The world's billionaires saw their wealth soar during the pandemic. Now they're splashing their cash, says Anna Tyzack.
After a year that has made many of the super-rich even richer, it's time for a post-lockdown toy: the superyacht. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is shoring up a NZ$700 million, 127m behemoth so big it needs its own "support yacht" with a helipad. The binge-spending, it appears, has begun in earnest.
In the past year, superyacht manufacturer Cecil Wright & Partners has sold 354 vessels, costing up to $840m to build. Due to ongoing travel restrictions, many of these yachts were bought unseen.
The wealthy are also panic-buying Arksen marine exploration vessels (arksen.com), robust luxury cruisers, which cost up to $17m and enable their owners to explore the wildest places on the planet.
"Now the ultra-wealthy want to know they can escape on a far-flung adventure at any given moment," explains Arksen chairman Jasper Smith who has seen an 88 per cent increase in inquiries this year.
Helicopters and electric cars, too, are choice purchases for ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) intent on making the most of the post-Covid world. "Three lockdowns in the same house, albeit a beautiful one, has made me crave travel and experiences," says Martin Reith, chairman of Luchford, a communications agency for luxury brands.
Now, the super-rich want accessible exclusivity — whether that comes in the shape of an enormous sea vessel or ultra-exclusive resorts, such as Lopud 1483 in Croatia, a renovated monastery for 10 that rents for $137,000 a week. Deplar Farm, a luxurious heli-skiing and salmon fishing retreat in Northern Iceland, is another favourite. "I'll be investing in some long-haul holidays, with the focus on seamless experience," maintains Reith — by which he means five-star service and access via a private jet airstrip.
Reith has just signed up to NetJets, a sustainable shared ownership scheme "better than having [your own] jet sitting on the runway", while others have their names down for the new Dassault Falcon 6X, which costs $66m but uses up to 60 per cent less fuel than similar planes and has an ultra-long range.
This desire for eco-wanderlust extends to electric vehicles, too, with wealthy buyers queuing for the Polestar 2 car and cruising around town on the new Porsche e-bike. Meanwhile, helicopters are more popular than ever for travel in the UK.
"The Bamfords helicopter is a regular fixture in Daylesfordshire and we're seeing more and more hovering above the Cotswolds skies," says Harry Gladwin of The Buying Solution. "They're useful for nipping to and from London and across farms and estates — owners can be anywhere and everywhere in a matter of minutes."
Indeed, Britain's richest self-made entrepreneurs have fallen so deeply back in love with Blighty that they're buying up as much of it as possible.
The frenzy for country estates is now at fever pitch, says property finder Jess Simpson (jesssimpson.com), who gets three calls a day for estates priced at more than $20m.
Buyers are upping their budgets, Gladwin explains, to ensure they have enough accommodation for nannies, tutors and grandparents should there be future lockdowns.
Further afield, it's too late to buy in Mustique, where the Duchess of Cambridge holidays with her family, but the Bahamas is a good alternative for tax reasons, he says. In Europe, interest is returning to the most glamorous parts of the south of France and the Balearics.
"A number have moved to Ibiza permanently, making the most of the good private schools and sunny lifestyle," De Mallet Morgan explains. Portugal is also popular, as a home purchase there can also secure EU citizenship.
For now, though, the wealthiest Brits are focusing on acquiring their third or fourth home in Britain. The obsession with space is taking them to Scotland, where they are snapping up sporting estates with castles to entertain friends and family.
Beach houses are also selling at a rate not seen since the boom of 2007, with potential buyers choppering to viewings in Norfolk, Dorset and Cornwall, and according to Simpson, the latest status symbol is to own a British wine estate.
"Vineyards for private use are becoming popular and some ultra-wealthy buyers have even established oak plantations with trees impregnated with truffles."
While the middle classes are fleeing the capital for more space, the super-rich still see London as the pinnacle of property ownership and are looking to complement their rural idylls with an all-singing townhouse: in 2020, the capital had more residential sales above £7 million than any other market globally.
Once a property is acquired, the spending spree will begin in earnest, to ensure it meets post-lockdown specification. This means installing the prerequisite smart technology: near-invisible Zuma light and sound systems, for example, and "serenity zones", 360-degree OKTO shields to protect the wealthy (and their diamonds) from burglars, kidnappers and drones.
Oneper centers are also investing in significant art and interior pieces; Baird Allis, a 40-year-old corporate lawyer, is buying up Dutch Golden Age paintings as they "make him smile".
Much to the annoyance of the neighbours, the super-rich are also back in love with basements, digging ever deeper to ensure they have multifunctional spaces to work, relax, work out, preen and play.
"Wealthy clients want meditation rooms, 'vitamin C showers' and enormous dressing rooms," says Louisa Brodie of Banda, the property company run by Princess Beatrice's husband, Edo Mapelli Mozzi. Vitamin D chambers, therapy and convalescent suites and medical-grade Hepa filters to ensure the highest quality air are another "must". Golf and tennis simulators are obligatory, too — as is a climate-controlled garage.
Lockdown has given the ultra-wealthy a deeper appreciation of nature: they are determined to live off their land and ensure their chefs have the freshest ingredients. The biggest show-offs are buying up woodland (which requires a full-time forester), and commissioning bespoke, Narnia-style tree houses from Blue Forest, with rope bridge, giant slide and a couple of bedrooms for their children's sleepovers.
After a year off the party circuit, socialising is also a priority for UHNWIs.
"I want to ditch my cashmere leisurewear and stop feeling as if I'm stuck on an island with my family — so, please, no private yachts, no Indian Ocean Islands or Swiss wellness retreats," pleaded one member of TownhouseConcierge.com.
No wonder then, that London's most exclusive restaurants — such as MARU in Mayfair, which serves a 20-course omakase-style tasting menu to just 10 diners per evening — are already booked out for the foreseeable. According to restaurant expert Katrina Kutchinsky, the trend for restaurant-style dining at home continues, with the super rich hiring celebrity chefs, such as MasterChef: The Professionals champion, Alex Webb, to prepare poolside dinners.
And the new nirvana, according to Gladwin, is a natural swimming pool with a pool house designed by a celebrity interior designer.
Such is the demand for contemporary natural pools from companies such as Clear Water Revival, that waiting lists stretch into 2022, leaving super-rich clients with no choice but to suffer the summer without one. Not ideal — but at least they'll have a few other shiny toys to play with in the interim.