Forget what you’ve seen on television. At bonus time in the City, you won’t hear laughter and champagne corks. On the contrary, you’re more likely to hear grinding teeth -if you listen very hard -and the discreet snap of hair being torn out.
Last Christmas, bonuses reached a record £ 9 billion. More than 3,000 individuals were thought to be receiving windfalls of £ 1m -and in many cases much more. Yet most felt short-changed.
“I am not particularly excited,” recipients are trained to say as they come out of the boss’s office, “and nor am I particularly disappointed.” However, the day after bonus day traditionally brings mass resignations. Indeed, bonuses have become a subject of lawsuits.
However rich you are, Jonesmanship requires you to keep up with somebody even richer. Philip Beresford, who compiles The Sunday Times Rich List, estimates there are 30,000 people in Britain worth £ 5m -and possibly many more -but these are small fry. By some standards, even the enterprising Duke of Roxburghe, worth £ 80m, must be considered shockingly poor. After all, the top 10 in the Rich List are together worth £ 59.5 billion.
“It can seem like the only way to be respectable is to achieve as much as the founders of YouTube or Google,” Alain de Botton, the author of Status Anxiety, said of the dotcommers who found themselves multi-millionaires overnight. He should know: in 1999, his father sold his asset-management company for £ 234m.
Rich people are willing to state with startling honesty their belief that they are insufficiently well off. The footballer Ashley Cole wrote in his memoir last year that he considered himself “betrayed” by Arsenal because he was offered a salary of only £ 55,000 a week. Stewart Lansley, the author of Rich Britain: The Rise and Rise of the New Super-Wealthy, says Americans used to talk about a “shame gene” restraining the exercise of natural greed. “That’s gone now,” he says. “The people who envy the super-rich are the rich.”
Richard Farleigh, the Australian investor who appears in the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, acknowledged that ruefully when he described moving to Monaco: “You see all these boats and think, well, actually I’m not that rich at all. If I’d stayed in the hedge-fund game in 1995, I’d be a multi-billionaire by now.” He found himself a tiny consolation: “The billionaires I’ve met are some of the unhappiest people I know.”
Some might find this hard to believe. What can possibly make them unhappy? The not-quite-billionaire publisher Felix Dennis told me: “When you are very rich, you end up with far too many houses and a load of old dross you don’t need. There is absolutely no way you will ever know that someone falls in love with you for yourself, or that someone is even your friend for yourself.”
The psychologist Oliver James has written a new book, Affluenza, in which he describes affluenza as an obsessive, envious state that “increases our vulnerability to emotional disorders”. He began his hunt for the origins of affluenza in New York. He met Sam, a 35-year-old Wall Street banker living in a lavish apartment and earning £ 20m a year.
“When a conversation, or a girl, or a place begins to bore him,” James says, “he wants it changed -immediately. He cannot keep still for long, sexually, geographically or physically.” Sam’s colleagues were no better. They had high levels of anxiety and sleeplessness, taking on average 38 minutes to drop off at night. “Sam and his friends were textbook cases of affluenza.”
A wife and family are no guarantee of happiness. Helen Kirwan-Taylor is married to a former banker, and says bankers’ wives don’t have enough to fill their days because they have nannies, PAs and cleaners. “So they do ‘projects’. They shop, they redecorate their houses every 30 seconds and get involved in every silly charity that’s going to appease their guilt.”
In Texas, not long ago, I met socialites who do many of these things. The difference was that they have seriously rich husbands and wield considerable power. Becca Cason Thrash is known as TriBecca for her habit of changing costume three times at each party. Robert and Mica Mosbacher threw one of the biggest parties ever seen in Houston, where top tables cost £ 52,000.
The day before I arrived in Houston, Lynn Wyatt and her husband Oscar hosted a dinner party at which the guests included three admirals and a former secretary of the navy. Oscar Wyatt was the first American oilman in Iran after that country’s revolution and the first to import oil from China. In 1991, he negotiated personally with Saddam Hussein for the return of American hostages.
Wyatt can pick up the phone and speak to kings, prime ministers and Opec potentates.
Only billionaires have that kind of ready access to power. Even Welsh billionaires: I once met and interviewed the richest living Welshman -Sir Terry Matthews -who cheerfully treated me to a discourse on the finer points of Welsh coal while the first minister for Wales, Rhodri Morgan, waited downstairs to see him.
