Friday, March 22, 2013

So much money but not a shred of taste! As a £65million 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

I suppose there is an element of snobbery in the article below -- and taste is after all entirely subjective -- but I have some sympathy with the conclusions nonetheless.  One expects to see such a lovely old house filled with warm and comfortable things that have accumulated over many years.  To find an interior that looks like the most ostentatious modern hotel is a shock and a sacrilege

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 agent Knight Frank to swallow a drop of £35 million.

Heath Hall, his 14-bedroom mansion on The Bishops 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 in 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 no longer true. 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 in case they 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 specially designed 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 self-promotion 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 newly acquired houses on those of anyone they have known.

Once they 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 home-like. 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 self-made 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 well-trodden 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.


British council forced to scrap unisex toilets at its new £50m offices after complaints from staff

When they moved into their purpose-built £50million offices, the council staff of Rochdale had high hopes for the lavatories.   Instead, the new facilities caused a revolt – because they are unisex.

Some workers at the new headquarters were aggrieved at the idea of men and women using the same cubicles.

Now, the gender ratio on each floor of the building will be analysed before individual toilets are allocated proportionately as either male or female.

It all adds up to the town’s biggest toilet fiasco since its shopping mall introduced squat loos in the name of cultural sensitivity three years ago.

The new offices, named Number One Riverside, were built to accommodate 2,000 council staff.

However, the first batch of workers to transfer to the new building were shocked to find it lacked  separate toilet facilities.

Helen Harrison, Unison’s Rochdale branch secretary, said council staff have raised concerns.  ‘People do have different views on it but there are a number of people who are upset about the unisex issue,’ she said.

‘I think what the council is looking at doing now is tallying up the ratio of male and female workers on each floor and will split up the toilets that way.’ Each floor of the building has around eight toilet cubicles opening off a corridor, all currently with male and female symbols on the door.

'They are fully enclosed with their own washing and drying facilities, rather than communal ones.

Nevertheless some staff have apparently baulked at the idea of using cubicles frequented by members of the opposite sex.

Last night Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It’s bizarre that council bosses pressed ahead with unisex loos despite a clear lack of demand for them.

‘This is a perfect example of politically correct thinking trumping common sense at the expense of everyone else.’

Unisex toilets first entered the public consciousness in the 1990s American TV series Ally McBeal where they were the setting for gossip and romantic encounters between her lawyer colleagues.

As a compromise, cubicles at Rochdale council’s building will now be allocated as male or female.

Operational services director Mark Widdup said: ‘The building was intended to have unisex toilets on the office floors, as is the norm in many modern buildings.

‘However, based on staff feedback who have been based in the building for several weeks and discussions with the unions, we’ve decided to review these facilities.’

The building also houses the town’s new library and has space for private firms. The council says it will save £1million a year by having workers in one modern location as well as giving a better service to local people.

In 2010 there was amazement when Rochdale’s Exchange mall installed two squat toilets after bosses were told some of the town’s Asian and Eastern European communities preferred them.


A hunched ball of scowling red crossness, comrade Jim wants to ban us Press parasites

First they came for the parliamentary sketchwriters. Twelve hours after the Commons voted to kill the ancient freedoms of England’s Press, Scots-socialist lovely Jim Sheridan (Lab, Paisley) suggested that journalists who show insufficient respect to MPs should be booted off the premises.

Calling such scribes ‘a parasitical element’, he growled: ‘They abuse their position, hiding behind their pens and calling people names. I don’t know why they’re allowed here.’

Mr Sheridan has long been one of the sketchwriting guild’s best clients. He is just such fun to describe, a hunched ball of scowling, scarlet crossness, steaming like a Chinaman’s laundry.

Not for Comrade Jim those cheap narcotics of optimism and New Testament pleasantry. Nae!

This one broods, crabbit and bealin’ as they say in Glasgow, a boiling walloper, kicker of cans, forever talking mince. I love him to bits but fear the fondness is not always reciprocated. He once accused us of ‘abusing the premises’. All we had done was take the rise out of his mate Michael Martin, ex-speaker. ["Gorbals Mick"]

Normally one would ignore the old booby but the context of his remark yesterday and its tone makes it instructive. It illustrates wider reasons for the leftist elite’s antipathy to Fleet Street.

