Inside Chelsea: Britain’s Wealthiest Borough – 7 September 2020 – 7/9/2020 – Monday – BBC Two
It boasts Britain’s most expensive house prices, some of its most exclusive shops and annual salaries that are three times the national average. What is it like to be wealthy in London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – a borough with one of the biggest wealth gaps in the country? Intrepid journalist and presenter Mehreen Baig wants to find out. She grew up in Tottenham – just a few stops away on the tube, but light years away in terms of wealth.
Mehreen’s guide is a true Chelsea insider. Amanda Eliasch made much of her fortune in a divorce from her billionaire husband 14 years ago. She is also a successful photographer whose address book reads like a who’s who of affluent influencers. Amanda achieved notoriety in 2019 when she hired an auction house to dispose of the items in her wardrobe – all 700 of them, including 250 pairs of designer shoes. Centrepiece of the sale was her collection of four leather sex chairs, complete with stirrups, worth £10,000 each.
Taken under Amanda’s wing, ferried to exclusive events and introduced to a selection of Chelsea’s notoriously private wealthy residents, Mehreen enters a world of larger-than-life personalities, conspicuous wealth and unfiltered opinions about the state of the nation, many of which radically oppose her own.
On arrival at Amanda’s house, her stylist whips Mehreen’s hair into an elegant do and helps her pick out a designer hat. Amanda is taking Mehreen to tea party with a difference – there is no tea, only champagne. This is just one of many events Amanda is attending today. She intends to stay for no more than around 20 minutes, to see and be seen.
With sophisticated Amanda as her guide, Mehreen, who still lives at home with her parents, is invited to a private lunch at Amanda’s house. It is a casual but stylish affair, dished up in Amanda’s mirrored dining room by her butler. The guest list includes celebrated painter Howard Morgan, famous for his portraits of the upper crust, satirical photographer Alison Jackson, the artist behind outrageous images of Donald Trump, Madonna and the British royal family, and interior designer to the rich and famous Nicky Haslam. Nicky regales the lunch party with what, in his opinion, constitutes posh and what is common. He reserves a particular disdain for the ‘common’ recreational pursuit of swimming with dolphins.
At London Fashion week, Amanda introduces Mehreen to George Blodwell, former model and one-time stylist to Rod Stewart, and steers them to the best seats in the house – right next to the catwalk – despite not even having a ticket.
What does this eclectic mix of Kensington and Chelsea residents think about social mobility, wealth and community in their neighbourhood? As they discuss their values and attitudes to success and family, Amanda expresses her opinion that not everyone has talent and thus the ability to make millions.
There is another side to Chelsea. Alison Jackson, who as well as being a famous photographer is also a Conservative local government councillor, takes Mehreen to the World’s End estate, where the average household income is tiny by comparison with that of many of those living just across the road. Alison thinks it is inspiring for the less well-off to live side by side with their affluent neighbours. The uniqueness of Chelsea, she believes, stems in part from its diversity of architecture, social groups and personal wealth.
Mehreen also meets Evgeny Chichvarkin and his partner Tatiana – Russian emigres and relative newcomers to the Chelsea scene. Evgeny was once Russia’s richest man under the age of 30. He made his fortune in the mobile phone industry before fleeing the country to start a new life here, after the authorities in Moscow put the squeeze – unfairly, he alleges – on his business activities. Tatiana’s childhood was very different to the one she is now able to give her own child.
The duo rebuilt their fortune in London by launching a high-end restaurant and wine and spirit boutique. Mehreen is escorted to their locked wine cellar where – very briefly – she is allowed to hold a bottle of wine dating from the late 19th century. The price? Just under £100,000.
After her adventure inside Britain’s wealthiest borough, how does Mehreen feel about the luxury and glamour she has witnessed? Reflecting upon the lifestyles and opinions of her extraordinary hosts, what hope does she have that the wealth gap can ever be narrowed?
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