Spy: Inside Eric Watson's $10m party palace

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Eric Watson's home complete with helipad, lake, wine cellar and nine-hole golf course. Yours for $10m. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Eric Watson's home complete with helipad, lake, wine cellar and nine-hole golf course. Yours for $10m. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Want to live like Eric Watson? Now you can. The troubled Hanover Finance co-founder, who calls London home but is currently holidaying in St Tropez, is selling his Auckland residence Westbury Estate.

The five-bedroom lifestyle compound in Karaka is being marketed by Colliers International and a tender for the property closes on August 25. But unless you've got a cool $10m to spare, don't bother browsing.

Collier's Roger Seavill said the Batty Rd property has "only been on the market for a week, but it's already received many offers of interest". How many, he wouldn't reveal.

The tender process means there is no capped sale figure, but Seavill expects the property to sell for around $10m. "Ex-pat Kiwis are our ideal market," he said.

The Cape Cod-style home is set on 37ha of park-like grounds. It has five bedrooms and five bathrooms with a 15m heated pool and a fizzing jacuzzi where Nicky Watson and her string bikini were regular fixtures.

There is a gym, a flood-lit tennis court, a home theatre, a polo field, a sauna and a helipad for Watson's jet-setting guests such as Elle Macpherson who's rumoured to have flown in for a Bendon meeting. A man-made lake, complete with gazebo and jetty, sits in the middle of the PGA-standard nine-hole golf course.

Watson paid $1.32 for the land in 1995 but a government valuation last year listed its rateable value at $6.3m.

Over the years it has hosted many lavish parties. I was guest at a couple of them, one of which saw me beating Terry Serepisos at chess in the billiards room, despite my never having played the game before.

At another soiree - before Lisa Henrekson came on the scene, bore two sons and secured her position for life - I recall Watson entertaining a famished-looking young model. I spent the night in one of the guest rooms and awoke early the next morning thinking I'd have a nosy look around the house.

Watson had an impressive art collection: Binneys, McCahons and a Picasso (a present for his son Sam) littered the beige walls. His bedroom door was closed, so I presumed he was snoozing with The Stick Insect, but when I tip-toed down the sisal-covered stairs to the living room I found him at the dining table, Sunday papers spread out, reading Spy and scouring the pages for any mention of him.

Watson knew the power of publicity. Our paths had crossed years earlier when a boyfriend of mine had written a glowing profile piece on him for Metro magazine. Of course he didn't set out to, but Watson, ever the charmer, wooed him like a cheap date. It worked.

Westbury Estate is part of Cullen Investments' real estate portfolio, though no mention of its sale is on the company website. A summary report lists Batty Road Holdings Ltd as the current owner of the property with Mark Flay, Don Stanaway and William Gibson as directors. They are Cullen's chief financial officer, legal representative and manager of the company's European interests.

This week Watson's Los Angeles-based company American Apparel, which he co-owns, had a stock nosedive after their accounting firm Deloitte & Touche resigned, saying the company's financial statements may not be reliable. It is under threat from the New York Stock Exchange of being delisted, and only narrowly escaped bankruptcy by securing a $118m loan from Lion Capital.

Still, that wasn't enough to drop Watson from the NBR 2010 Rich List. While Hanover business partner Mark Hotchin was dumped, Watson slides in at number 26 with $250m.

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