Written by Keith Perry, Sunday Express
Sunday, 30 October 2005
RUSSIAN billionaires are so obsessed with our Royal Family they are queuing up to hire Princess Diana's old London home for parties - so they can have a taste of living like Her Majeski.
Kensington Palace, the former home of Princess Diana, is reaping rich rewards from a tide of Russian affluence that is earning the capital city the title of "Moscow on Thames".
There is no shortage of Russians prepared to pay up to £25,000-a-time to hire the palace's royal banqueting hall for lavish parties and wedding receptions as a way of impressing their Beluga caviar-loving friends and business associates.
Thousands of Russians have flocked to London since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of them struck it extremely rich as the communist regime gave way to capitalism and are wasting no opportunities to splash their roubles in one of the world's greatest capitals. Now a whole network is emerging to help them lighten the weight of their wallets.
Anyone who is anyone in Moscow is here." said Marina Starkova, director of Red Square, a London-based public relations and event-planning company catering to wealthy Russians.
"I tell my clients that if they want to hire Kensington Palace and dine like a member of the Royal Family I can easily arrange it for them.
"Russian people love the British Royal Family and are fascinated by English aristocracy. They are also happy to spend, spend, spend.
"We got rid of our own royal family nearly 100 years ago, so now many young wealthy Russians want to sample the life of your Royal Family."
Earlier this year Ms Starkova helped organise an intimate party for 70 Russians at Kensington Palace, with Liza Minelli flown in to provide the entertainment. Not only do Marina's clients enjoy London's safety and the UK's favourable tax laws for off-shore investments, they are also attracted by the city's relative proximity to Moscow.
It is just three hours 20 minutes away by scheduled plane and even less by private Learjet.
Kensington Palace, with its strong connection with the world-famous iconic figure of Princess Diana, is proving an ideal venue for their private and corporate functions.
It is now run by Historic Royal Palaces, a charity set up to conserve and adapt for public use palaces no longer providing homes for the Royal Family, along with Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kew Palace and Banqueting House Whitehall.
According to Royal Palaces spokeswoman Natasha Woollard, clients can include international charities as well as companies and private individuals from Russia, the USA and Britain.
She explained: "Because it is a royal palace, security at Kensington Palace is tightly controlled and we ask for full details of guest lists.
"The Orangery is used a lot for the more creative events, fashion shows, product launches, that sort of thing, whereas various rooms inside the historic parts of Kensington Palace can be used for dinners or receptions at evenings and weekends.
"The venue hire fee is £6,500 to £25,000, the exact fee will depend on the individual event. This income goes directly back to Historic Royal Palaces charity for conserving the five palaces for future generations."
For anyone born into the bleak world of Soviet communism and raised amid grim, socialist, concrete architecture there is plenty about Kensington Palace that is bound to impress. Built originally as a private country house, it has been a royal residence for more than 300 years since its acquisition by William III and Mary II in 1689 who had it transformed into a palace by Sir Christopher Wren.
The palace was home to William and Mary, Queen Anne, George I and George II and was the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria.
The State Apartments at Kensington Palace were first opened to the public on Queen Victoria's 80th birthday, May 24 1899.
With rooms ranging from elegant grandeur to secluded intimacy, those who visit the apartments get an insight into the history and intrigue of life at the palace from 1689 to the early 19th century.
Notable among the King's Apartments is the lavishly decorated Cupola Room, where Queen Victoria was christened by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1819.
Close by is the King's Gallery built for William III in 1695 to display the finest pictures in the Royal Collection. Today it including works by Bassano and Tintoretto.
In contrast to the grandeur of the King's Apartments, the Queen's Apartments present a more intimate, private aspect of royal life at Kensington Palace with a series of small rooms used by Queen Mary II, including her dining room, bedchamber and closet. The Orangery was built for Queen Anne in 1704-5 to a design by Nicholas Hawksmoor and served as the base for court entertainment during the summer months.
With a capacity of 150 guests, the Orangery is described as providing "an enjoyable and memorable venue for summer dining".
Guests can get to discover what presentation at court meant for a young debutante in the early 20th century. With the last debutante daytime presentation occurring in 1958, the display celebrates a lost era of grand court occasions.
As part of their fee, dinner guests are also invited to experience the excitement of getting dressed for the royal court.
They can enjoy a private tour of the magnificent Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection - dating from the 18th century and including a display of dresses owned and worn by the Queen and the late Princess Diana before their reception or dinner at the palace.
And once they've dined in Kensington, the next step is to buy a home in the area. Last year a 10-bedroom mansion next door to the palace fetched more than £42million after several Russians got into a bicking war that sent its price soaring from the £36million asking price.
And if they're not buying plush homes they are splashing out on the best luxury goods the capital can provide.
Jewellery stores and outrageously expensive boutiques are now hiring Russian-speaking staff to cope with the "rouble revolution."
Alice Playle, a spokeswoman for Royal jewellers Asprey, in New Bond Street, said Russians were now the store's best customers, buying items such as £40,000 alligator bags and £100,000 diamond rings.
City officials estimate about 200,000 Russians now live in London, but others believe the number could be much higher. The Russian profile was suddenly raised two years ago when oil tycoon Roman Abramovich completed his purchase of Chelsea FC, the club into which he has since poured a further fortune.
By Keith Perry Royal Editor, Sunday Express
Oct 30 2005