Take a moment, if you would, to pity the derided billionaire class. I have been watching them with keen interest on television. And based on my viewing, I can tell you that life at the top is miserable, boring and fraught.
One program features private islands, where the unimaginably rich get away from it all. But part of what the unimaginably rich get away from is the unimaginable loneliness of being stuck in unimaginable isolation. When the hideaway-from-it-all has been furnished in unimaginable opulence, the favored one is off to another home in so-close-to-it-all New York, London, Palm Beach or Aspen. Anywhere you can while away the day with a Bloomberg Terminal.
Why, you ask, do those who want to get away from it all and protect their privacy favor their New York residences over their other five homes? Call it Greta Garbo Syndrome. “I want to be left alone,” she said. Had she not heard of Nebraska?
From this you can deduce that those who are rich beyond counting, but count anyway, do not want to be left alone at all. They long for control — and you do not control much staring at your Impressionist masterpieces on your private island in the Bahamas.
Apparently, the super ridiculously rich yearn to entertain. One television program on buying mega-yachts reveals all. The purchasers are prepared to plunk down around $70 million for what they seem to think is a floating hotel suite. They do not want to know about the yacht’s seaworthiness, crew requirement, propulsion, fuel consumption and range. No, they want to know how much closet space there is in the master stateroom (For what on a boat? Presumably, haute couture gowns and bespoke suits, and handmade deck shoes.)
And they want to know much deck space there is to entertain. Maybe they’re not planning to leave the dock in Ft. Lauderdale, Martha’s Vineyard, or wherever. A mega yacht is not for ocean voyaging. The captain will take the watery penthouse to Monaco or Bali. You will go in the private jet.
Friends, it appears, are a particular problem for those beyond the dreams of avarice. Ever since Lady Astor and her famous dining room that seated 400, it will not do to have fewer than 400 friends. But they have to be the right friends: people famous in the arts or the very top of the media, like Charlie Rose. I hear he is on every list. Ordinary people will not do. If you are rich enough, people will always want to be your friend. Ask Donald Trump.
One billionaire babe told me, “I only lunch with,” and she named another billionaire babe, “Everyone else just wants money.” How perceptive from someone who inherited a great fortune. We assume she is not parting with any of it — especially to some lunch supplicant.
No, the places where the ungodly rich load up on friends is at charity balls. “Darling, we’ve just snapped up a charming little place in the Hamptons. You must copter out.” Translation: Don’t you dare show your face, but tell everyone else about our 16-bedroom, 20-bathroom, beachfront monument to vulgarity.
If you have it all, you want to keep it always. You are obsessed with age. Age means health must come first. Those who have not in their luxurious boredom fallen prey to drugs and booze are in the thralls of life-extension through diet and exercise.
Once in a café on the main street in Aspen, I watched a famous and indecently rich and thin matron inquire of the server, “Are your muffins sweetened with apple juice or sugar?”
“Apple juice, ma’am,” the young man responded.
“I will take one,” she said.
When she left the café, I asked how the young man knew about the muffin’s sweetener.
“I don’t,” he said. “But I know what she wants to hear.”
Trickery is another burden on the ultra rich.
Llewellyn King is a Rhode Island- and Washington, D.C.-based publisher, columnist and executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS (and a friend of New England Diary's overseer). This column first ran on InsideSources.