I work in London and drive to and from work. It’s only 20 miles door to door but journey times are very dependent on the London Traffic. I enjoy driving my car, and the hour or so commute home can be a welcome time to put on some music and get out of “work mode” before walking through my front door. Most of my route is non-descript until I take a turn that leads me onto The Bishop’s Avenue. Over time this short road of just 66 houses has come to fascinate me. Once referred to as Millionaires Row, it is now more commonly referred to as Billionaires Row. The houses here belong to the richest people in the world. Britain’s richest man, Lakshmi Mittal owns a house here (below with picture insert) as does The President of Kazakhstan and The Sultan of Brunei. Several are owned by The Saudi Royal Family, who brought no less than 7 properties in the early 1990’s when they thought that Saddam Hussein may invade their country. Today they are said to own 10 of the properties!
Owning a house here has nothing to do with actually living in it – it is purely for prestige. The Times has quoted that “these homes are owned not by people for whom money is no object, but by those for whom money is the only object”. There are always extensive building works taking place. Lorries frequently block the road as diggers and bulldozers shake the ground. Owners buy the houses for prices that climb way above the £50 million mark, to knock them down and rebuild, all attempting to be better than their neighbour. Once such recent renovation is rumoured to have left the house worth more than £100 million. I drive past this particular house daily and it is by far the biggest house that I have ever, ever seen. The street is quite simply odd. Houses are sprawling and massive, oozing wealth and opulance but each is entirely architecturally unique. The mix is eclectic at best, but to me looks untidy and un-coordinated!! Most of the mansions are shrouded behind thick, high, heavy and sometimes guarded gates leaving just the smallest of gaps for a quick glimpse. I wonder what actually happens behind the very large closed doors? How many staff might one need for living on such a scale? How much space can one need in the first place? Do you really need a helicopter landing pad on the manicured lawn? How many rooms of furniture, swimming pools, dining halls, extensive gardens and garage space do remarkably rich people need to feel good? How does one start the day when waking up in such a residence …. do they, like me push snooze several times before rolling out of bed with little more energy than an asthmatic ant? I wonder what it must be like to have such a grand residence that you need a goods entrance just so that the Harrod’s delivery lorry doesn’t clip the edge of the lawn!! And the cars!! The cars that line the driveways often are singularly worth more than the house that I live in and rarely is there just one expensive model parked up neatly!
But, what fascinates me the most, are the homes that are worth all of these tens of millions of pounds that sit abandoned. Totally and utterly neglected with unkempt, overgrown gardens and broken windows. They sit amongst the vast wealth looking lonely and dark. Unfriendly security warning signs that adorn what were obviously once polished elegant but now broken gates are the only signs of care or ownership. Who on earth has so, so much wealth that they can simply ignore these homes and leave them to fall into such decline? Do they even remember that they have these homes? Do they sometimes wonder if it is still standing, worry about squatters or consider selling or even staying in or visiting them once in a while? Or, do they own/have so much that a house worth such an amount is irrelevant? Would they mind if I dropped them a little note offering to take it off of their hands so that they have more time to do whatever they fill their days with?!! I just cannot imagine. At least Mr Lakshmi Mittal had the good sense to rent his out when it failed to sell even if it is for a paltry £10,000 a week!!
Whilst I was unsuccessful in my quest to find out what really goes on behind the doors of the infamous Bishop’s Avenue, I did come across a little tale that both amused and astounded me …
The story takes place in the plant room of a newly-built mansion – where else? – and concerns a certain country’s richest man. This man and his wife had not lived in their house for long – one of the world’s most expensive – when the heating systems began to go awry. Now, when you live in a 24,000-square-foot house and the plumbing’s playing up, you call someone fast. The engineer arrived promptly, went down to the plant room and looked at the series of mechanical control panels that monitor the many boilers, water tanks and filters. And they were all to cock. Someone had been messing around with them. He asked around the staff, but nobody knew anything about it. Eventually the owner’s wife admitted, rather sheepishly, that she had been in the room and had tried to adjust the settings. “Why?” asked the engineer. Her reply tells you everything you need to know about this odd little world…….
“I was worried about the heating bills,” she said.”