The Secret Agent

November 18, 2011 10:09 pm

Rich ladies and a time-poor man

A funny thing about running your own business is that people assume you have more time on your hands

The eternal question of time,” The Thesp says wistfully. “I can hardly believe we are careering towards December. It passes so quickly at the best of times and all too slowly at the worst – but we must feel it all.” I wasn’t quite sure why Quentin was in such a philosophical mood and how I was to respond to such musings.

“Too true,” I said, feeling agreement was the required reply. “And talking of time, I’d best get on, my friend,” I added quickly. It was three in the afternoon on a working day and though it’s always a delight to see The Thesp I could tell he was in one of those let’s-set-the-world-to-rights frames of mind. And I was time poor. A funny thing about running your own business is that people assume you have more time on your hands. In fact, the opposite is true, or at least it is in my case.

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The Secret Agent

My wise godmother tells me that one of the great gifts money gives you is flexibility – the ability to move. It’s true that nearly all my clients are fortunate enough to have more than one property, so they have decisions to make about where they spend their time. Those who have children are dictated to by school terms; those who work for others are also limited, although in the age of Skype we are more mobile. A conference call hardly counts unless it encompasses several continents.

We’re looking for clients who take advantage of their wealth by being truly mobile: one of these is a charming lady, discreet and ageless. She could be anywhere between 40 and 60. Her nationality is equally opaque – sometimes I think French, with perhaps a dash of Lebanese or is it Italian, Greek or part American-sophisticate? She has a place in London, (bien sûr) Paris, Marrakesh, Gstaad and part of a Greek island, with a close friend (possibly a lover) in New York. She speaks several languages and has a European veneer of refinement – expensively but discreetly groomed and if she’s had work done it’s been done by the best.

The problem is that her current flat is hard to beat – an elegant space with views on both sides (so rare in London), gracious entertaining rooms, a wonderful master suite with a guest suite at the other end of the apartment. It’s the perfect grand pied à terre. But, she may want to spend more time here and less in Gstaad, hence the search for a flat that can encompass a live-in housekeeper and more storage space for her winter/summer wardrobes. We’re going to have to employ all our skills of “expectation management” regarding the price of such a property. For the elegance and grandeur she requires – even though she’s looking for, in effect, a two-bedroom flat – the price is going to be north of £6m.

I am experiencing a similar problem with another client. They live in a stunning flat, one – like the Notting Hill house that I wrote of last week – that lifts your spirits the moment you enter it. While I was delighted to be given the task of helping the hunters on their onward purchase, I was aware that it would not be easy to find a smaller-scale version of such a residence. We will get there eventually but it will take time and tenacity – two qualities I need to work on.

While these clients manage their time between various properties, I think of how we balance time in our daily lives. It is a wondrous alchemy that needs to be achieved through work, creative fulfilment, meaningful existence (giving something back in whatever form that may be), being physically active, devoting time to family, nurturing friendships, laughing, living, loving and enjoying the pleasures of the world: whether it is a beautiful sunset, the dancing light in Richmond Park, stomping through the russet autumn foliage, or merely eating a vine-ripened tomato. It needs constant striving towards and I so admire those who get it right, for that is the real art of living.

secretagent@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/secretagent

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