I’ve been coming to London since (I’m mortified to admit) the 60s. I’ve been there perhaps 20 times. It’s one of my five top cities in the world (New York, Hong Kong, Venice, San Francisco), I’ve belonged to a gambling club there for 30 years, and I know the place well.
And it has metamorphosed.
This is no longer the capital of England. It is the meeting place and juncture for the world’s great wealth. The money here is Russian, Middle Eastern, Israeli, American, Chinese, and from a dozen other sources. You compete here not with the English, but with the wealthiest people in the world. Some are permanent, some are transient, but their presence is overwhelming. It has only the faintest resemblance to the rest of the realm.
There are apartments in Mayfair, Knightsbridge, and a few other places that sell for 150 million pounds. That is just shy of $300 million, and there are people who own several. That market is very active, it’s hard to find property, and prices keep increasing.
At my favorite restaurant in my home town, you might see my Bentley and two others at the curb on a weekend. Walking out of Scott’s on Mount Street in Mayfair on Thursday, there were nine within three blocks. Ferraris are as common as Porsches are in the states.
In my hotel, the Café Royal in the middle of Piccadilly, cereal or some eggs at breakfast costs about $45. It’s tough to get out of a cab and pay a fare of less than about $25. I was in Beijing late last year, then Hong Kong, and I’ve been to 60 countries. London’s prices are up at the top.
London has become a city/state, like modern Singapore, or long-ago Genoa and Venice. I can see it, like Singapore separating from Malaysia some time ago, departing from England and the United Kingdom. It has become a world city, not an English one, and a power unto itself. A client took me to the most exclusive club in London, 5 Hertford, where American movie stars, Russian oligarchs, Spanish royalty, and Arabian princes mingle. He was a charter member. “You may be talking to the only Englishman in the place,” he observed, not really in jest.
Here’s to London, a global city. I’ll be back in September. When it proclaims itself a separate entity, I wonder if the Queen will have to make a choice between being Queen of London or Queen of England, with the latter requiring a palace in Liverpool or Manchester, but no longer in London.
I imagine if that came to pass, Buckingham Palace would be snapped up for a cool trillion in no time at all.
© Alan Weiss 2014