Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Risky Business

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Risky Business

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLOTTE EAGER

There's a seedy air to 33 Portland Place. At first glance, the Robert Adam entrance hall looks grand, with its stone floors, high ceilings and Chinese vases large enough for hide and seek; but the paint on the wainscoting is peeling and the eau de nil walls have a grimy tinge. Outside, the window boxes are flaking and a large crack runs down to the area steps.

This Mayfair pile is the London base of 40-year-old Eddie Davenport. Tall, slim and Draculine despite the constant tan, Davenport, a property developer, tells people he divides his time between Monaco, where he says he's a tax exile, Jersey, and this beautiful Georgian house, just opposite the BBC's Broadcasting House. It used to be the High Commission of Sierra Leone.

In 1999, Davenport managed to acquire the 28-year lease from the Sierra Leonean government for [pounds sterling]50,000, although the six-floor building has since been valued at more than [pounds sterling]20 million. At the time, Sierra Leone was in the middle of a civil war; the roof leaked, the diplomats apparently could not afford basic repairs to the building, and they themselves hadn't been paid for months.

Now Davenport, with his penchant for sharp suits and Rolex watches, holds court in its Adam saloon. It's a suitably grand setting for a man who claims to be worth nearly [pounds sterling]200 million, calls himself 'Lord' Davenport, even though he has no right to the title, and likes to think he moves in internationally glittery circles.

The Sierra Leone High Commission sued Davenport for the return of the property. They claimed that he had promised to spend millions restoring the building to its former glory, then the High Commission would move back into the ground floor and basement, while he kept the rest. Instead, Davenport moved in, fixed the roof, did a few basic repairs and refused to budge.

'The Sierra Leone government tried to prove there was an agreement between me and the former High Commissioner to defraud the contract, but it was a complicated property transaction,' he now says, on the phone from Monaco.

'It was in a substantial state of disrepair. It was during the coup and the High Commission had literally no cash. I was under obligation to negotiate the best deal for my company. I don't think anybody would turn down something like that if someone offered to sell it to you for 50 grand.' There is even a story that Davenport gave the High Commissioner a [pounds sterling]250,000 backhander for the property. Davenport laughs: 'There are lots of stories: that one; one in which I won it in a game of cards; none of them is true.' Davenport finally agreed to pay the Sierra Leone government a 'substantial' sum. 'They occupied another property of mine in Oxford Street. I paid them to vacate the building and they bought the freehold of another near Holborn.' Edward, as he now prefers to be called, got to keep the house, where he lives, surrounded by a bizarre coterie of lodgers. He rents out the place for events and photo shoots, organisers of which love its air of dilapidated grandeur. After the decision, Eddie was seen publicly celebrating his victory in Monaco with celebrity friends Jean-Claude Van Damme, Pink and Macy Gray.

'Eddie's friends are mainly celebrities, such as Hugh Grant, Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, the Primrose Hill set and the Beckhams. There are photos of them everywhere,' says Jenny Sutcliffe, a 19-year-old model and aspiring singer, who lived in Eddie's mews house at the back of Portland Place earlier this year, before moving in with her boyfriend, 48-year-old 'Lord' Colin Campbell (she says he's related to the Duke of Argyll - there's no record of this person in Debrett's).

Earlier this year Eddie was in trouble again. He recently had to settle a case over another property in the Cromwell Road, the former home of the Hudson nightclub, and Eddie's former business partner, Abdullah Faisal. …

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