When a mysterious Middle Eastern middleman wants to buy up a huge London property empire for his principal, Sebastian Gibson is torn between ambition and caution. Just as well the latter triumphed.
‘They’ll buy this. It won’t be problem.’ I’m with the representative of a Middle Eastern family of such stratospheric wealth that acquiring half of Belgravia seems to be taken in his stride with such casual nonchalance that my suspicions have been tweaked. There’s money, there’s silly money and then there’s the level that this chap is proposing to spend.
I’m pretty good at trusting my gut when it comes to meeting such ‘representatives’ and something doesn’t smell quite right. The outward signs are there — he arrives in a chauffeur driven Bentley, I’ve been to his office in Mayfair and he clearly is not a complete charlatan. But the promise of spending hundreds of millions in a matter of days without the principals coming to view seems improbable.
A Spear's reconstruction of the mysterious figure in the black Bentley
I’m aware from experience that often when dealing with the supremely wealthy there are layers of people that need to be gently peeled back and passed over before you get to the pinnacle of the pyramid. Everything is shrouded in a certain veil of enigma to protect privacy while there are hands outstretched along the path, all expecting baksheesh.
It’s a complex business and not the way I’m used to working. My preference is for transparency from the outset. An introductory commission to middlemen is understood and happily given but when sums bigger than the totality of our own fee are demanded it becomes tricky.
We’ve looked at houses in Eaton Square and apartments in Lowndes Square, penthouses in Park Lane and maisonettes in Mayfair. The implication is that they’ll buy them all.
‘When are they coming to town?’ I ask.
‘Soon,’ I’m told.
‘Should I make a short-list as these are all quite diverse properties?’
‘They’ll most likely take them all so they have choices.’
At present they’ll be provided with a lot of those I think but refrain from saying anything as if they really do buy all these places then my company targets will be surpassed for the this year and, most likely, the next to.
I realise that greed is at the core of this. If the party in question was looking for a one million pound flat I wouldn’t tolerate such opaque responses — I’d want answers and some assurances that my time wasn’t being wasted. And I suppose that’s why money attracts so many hangers-on, they’re all hoping and expectant of their piece of the pie.
After one week of viewings and promises of offers the phone goes quiet. ‘The representative’ has a recorded response that tells me he’s unavailable and doesn’t give me the option of leaving a message. His office in London is equally unresponsive.
I’m not sure what the game has been and perhaps there was a whiff of possibility there — on the bright side I’m very familiar now with the most expensive properties currently available in London for the next client who comes along and wishes to acquire them all — or just one of them.