The Secret Agent

February 10, 2012 9:59 pm

We lived in Financial Times

Writing this column has given me more pleasure than I can adequately express, but it’s time for me to say goodbye

Quando sono solo sogno all’orizzonte e mancan le parole si lo so che non c’e luce in una stanza quando manca il sole.” I looked horrified, sitting in one of London’s more fashionable hotel bars, as the Thesp sang incomprehensibly to me in Italian, rising to an ever-increasing crescendo. I recognised the tune but it only became clear as he belted out the chorus in English.

“Time to say goodbye ... It’s time to say goodbye” – the faux classic, seriously schmaltzy Andrea Bocelli Euro hit of the 1990s. The Thesp, as is his wont, gave it his all and there was a raucous applause around the bar as he came to the end.

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The Secret Agent

“I didn’t know how to say it but in song,” he said, a tear in his eye. “I can’t be here any more, I’m leaving England and the world of property.” Never one to under-dramatise a situation, the Thesp’s departure was veiled in a shroud of mystery.

I nursed a fresh mint tea on a month of sobriety while he sipped his favoured dirty martini. “I’m following the American dream and going west,” he said wistfully, casting a look into the middle-distance to create a suitably emotive effect. It was, indeed, a sad occasion.

The Thesp has been part of the team since my business began – it’s true that he’s flitted in and out of our sphere as he’s skipped his way across the globe, but he’s been a constant – a stalwart even. Since this column began in early 2007 I’ve discussed, ruminated and consolidated my views, with his assistance, on the past five years of remarkable changes in the London prime-property market.

The market was buoyant when I first started filing this column, and had been throughout the 2000s. The free-market model engulfing the US and European economies seemed untouchable as the west enjoyed the fruits of global wealth. Then came the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and our certainties were rocked. The London market initially trembled among fears of repossessions and negative equity. This was unfounded, as international money flocked to our capital and we witnessed not just a speedy revival but massive surges surpassing previous highs. As pundits looked on, prices from mid-2009 defied all logic as they ascended.

And why? The Thesp and I have asked this over cocktails, cappuccinos and alternate career discussions. We’ve concluded that it’s simple: where else do you put your money? Banks are compromised, the stock markets nerve-inducing and there’s something secure about investing in bricks and mortar. And if it’s that solidity that one craves, the stucco or red brick of London’s finer residences is where to invest. It’s one of the most desirable capital cities in the world; somewhere east contentedly meets west.

“Well, mon ami, it’s been a blast. And I’ll miss you,” the Thesp said as he placed his martini glass firmly on the bar. “I’ll say au revoir rather than adieu.” And with that he walked out of the bar.

As my friend exits centre-stage, there’s another farewell to be bidden. It’s time for me to say goodbye to the Financial Times. Writing this column has given me more pleasure than I can adequately express and I’ve considered it a great privilege. I shall follow the Thesp’s lead with a swift sign-off that doesn’t diminish the gratitude I feel to all those who have read, communicated and smiled with me over the past five years.

secretagent@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/secretagent

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