And then there was one: the last inhabitant of Bond Street | west end

FFrom his vantage point of the oriel windows of his Bond Street apartment, Oli Claridge has a breathtaking view of the super-rich going about their business. In London’s most opulent shopping street, where £ 1bn is spent annually, that might involve picking out a £ 5,000 handbag, trying on a £ 3million diamond ring, bidding on a Mercury Cougar used in a James Bond movie or sipping pink champagne. mid-morning as impeccable salespeople flit.

Claridge is part of this world and is separate from it. “I’m a bit of an anomaly,” he said. “Lower the tone. “

Thanks to a protected lease inherited from his father, Claridge is the last inhabitant of Bond Street, alone among the showcases of brands such as Dior, Cartier and Asprey. “It’s a bit lonely, especially last year. There is no community. There are pubs west of Bond Street, but they are pubs for workers, ”he told the Observer.

A garden designer – ‘a seasonal job, a lot of hand to mouth’ – who grew up in a Scottish village, Claridge is both amused and amused by the world literally on her doorstep. “At the end of the most recent lockdown, there were queues of people outside of Tiffany. I mean they have all that money but they still had to queue on the street.

“None of these international brands are making any money with these stores because the rents are huge. But they absolutely must have a Bond Street address.

In 2019, Bond Street, between Oxford Street and Piccadilly, was the most expensive street in Europe for retail rental, and the third most expensive in the world after Causeway Bay in Hong Kong and Upper Fifth Avenue in New York.

Shoppers walk past the designer boutiques on Bond Street, where even high-end brands can’t afford the rent, but feel they must be present here. Photograph: Mike Kemp / Getty

The bonus was “because of its worldwide fame among luxury retailers, who perceive representation here, alongside other locations in New York, Paris and Tokyo, … as the key to success,” said Peter Mace from Cushman & Wakefield real estate consulting firm. Retail Gazette.

A television documentary, Billion Pound Bond Street, which airs on ITV on June 10, offers a behind-the-scenes look at this world of “fabulous bling and ambitious luxury,” according to Bafta-winner director Michael Waldman.

“I was delighted to find the only inhabitant of the street, a man who is not exactly a fish out of water, as he actually belongs quite fabulously to the history and character of the neighborhood, but who is a maverick in this world of brands. He does not share the desire [for luxury] but he’s not outraged by that, he’s just saying, ‘isn’t that weird?’, “Waldman told the Observer.

Claridge moved into the apartment – once inhabited by Guy Burgess of the infamous Cambridge spy ring – 20 years ago, and inherited the lease in 2006 upon his father’s death. “We used to have neighbors, but not anymore. The astronomical cost of Bond Street ownership has ruled out anything but commercial rentals to high-end businesses, he says.

Nelson, Handel and Jimi Hendrix were among the historical residents of the area’s architectural splendours, as well as London’s highest paid sex workers. “There was a red light district just around the corner. Bond St used to be rough around the edges, but not anymore. I wish it was a little harder, ”says Claridge.

But, he adds, there are “quite a few” homeless people. “A lot of people who work in the area regularly gave them money but, during the lockdown, their income was lost because there was no one here.” The gangs were also “pushing people out of their place,” he says.

A nearly deserted Bond Street, displaying banners of thanks for essential workers during the lockdown.
A nearly deserted Bond Street, displaying banners of thanks for essential workers during the lockdown. Photograph: Tim Ayers / Alamy

Despite growing inequality, with the wealth of the super-rich estimated to have increased by 25% during the pandemic, Claridge does not judge people who spend thousands of pounds on fashion brands, or hundreds of thousands on luxury cars. , or even millions on diamonds. “The morals of others are their business. But there is an ethical question of how much tax some of these companies pay because many of them are registered in Switzerland. People should be paying taxes, but they’re clever not to. If you’re rich enough to spend £ 4000 on a purse, you probably have a really good accountant.

Inequality and poverty are “not acceptable”, he said. “You don’t see much of it on Bond Street. A few kilometers away, there are children who do not have enough to eat.

He knows Boris Johnson “vaguely” from his old friend, the Prime Minister’s sister Rachel, he says. “Boris came down from Bond Street a few years ago, he recognized me and said, ‘Oli, can I count on your vote? “. I said ‘nobody ever told you you were a conservative?’ He laughed – he had a sense of humor then, which maybe slipped a bit. “

Claridge, who spent the last week on retirement in Dorset, has not seen the Waldman documentary and says he likely won’t watch it when it airs. His apartment lease has six years to go, but he doesn’t know where it will go when it expires. “I can’t afford to live anywhere else,” he says.

If he had some of the wealth he sees splashing on Bond Street, what would he do with it? “I would buy land and plant trees,” he said without hesitating for a second.

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About Jennifer Amaro

Jennifer Amaro

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