The five families

There are a lot of billionaires in London. A Guardian reporter and a sociologist did a walking tour of their enclaves.

We walk through Pall Mall’s clubland, with its austere buildings filled with hushed libraries and comfortable chairs to doze in, and on to Belgravia, the land of embassies, and once there to Eaton Square, which has been called Red Square, owing to the number of Russian billionaires who have homes here. They included Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska and Andrey Goncharenko. The first two have been sanctioned, but Goncharenko, CEO of a Gazprom subsidiary, who also owns the £120m Hanover Lodge in Regent’s Park, has not had his property impounded. Leasehold apartments in Eaton Square range from £2-£10m.

The square forms the centrepiece of the Grosvenor Estate, a large area of prime real estate owned by the Duke of Westminster. They may be on long leases, but all the wealthy occupants of houses and apartments around here are tenants of the 31-year-old duke, who is estimated to be worth more than £10bn, and was at one time said to be the richest person in the world under 30. This is where new money meets the very old – the oligarchy and the landed gentry.

New meets very old but whatever their age they’re basically the same thing.

“Have you noticed how every house has magnolias in their window box?” asks Knowles.

She’s right, they do. It’s a feature of the Grosvenor Estate, apparently, some kind of floral requirement. It’s one of the decorative touches that help normalise a strange legacy of the distant past. It’s now politically acceptable to feel a sense of outrage at Russians or billionaires from other nations, who took advantage of a corrupt state to gain their wealth. But of aristocrats whose forebears did something similar with land, only hundreds of years ago, we’re still in social awe.

This is what I’m saying. Old “aristocratic” money seems elevated in some way, so elevated that we don’t refer to it as “money,” but in reality it’s just the usual racket.

I was idly watching a PBS thing the other day about the “mystery” of what happened to “the Princes in the Tower” – the sons of one king who were said to have been murdered by the usurper king – and it struck me how Mafia-like it was. It gets glammed up by words like “king” and “duke” and “royal” and “nobility” but really it’s just ruthless greedy criminals fighting with other ruthless greedy criminals. Whoever wins gets the glam word King. It’s crime bosses all the way down.

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