Private members’ club playdates, bespoke designer wardrobes and a personal bodyguard… Sadie Nicholas gets a peek into the rarefied life of a billionaire’s child.
When personal bodyguard Leanne* arrived to meet her client one afternoon, she was informed of an impromptu change of plan. The chauffeur would not be driving them home; instead they’d be boarding the family’s private jet to Paris where a Stella McCartney jacket (which was sold out in London) was waiting for the client to collect.
What makes this story more jaw-dropping is that Leanne’s client was not, as you may imagine, an international pop star or an uber-rich businesswoman. She was a teenager who’d just finished an afternoon at school.
‘She told me: “I really want this jacket, the Paris store has it in stock, my jet’s at the airport on standby, let’s go!” So off we went,’ explains Leanne, who is in her 30s and works for London close-protection experts Blackstone Consultancy (blackstoneconsultancy.com). ‘I had another similar situation recently when the son of a wealthy client decided on a Saturday morning that he wanted to jet to Spain to watch Barcelona play football the same day,’ Leanne adds.
Welcome to the secret inner sanctum of ultra-wealthy children. While most youngsters spend their spare time on playdates at friends’ houses or at birthday parties in village halls, the children of the super-rich are more likely to hang out in private members’ clubs and swish hotels – with a retinue of staff in tow.
‘Some of the families I’ve worked with have an extensive entourage. Each child can have their own close-protection officer, plus a personal nanny and tutors,’ adds Leanne.
But the sense of entitlement some of them feel can spill over into something unpleasant. Take, for example, Leanne’s colleague, who was fired by a 12-year-old boy because she wouldn’t let him stop for a burger after school one day.
‘He manipulated his mother into agreeing to his demands that his bodyguard be sacked,’ Leanne adds. ‘But I don’t always think poor behaviour is because they’re rich – it’s often simply because they’re children and they push boundaries that are relevant in their own world.’
And that particular world is growing at a considerable rate. The number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals – those with assets of more than £26.5 million – rose by six per cent during 2019 to 513,244 globally, and by four per cent to 14,400 in the UK, according to a report by property consultant Knight Frank. So it’s no surprise that careers to ‘serve’ this demographic are also booming.
Close-protection officers – or bodyguards – were once the preserve of royals, diplomats and A-list celebrities but are now in high demand with families who have the same worries for their children’s safety as we ordinary mortals. The difference is they also have the cash to invest in protection from knife crime and other violent attacks.
‘Celebrities tend to like a status-symbol Hollywood-style bodyguard by their side, who stands out because they’re big, burly, suited and booted, with dark glasses and an earpiece,’ says Leanne. ‘Ultra-wealthy families prefer discretion and for the person in charge of their children’s safety to blend in, hence there’s an overdue demand for female close-protection officers right now. In skinny jeans, a sweater and trainers I can pass for a nanny, personal assistant or relative at the school gates or in play parks. The only people who would spot the mannerisms that define me as a bodyguard are others within the industry.’
Leanne’s 20-year career in close protection has taken her around the world, including to many hostile environments, but latterly she’s worked predominantly with private families.
Typically, she can earn between £60,000 and £100,000 a year, and it’s not unusual for her to be tipped £1,000 cash at the end of a contract. She accompanies clients everywhere, from the school run to family holidays in New York, South Africa and the Maldives.
Still, glamorous as it sounds, she’s not there to enjoy the sunshine or the sights. Her remit is security, assessing potential dangers and planning exit strategies for all eventualities.
‘The irony is that these children are surrounded by staff and yet so often they’re lonely,’ she reveals. ‘They get invited to parties in luxury hotels or private members’ clubs, but they just want to go to the park on their bike like other kids.
‘They crave their parents’ time but are often raised by the family’s staff. I’ve seen young children reject their parents when they are around because they’re like strangers.’ Some families insist that Leanne is not hands-on with the children she’s employed to protect, and she’s even been forbidden from making eye contact with mothers. ‘That’s challenging, because I need to have a rapport with the children so that they trust me if I say we need to exit a situation quickly and without fuss for their own safety,’ she explains. ‘It can be difficult for them, too, because most young kids naturally want you to play with them, especially if we’re in a park or swimming pool.
‘I’ve worked with children who could have anything they want, but they tell me they’re bored, and I can see why. Ordinary people like me have goals and dreams and get excited about going on holiday. But if you can have anything at the click of a finger, it’s devoid of the thrill of saving up pocket money or having to wait till Christmas for a special gift.’
