About 20 years ago, a colleague, with tears welling in her eyes, told me I was so lucky that I didn’t have the stresses and strains she was currently suffering in her life. My heart went out to her as I waited for the big reveal and searched my soul for some ready-made words of comfort for perhaps a marriage breakdown or a serious illness.
But then: ‘It’s just so stressful, Jo, when you own several houses because they all have staff you have to deal with.’
Somehow, I managed to not roll my eyes right into the back of my skull, or laugh out loud. Because, while I was thinking, gosh, I wouldn’t mind at least trying to handle the absolute trauma of owning several houses around the world, this woman seemed genuinely flattened by whatever her ‘rich-people problem’ was.
Maybe the eye-wateringly wealthy do have crosses to bear that most of us could just never understand. In fact, over the years since that weird conversation, I have caught glimpses of the lifestyles of the super rich that do not appeal to me at all. Would I love to have my own cinema room in the house? I could learn to live with that, yes. But would I want to be the woman I know who is put off walking into her own kitchen in the morning because it’s crawling with staff from about 6am? Not so much. The lifestyle that seems to be demanded of many rich folk also seems a big effort to me, like the couple I know who host formal, 8-12 seat dinners at their home several nights a week. They insist they love it. I’d honestly rather die.
I once worked on a magazine story where ex-wives and girlfriends spilled the beans on what it’s really like to be the partner of a billionaire. There wasn’t one of them who didn’t make it sound like less of a relationship and more of a gruelling full-time job. My favourite story was about the woman whose very rich partner insisted they always travel separately. The reason? He wouldn’t tolerate the sight of her straight off a long-haul flight. He didn’t feel he should have to suffer any trace of puffy eyes or swollen ankles and so demanded she fly ahead and get ready to receive him once she was rested, coiffed and glossed to perfection. I guess when you’re part of the one per cent club, you tend to feel entitled to absolutely everything and everyone bending to your every egomaniacal whim.
But, as you’ll see here, rich people’s problems really get ugly when it comes to divorces. No one is immune to the emotional fallout of a marriage breakdown. But when the super rich start screaming at each other about who gets to keep the million-pound collection of handbags? They may just have to forgive the rest of us for having a hollow little chuckle. My former colleague is right, I truly don’t understand how hard life is for the rich. Our extraordinary report made me feel a bit better about that today. I hope you enjoy it and the rest of the issue.
A few things I’m coveting this week