One desire that rich people share is to become richer. Marc Landeau, chairman of the hedge fund Olympia Capital Management, puts it thus: “When you’re super rich, you have one preoccupation: you are in the stay-rich business.” And the richer you are, the more guidance you need. Instantly at hand are countless specialists to help with what is, essentially, shopping: they hunt down particular antique jewellery, furniture, cars, old masters, vintage wines and livestock. Not forgetting property in Mayfair or an Oxbridge-educated tutor for your children.
Further experts lay on your entertainment. Peter Charrington of Citigroup Private Bank has organised golf games with Tiger Woods for his clients. He personally takes care of those with fortunes of £250m or more -so the merely very rich needn’t apply.
“Requests for the biggest, the best and the brightest keep on getting bolder, more extravagant,” says Ben Elliot of Quintessentially, a global private-members’ club and upmarket concierge service.
Sir Philip Green, owner of Topshop, has just spent £5m on his 55th birthday party on an island in the Indian ocean. Michael Spencer, chief executive of the currency trader Intercapital, was last year said to have been given a £5m bonus -and paid a reported £1m for Robbie Williams to sing at his 50th birthday party. Last year, too, Richard Caring, the rag trader worth £500m, splashed out a reported £ 8m on his Napoleonic ball in St Petersburg. Among the 450 friends present were Bill Clinton, Tina Turner and Elton John.
In the event that affluenza becomes unmanageable, Harley Medical Group provides cosmetic work for tired City boys. “They do work very hard and are under a lot of stress. Many do look older than they are, and they don’t want to be overlooked in promotions because of that,” says Mel Braham, the chairman. American expertise is readily available: personal trainer Kacy Duke flies to London from the States to see clients, as does nutritionist Dr Eric Braverman, a longevity specialist, who charges £26,000 for a weekend of treatments.
As well as envy, the super-rich are prone to paranoia. Many suspect that people are ripping them off, and turn to professional security firms to put in place safeguards against kidnap and ransom. Will Geddes of International Corporate Protection Group advises clients that surveillance and counter-surveillance operations require a team of no fewer than eight people -watching over the nanny as she takes the children to and from school, or monitoring a former lover who has made death threats. The team may be on the case for weeks. Clients balk at the price, but usually come back after shopping around, he says.
The ultra-high-net-worth individuals don’t risk travelling on commercial planes, and if they’re relatively new to vast riches, they need advice: for instance, they might not include in a pilot’s contract that he must carry their bags onto the plane before they board.
And which plane to buy? The Boeing BBJ 2, a business jet that seems more like a flying house with bedrooms, offices and kitchens for at least £30m? Or the £20m Bombardier Challenger 604, with bespoke Versace interior? Or a Boeing 767 like the one Roman Abramovich bought for £52m -complete with an anti-missile tracking system?
Naturally, Abramovich also has a fleet of yachts. And while the merely rich would typically charter their yachts, the super-rich want them in constant readiness.
The yacht-broker Jamie Edmiston was on a big vessel recently, when the owner complained that he couldn’t find any decent fresh fruit. “There was a helicopter on the yacht,” Edmiston recalls, “that I sent to the market in Cannes -a 400-mile round trip. He got his raspberries and strawberries and was very happy.”
The fruit probably cost £2,000 in fuel and other expenses. “Who cares?”
Edmiston says. “What I cared about was that the owner got what he wanted.”
The Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen owns a yacht called Octopus that is 413ft long, has seven decks, two helipads, a concert space for 260, a swimming pool, basketball court, infirmary, garage, movie theatre, and a submarine for 10 people, capable of remaining underwater for two weeks. The largest of Octopus’s tenders is, at 63ft long, bigger than most yachts.
Other must-have additions to the high-end fleet are known to include: aquatic cars, “paparazzi lights”, jet skis, barstools covered in whale foreskin, Lalique glass doors, an on-board beach, pole-dancing facilities, a remote-controlled robot for exploring the ocean floor, a hydraulic swimming pool that turns into a dance floor, mink blankets, a driving range, Picassos in the loos and 20 varieties of shampoo.
Security features include bulletproof glass, fingerprint recognition on the suites and a private hospital. If these fail to provide the necessary protection, the best yachts also carry high-end coffins.