Former primary-school teacher turned private tutor Victoria Ademosu agrees with this. Since her first overseas tutoring assignment in 2010 with a super-rich family in the South of France, her work has taken her everywhere from Madrid to Dubai, and even aboard a yacht on the Mediterranean. Her clients are typically the children of billionaire businessmen and women, royalty, politicians and celebrities, and she earns a minimum of £1,000 a week for a couple of hours of tutoring per day when she travels abroad. ‘Thankfully, the majority are relatively well-behaved, but I have witnessed some very entitled behaviour,’ says Victoria, 32, who lives in Bedfordshire with her husband and toddler and is founder of The Tutoress (thetutoress.com).
‘I was shocked when I first met one former student who was only nine yet had an entourage of staff including a nanny, driver, PA and bag carrier – and brought them everywhere with her. They were petrified of upsetting her and she would constantly tell them what to do. One of my former male students used to order the housekeeper around, treating her like dirt and calling her names.
‘Wealthy children don’t hear “no” often, which means they expect everyone around them to do as they say or give in to their demands.’
In those cases, Victoria says the parents are usually to blame because they outsource their responsibilities and spend little time with their children. ‘I’ve had clients whose children I taught for years but I only ever met the house manager because the parents were never around. I’ve worked with children who know their behaviour is unacceptable but don’t care because they’ve never been disciplined by a parent. Conversely, the children of some of my most affluent clients are exceedingly well-mannered, courteous, kind, genuinely want to know more about the world and are a credit to their parents.’
Impeccable manners are something that author and etiquette expert Diana Mather (@DianaMather) has been teaching for decades. Now she works with the children of ultra-high-net-worth families aged six to 16, in the UK and globally, seeing them in private clubs, hotels or their own homes. ‘In my experience, the longer a family has had money the better, as they tend to have been taught manners through the generations.
‘It’s the families with newer money that are more problematic,’ says Diana, whose book Manners Through The Ages will be published later this year.
‘Many children from very wealthy families aren’t pulled up on bad behaviour or manners because they’re looked after by staff who are employed to do everything for them,’ adds Diana. ‘You can tell which children’s parents are involved more because they’re more obedient and secure. I teach all my students that how they behave when they travel presents an image of their country to others.’
With housekeepers, nannies, bodyguards, chefs, chauffeurs and tutors, what more help could wealthy children and their parents possibly need? Step forward Tiffany Norris, the UK’s first mummy concierge (themummyconcierge.com), with clients who don’t flinch at spending up to £50,000 on a child’s birthday party. Whether you want your hospital labour suite filled with Egyptian-cotton sheets and Jo Malone London candles ahead of giving birth, or your holiday villa baby-proofed in advance of your arrival, she’s your right-hand woman – with fees starting from £40 an hour.
‘Having a mummy concierge is the next tick on the status-symbol list that says to the outside world, “I’ve done really well,”’ explains Tiffany, who grew up in Chelsea and now lives in the Cotswolds with her two young children.
‘Many of my clients fly me first-class to their holiday villas to organise the likes of high chairs, potty steps and fridges full of baby milk and food. Increasingly, I get lists from clients’ children of the things they want at the villa.
‘Many a time I’ve been running around shops in Ibiza and Dubai buying up the latest Lego and must-have toys.’
As Tiffany says, it’s easy to judge these children and their parents and assume that they are spoilt. ‘To the average person it sounds ridiculous to have endless staff serving your children, but in certain circles it’s normal and what everyone else is doing.’
Good with (rich) kids?
Here’s what you could earn
Bodyguard: It’s your job to shadow a child at all times, from school runs to five-star holidays. Earnings: up to £100,000 a year.
Private tutor: You need to help your charge get their grades, be it teaching them online, at their home or travelling with them. Earnings: up to £80 an hour in the UK. Can be £1,000 a week for overseas jobs.
Personal concierge: You are on call, either at home or travelling with your client, to do everything from throw a lavish kids’ party to sorting out holiday essentials. Earnings: from £40 an hour.
Chauffeur: As well as driving your client around in a luxury vehicle, you have to clean it, too. And be on call for impromptu trips. Earnings: around £26,000 a year.
Etiquette expert: Teaching kids manners and confidence around others. Earnings: up to £500 an hour for one-to-one coaching.