What is your opinion on those who have begun buying houses in London for £100m or more?
Britain is a free country and London, arguably, the most cosmopolitan city in the world, so anyone buying any property for however much money is entirely a matter for the purchaser. If I had a couple of billion pounds festering offshore, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the home I desire for a fraction of my wealth. My rationale is that there is no better place than home where I can be surrounded by all the things I love, particularly in the company of my dogs, and do exactly what I want, except when the wife wants something else.
If I’d spent £100m on a property, I would probably spend another £100m on the inside. That might not get me too many Giacomettis or van Goghs, but I’d definitely have a couple of Cy Twomblys and Peter Doigs. And in a Chinoiserie room, I would fill the walls with scrolls by my favourite Chinese painters, Zhang Daqian, Qi Baishi and Xu Beihong, the three artists whose works, unknown to most, have for years fetched more in public sales than any other artists in the world.
Each to their own taste. Maybe I’m wrong, but I cannot help thinking there seems to be an unexceptional trend on the part of oligarchs or billionaires, or whatever they might be labelled, that they are not disposed to having anything “old” around them. Hence, antique furniture or fixtures do not appeal to them. A pair of brand new Baccarat chandeliers would always triumph over a historic pair, even if they come from the Uffizzi. And, certainly, books never seem to appeal, which I find extraordinary. Sofas and chairs are invariably in leather because patterned fabrics with subtleties of textures are too complicated for their colour schemes, which are always monochromatic or dualist. So think US Architectural Digest, with the usual ugly and faux mansions draped with stiffness and predictabilities, and not The World of Interiors, whose every edition exudes stylishness with stunning clashes of colour.
The recent reported sale of Hanover Lodge in Regent’s Park has made me a little sentimental because I happen to know it well, together with other nearby mansions, St John’s Hall and Holmes Lodge, as I used to give regular chamber music concerts at these places nearly 40 years ago as a student and founder of the London University Chamber Music Society. In those wondrous spaces, we would hold performances of string quartets, wind sonatas and piano trios and solos. I particularly remember having lots of Debussy, Fauré, Poulenc, Milhaud, Satie and Messiaen, as I was going through a phase of loving French music. I don’t think I paid any fees taking over these empty but supremely elegant halls for our concerts. During the glorious summer evenings, we would serve plonk and Walkers crisps half an hour before the concert and throw open the French windows in order to catch the fading glow of the sinking sun with the shifting shadows of trees and shrubs in the garden. For three or four years, those of us who gathered together to make and listen to beautiful music would not have appreciated how lucky we were that all the mega-rich folks were not around all those years ago to deprive us impecunious students from many days of happiness, for free.
With the price of property in Regent’s Park at record levels, does it mean the whole neighbourhood would benefit from upward valuation?
I can already hear local property agents bragging about mega-prices of properties and peddling the alluring proposition that a prospective purchaser is buying into an elite area, comparable with Belgravia.
The streets between the park and nearby Camden Town are not exactly salubrious, although I am led to believe there are the occasional charming bits in this area – but not many. The Roundhouse, which anchors itself as the local landmark, is scarcely the Coliseum and looks ugly and dirty, even if it was always regarded as an edgy venue for productions such as Oh! Calcutta! with all its avant-garde nudity. Furthermore, the West End access to and from Regent’s Park requires the laborious negotiations of Gloucester Place northwards and Baker Street southwards, running in parallel with an annoying number of traffic lights and all the traffic aiming for the M1. So if you ask me, the locus of Regent’s Park would always have the handicap of being “north of the park” – Hyde Park, that is; and the legend of it being halfway towards Watford Junction.