He made it at a culture select committee (yes! knuckle-chewer Jim is on the culture committee – isn’t it a hoot?) and they were discussing Press regulation.

Before him sat three critics of the Press, among them the champion orgy-goer and bottom-spanker Max Mosley. Such, readers, are the leagues to which your legislature has sunk.

Until Mr Sheridan’s little soliloquy I had been gripped by the verbal tics and fingertips of Thrasher Mosley. He kept prefacing interventions with the words ‘If I may’, uttered in a posh-tortoise drawl straight from Downton Abbey.

Such daintiness from one so nakedly authoritarian. Do you think he says ‘If I may’ to the popsies at his ‘parties’?

The ends of Mr Mosley’s fingers bent inwards. In a better life he might have made a leg-spinner. Instead he has chosen the path of immoral rectitude.

He flared indignant, when challenged by splendid Philip Davies (Con, Shipley). Mr Davies thought any claim of the Mosley-ites, if we may call them that, to be acting on the side of the angels in this Press row was ‘quite disingenuous, quite laughable’. He reckoned they were more concerned in helping rich celebrities to gag the media.

Mr Mosley with clipped irritation said: ‘Don’t say I’m not straight!’ Straight, eh?

Alongside Mr Mosley sat Brian Cathcart, minor academic, and Hugh Tomlinson, barrister, from the Hacked Off group. They were delighted with the new anti-Press legislation, Mr Tomlinson licking his Robert Morley lips and spreading his chubby fingers flat on the desk before him. Under brisk questioning from Conor Burns (Con, Bournemouth W) about their involvement in Sunday night’s secretive talks with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, the Hacked Off men wobbled.

Mr Burns wanted to know where the pressure group’s money came from. Should we not be told? After all, they were now mixing in the highest counsels of the kingdom. It is the modern version of beer and sandwiches.

Full details of Hacked Off’s donors were not furnished.    

Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter, once content to serve in the Murdoch-consorting government of Tony Blair) kept laughing theatrically, hoping to belittle the questioning. And then came Mr Sheridan’s tour de farce.

The words rose from the murky depths, down in the tripe linings of Vesuvius’s belly. Glurp! Out they shot, purple-hot projectiles of bile, their master sitting there with chin to chest, balefulness in an off-the-peg suit.

Why should journalists be allowed to watch MPs at Westminster? Why should their impertinence to parliamentarians be tolerated? Kick ’em out!

He has a point in some ways. You do not have to be there in the flesh to see what a donkey Jim Sheridan is. Via the electric television set, it is just as obvious from a distance of many a country mile.


'Jedi Knights could perform ceremonies': Free Church of Scotland hits out at government plans to create third category of marriage  

Good to hear from the Wee Frees. My own Presbyterian background tended in the Wee Free (fundamentalist) direction

Plans to redefine marriage in Scotland could mean that Jedi Knights could perform ceremonies, a church has claimed.

The Free Church of Scotland has described plans by the Scottish Government to create a third category of marriage as 'completely nonsensical' ahead of a consultation on the proposals later this week.

Reiterating its opposition to gay marriage, the Free Church said today that the proposals to establish 'belief' ceremonies alongside religious and civil ones could raise the prospect of Star Wars Jedi officiating marriage.

But the government defended its plans saying that the reputation of Scottish marriage would be protected and that the move would help groups such as humanists who are classed as a religious entity.

A spokesman for the Free Church said: 'The proposal to create a third category of belief marriage ceremony alongside the current religious and civil ones is an indication of the increasing confusion that we can expect in the coming months and years.

'Humanists are already able to perform marriages under the religious category and we see no reason why this should not continue.  'Instead we are faced with the Scottish Government seeking to create a new category for something which already happens under the current system, which is completely nonsensical.

'We would also question whether this category only includes humanists or will it allow for any belief?  'Could the Jedi Knights or members of the Flat Earth Society be registered as belief celebrants?

'We believe that once the legislation is passed, the issues and complications will not go away.'

