Our socially distanced sniffer unearths news of cardinal sins, dating dictums and million-pound furniture, edited by Alec Marsh
THE CURIOUS, SHROUDED figure of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, lately the man at the Vatican responsible for dishing out sainthoods, catches Hedgehog’s eye. Not because Hedgehog dreams of erinaceous beatification, but rather because of Becciu’s obvious devotion to the London property market as a sainted asset class. In 2014 Becciu invested a reported Ð350 million of the faithful’s dosh in 60 Sloane Avenue (and then got his galero burnt).
Now the Financial Times reports that he also oversaw investments of up to £100 million of Vatican money into luxury residential property around Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge. Were any of the property gurus who are so familiar to Spear’s on hand to help the Holy See seal the deals? Chelsea property veteran Andy Buchanan hasn’t had a whiff of the Papal bull, but he says he’s not surprised at the Vatican’s interest in London luxury residential property.
‘Property doesn’t really let people down too badly,’ he tells Spear’s. A stone’s throw away, Charles McDowell tells Hedgehog he’s not had any dealings with the Vatican or its representatives in this spree. ‘Sadly not,’ sighs McDowell, ‘though I have been to Rome before and we did see the Pope on his balcony – but that was a close as I got.’ Caroline Takla was even further from the papal action: ‘I’ve never had any dealings with Vatican officials,’ she remarks – with evident relief. ‘It’s a bit of a poisoned chalice.’
ASKED TO RATE the performance of Boris Johnson’s premiership so far, not a single attendee at this year’s virtual Spear’s Wealth Insight Forum felt sufficiently motivated to garland the current resident of Number 10 with an ‘A’ grade. There was little hesitation at the other end of the spectrum, however: one in six respondents gave him a U. Not quite the U-turn Boris is used to.
HAVING DISCOVERED THAT Jeff Bezos’s fortune has risen by 65 per cent since Covid-19 struck and the wealth of the US’s richest 645 individuals had surged by $845 billion, it’s reassuring to see that they are not alone. According to the latest billionaire wealth report from UBS and PwC, between May and July 1,500 billionaires worldwide increased their wealth by more than a quarter, to a collective total of £7.8 trillion.
How so? Riding the downturn, seizing the upside and having the ‘stomach’ to gamble on equity markets when they plummeted, posit the authors gamely. As you might expect, the report evoked a nuanced response from the Guardian, which omitted the fact that billionaires are also giving more cash away than at any time in history.
Indeed, $7.2 billion has been publicly earmarked to help tackle the pandemic – a figure that is likely to be a mere fraction of the actual number thanks to a ‘tendency towards discretion’, according to Josef Stadler, head of UBS’s global family office unit. Perhaps it’s time for the world’s rich to be less discreet about their giving? Seeing is believing, after all.
Romancing the stone
DRACONIAN NEW DATING rules at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which requires its 18,000 staff to inform bosses of any ‘personal relationships’ with third-party business associates and vendors of the firm, have met with outrage from Gina Miller, London’s most outspoken wealth industry figure.
‘Are they saying that if you’ve got an asset manager whose partner is a lawyer, they can’t have a relationship?’ asks Miller, who with husband Alan (pictured left) founded wealth management firm SCM Direct.
‘That’s going against people’s human rights! It says a lot about the management of a company that they have to go to these lengths.’ SCM won’t be rolling out something similar, then. ‘We don’t need it,’ Miller tells Hedgehog. ‘We’re not a couple at work – we’re there to do business.’
THE DECISION TO delay the release of the James Bond film No Time to Die until April 2021 might have been a licence to kill the cinema chains – both Odeon and Cineworld immediately announced partial closures or suspensions – but it hasn’t harmed one London business. Piccadilly Arcade tailor Benson & Clegg supplies the tie slide worn by Daniel Craig in the forthcoming movie and now sells the ‘James’ tie slide for a suave £55. The Royal Warrant holder is anxious to point out that it’s not an officially licensed 007 product – rather, it caught the eye of the fi lm’s costume department. ‘Because it’s been going down very well we are now in talks with the Bond people about getting a licence and maybe even looking to do a product range,’ says managing director Mark Gordon.
Having a domestic
GETTING THE RIGHT staff is a perennial problem. The Singaporean press has been full of reports about the case of Parti Liyani, a maid accused of stealing by her former employer of nine years’ standing, corporate titan Liew Mun Leong. Having been found guilty, Ms Liyani was sentenced to more than two years imprisonment, but she appealed and was acquitted at the country’s High Court. Amid public outcry, Mr Leong, 74, stepped down as chairman of the Changi Airport Corporation, as well as several other senior posts at prestigious firms. How could all this have been avoided? Top PR man Jonathan Hawker of Slate Campaigns says: ‘A managed departure is key. The employment reference is an important vehicle for justice, or encouragement to move on, so use that lever wisely. Finally, don’t do it yourself. Let someone without an emotional stake address the matter for you.’ In other words, get a cleaner for your cleaners.
DUST DOWN YOUR best chairs. Four French gilt chairs once belonging to King Charles X of France (below), made by master craftsman Georges Jacob in 1778, achieved an eye-watering £1.06 million at an Artcurial auction in Paris in September, well above their £450,000 estimate. Paul Gallois from Christie’s in London reminds Hedgehog that an armchair belonging to Marie Antoinette was sold by the firm in 2015 for £1.76 million. Gallois believes 18th-century French furniture is on a roll: ‘I don’t think we have reached these prices for many years. Clearly there’s a real appetite.’ Check your loft now.