­sians bring their money to your coun­try,” he said. “Be care­ful, they might buy ev­ery­thing here!”

With that, he posed for a few pho­tos and was driven off in a Mercedes sedan, waved on his way by Yass­min, a shiv­er­ing statue in red chif­fon.

It was 9 o’clock on a Mon­day night. Time for the roast beef course.

R

BY KEVIN SUL­LI­VAN — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Rus­sian ex-pres­i­dent Mikhail Gor­bachev was the guest of honor at a Lon­don real es­tate firm’s 30th an­niver­sary party.

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