The Scottish Government said however, that it would protect marriage by ensuring that a religious or belief body would have to meet a number of tests before a ceremony can take place.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: 'Our current consultation covers not only the introduction of same-sex marriage but also the detail of important protections in relation to religious bodies and celebrants, freedom of speech and education.

'As part of the consultation, we have outlined the reason for suggesting a third type of ceremony.

'At the moment, marriage ceremonies by bodies such as humanists have been classed as religious, even though the beliefs are non-religious.

'It also makes clear that we are determined to ensure the continued reputation of Scottish marriage ceremonies. We are proposing the introduction of tests which a religious or belief body would have to meet before they could be authorised to solemnise marriage.'

The Free Church of Scotland is a Presbyterian and Reformed denomination. It currently has over 100 congregations in Scotland, as well as two in London, five in North America, and sister churches founded by mission work in India, Peru and South Africa.

In the 2011 Census, around 14,000 Scots named their religion as Jedi, inspired by characters from the fictional Star Wars films.

Jedi values have often found themselves adopted as modern philospohical path or religion, with movements such as the controversial Jediism spawned.

A knights school in San Francisco California also offers classes in Jedi skills.


Miser Mick is right not to help out his children

Mick Jagger's long been said to be mean with money. It’s a nasty trait — those who have it tend also to have a meanness of spirit.

For this reason, I sympathise with Jerry Hall, who’s locked in a battle with her ex over Downe House, the £10 million Richmond property that’s been her family home since 1991 but which Jagger has never signed over to her.

Now she wants to be able to sell up so that she can give some money to their three eldest children — Lizzie, 29, James, 27 and Georgia May, 21 — to buy homes of their own.

Jagger opposes the idea on the grounds that his children have already had a  privileged upbringing and should make their way into the world without any help from him. And though it pains me to admit it, I think he’s right.

For whatever our incomes, too many children have come to expect that their parents will ease their financial burdens at every opportunity, indulging them in a way our own parents would never have dreamed of doing for us.

The truth, I’m afraid, is that many of today’s pampered teens won’t contemplate getting out of their beds on a Saturday or Sunday morning to do anything that sounds like work.

But dare to suggest they might like to work to pay for the longed-for concert ticket or Topshop must-have, and they look at you as though you’re asking them to shin up chimneys.

No wonder newsagents complain that they simply can’t find youngsters to do paper rounds.

The change within just one generation is extraordinary. I had my first Saturday job at 13 — starting at 8am in a bakery (later graduating to working in a jeweller’s) — and continued to work  right through until my A-levels, school holidays included.

Apart from pocket money, I never expected my parents to give me anything extra, partly because they weren’t wealthy but mostly because it simply wasn’t the way things were done.

My friends and I all understood that we had to work for what we wanted, whether that was going on holiday on our own for the first time or buying our first cars.

By contrast, today’s school-leavers are all too frequently still dependent on their parents for everything from handouts to somewhere to live. Some of my friends whose children have moved back home after university say that not only are they letting them off paying for their keep,  but they often give them spending  money, too.

We all mean well. Why charge your adult child rent when you know he’s saving for a house deposit?

Why insist your teenager gets a Saturday job when you know the academic pressure he’s under to pass exams? Why refuse to buy your daughter that longed-for ticket to a music festival when you know all her friends’ parents will be shelling out?

It doesn’t end there, either. Many young couples today don’t even contemplate getting married until they can afford to live in homes that wouldn’t disgrace an interiors magazine. If I’d had the same attitude, I wouldn’t have been able to marry until my 40s. As it was, my daughter was born in a one-bedroom flat  furnished from junk shops, and had to sleep in the hallway.

But by constantly opening our wallets, we’re doing our children no favours in the long term. What they don’t realise — and what our well-intended cushioning is  failing to teach them — is that out of necessity comes not only invention but, even more crucially, drive and determination.

So what if you can’t get the job of your dreams? Get another one instead and work your way up from there. And if you can only afford a damp-ridden basement with fungus growing on the ceiling? You’ll survive — and it’s a powerful incentive to work all hours until you can afford something better.

As Mick Jagger so memorably sang: ‘You can’t always get what you want. But if  you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.’



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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