Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Rich Kids Are Different; When 23-Year-Old Billionheir Jamie Johnson Made a Film about His Superrich Set, New York Society Was Divided. Ostracised by the Bluebloods, Celebrated by the Media, Manhattan's Most Scandalous Scion Gives His First British Interview to William Cash

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Rich Kids Are Different; When 23-Year-Old Billionheir Jamie Johnson Made a Film about His Superrich Set, New York Society Was Divided. Ostracised by the Bluebloods, Celebrated by the Media, Manhattan's Most Scandalous Scion Gives His First British Interview to William Cash

Article excerpt

Byline: WILLIAM CASH

It's mayhem among Manhattan's gilded youth. How could one of their own set - the heir to a global brand-name fortune - turn on them in this way?

They feel they've been stabbed in the back, exposed and betrayed. The culprit is Jamie Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. His crime? To make a documentary called Born Rich, about what he calls the 'voodoo of inherited wealth' in America, which includes interviews with his superrich young friends talking frankly about their money. The film features young heirs and heiresses, among them Georgina Bloomberg, daughter of New York Mayor and tycoon Michael, and Ivanka Trump, daughter of property developer Donald. On screen, Johnson's subjects discuss the joys and dilemmas of a famous name and billion-dollar fortune.

Ever since the first screening of the programme at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, the film has been gleefully described as a stunning act of social suicide. Twenty-three yearold Johnson's society obituary was written, with papers calling him a 'social outcast' and 'class traitor'.

Jamie was cornered at A-list debutante parties by 'packs' of Ivy League bankers and given a public dressing-down for daring to make his controversial film. Johnson, unforgivably, has broken the code of silence surrounding the vast wealth of the New York Brat Pack. Johnson told me that the idea of making the autobiographical film came out of a conversation with his uncle, the novelist and screenwriter Dirk Wittenborn, who suggested he pursue a film project that was 'personal' - his uncle is also the producer of Born Rich, which cost only $150,000 to make.

Johnson stuck to his uncle's brief: the documentary is a journey of self-discovery which starts on Johnson's 21st birthday when he pulls out a camera to record the day on which he stands to inherit more money than most people will earn in a lifetime (he is coy about the exact amount). He explains that he is making the film because he wants to try and understand why his family's wealth has been as much a curse as a blessing, in particular to his father, who has never worked in his life other than as a painter, and whose guilt and discomfort about the size of his family fortune are all too perceptible.

'There are no courses in college on how to be a happy and productive rich person. It's something you've got to find out for yourself,' says Johnson in the film. Johnson's great-grandfather founded the family fortune selling bandages and plasters from a base in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and then decreed that no Johnson would ever work for the family firm again because they would ruin the company.

Johnson's 'intensely private' father has always had a phobia about having the Johnson name dragged through the newspapers, so the recent explosion of headlines and gossipcolumn interest in his son must be especially troubling.

'He always told me, from a very early age, "Don't talk about money, deny being wealthy if people ask you,"' says Johnson. 'He was seriously against my making the film and really discouraged me from doing it. But that actually encouraged me and I thought, "This film needs to be made."' It was by no means an easy task, as Wittenborn recalls: 'It became very frustrating.

People would say they would allow an interview, and then they would call up and say, "I know this sounds pathetic for a 27-year-old to be saying, but my mother says I can't do it."' The first New York showing of the film was a huge hit. 'New Yorkers are fascinated by wealth, class and privilege. It is all they really care about,' explains Wittenborn. As a result, the screening of the film was the hottest social ticket in New York for weeks, with people on the guest list being turned away, and gangs of A-list socialites forced to sit in the aisles of the screening room.

Response to his film has been ambivalent.

While society bluebloods are livid, a more media-friendly section of Manhattan society has embraced Johnson. …

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