Magazine article The Spectator

How to Spend L5 Million

Magazine article The Spectator

How to Spend L5 Million

Article excerpt

I'M BEING stalked by an estate agent. He just won't leave me alone. A couple of weeks ago, posing as a lucky codicillionaire (the surprise beneficiary of a death-bed change of heart), I contacted a property dealer in St John's Wood, NW8, and asked if he'd like to help separate me from the sum of 5 million. And you know what? He was quite keen. The first thing I've learnt is that it's much more salubrious at the top end of the property market than in the murky lower reaches: no more scruffy Polaroids crawling out of my fax machine on their bellies. Instead, a mighty Round-- head steers his Kawasaki to my front door and thrusts a handsome parcel into my welcoming arms.

Inside is a laminated triptych, full of sensuous camerawork and flowing catch-- phrases lauding the many graces of the house on offer. Your home-to-be is presented in a variety of bashful poses: the stuccoed facade beams in the lavender twilight; the staircase is an elegant coil of polished teak; at dusk the candlelit dining-room awaits the chatter of 24; glorious sunlight cavorts in the linen purity of the breakfast area; in the mossy garden the dawn steals majestically over the master shed; and so on.

Having selected two or three Byzantine monsters, I call my tout - Nick Ritzler and we arrange a viewing.

On the nether side of Hampstead Heath, I find myself in Sheldon Avenue, one of London's most prestigious dead-ends. It's a peaceful lane, full of sprawling villas built in the 1920s. Outside an ambassadorial-- style residence (offers in excess of 3 million), I await Mr Ritzler. And here he comes, his Mercedes staff car spitting gravel in all directions as he sweeps to a halt and clambers out. Blue-eyed and broad-- shouldered, in a towering greatcoat, he strides towards me, every inch the conquering gauleiter in the middle of a busy blitzkrieg. `Let's go in,' he shouts. I'm already obeying orders.

A stooping Bengali ushers us in from the cold. Evidently the owner is absent and this is the ethnic cleanser. The ground floor looks like a casino: everything that's not made of marble is made of cow. My feet crackle with static on the spongy carpets. An old barn-door smothered in Ronseal makes a handy table for some lifestyle magazines and a knights-of-old chess set. I settle into a circular banquette of tanned leather - it's like sitting on a suede croissant - and glance into the garden through a wall of shivering glass. There's a treehouse, a slide and a trampoline with a puddle in it.

Along one side of the newt-green swimming-pool, a row of joke-Dickensian lampposts leads down to a mini-pavilion and a couple of decommissioned barbecues rusting hungrily in the drizzle. Beyond the boundary hedge, I can see a man with an enviably low pleasure-threshold enjoying his afternoon whacking dimpled balls across acres of groomed scrub. Ah, the delights of limitless wealth.

Gauleiter Andersen summons me upstairs and asks chattily what I'm looking for. A home or an investment? I fib to him that I redevelop pubs in the East End and, to support my claim, I start knocking thoughtfully on the plasterwork, listening like a TB specialist for the hollow noises of doom. His attitude changes instantly. I'm a fellow prospector. A co-speculator. He, too, starts knocking on walls and he becomes highly animated when we emerge on to the `deceptively small' attic floor. He suggests smashing down various partitions, replacing the gabled roof with dormer-windows (whatever they are), and building a quartet of apartments, each with a bathtub len-suite'. …

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