Iceberg basements: the sign we've hit 'peak rich'

London's super-basements for the super-rich

'Iceberg basements' can see property owners excavate up to three stories underground but some London boroughs are now outlawing these called mega basements. Video: Bloomberg

The rich have always been different. We get it. We're used to them with their billion-dollar yachts, Swarovski-encrusted prams and million-dollar sable coats.

Or so we thought. Because the modern super-rich are really something else.

Take the bubble-bath tycoon who is demolishing his house in London's Primrose Hill in order to build what will be the city's biggest "iceberg basement" (so named for being typically larger than the home that sits above).

This particular "extension" is 61 metres long. It will include a Roman bath, a Turkish bath, a sauna, a plunge pool, a Jacuzzi, a 20-metre swimming pool - and those are just the bits involving water. There will also be a juice bar.

Usually, when you are gawping slack-jawed at these basement plans, it is the hair salon with the double sinks that causes the most eye rolling. But this poolside juice bar, buried under a London residential street, marks the moment when everyone knew we had hit Peak Rich.

Not so long ago, a senselessly rich man couldn't wait to get out into the world and behave like Gatsby on Red Bull.

It's not just the astonishing outlay - spending £50 million ($93 million) on a house that cost  £15 million ($28 million) - that's the game-changer. It's not even the siege mentality; the rich have lived in fortresses for centuries.

Self-sufficient bunkers

What's different now is the determination of the rich to create self-sufficient worlds, soulless subterranean bunkers that they need never leave to walk the streets of the neighbourhoods they chose to live in (they might as well be under a car park in Croydon). No one would be surprised to discover these bunkers have their own air supply, water source and operating theatres. This lot aren't coming out - for anything.

Not so long ago, a senselessly rich man couldn't wait to get out into the world and behave like Gatsby on Red Bull. He'd be swanking around town in his chauffeur-driven Bentley - top down, dollies in the back - in search of hostelries specialising in food smothered in gold and pyramid-stacked champagne saucers. His property portfolio would include one country house at the end of a long drive (to beat the noise restrictions) and one somewhere hot, such as Mexico, where he would fly in all his friends, once a year, for one of those rich-people parties. You know. The ones where Abba re-forms for the night, Banksy does body painting, and the fireworks go on for a day and interrupt the turtle-mating season.

Beyond rich

That's the kind of stupidly rich we understand. Sparkling water in the lavatory cisterns. Helipads on the roof. Baths made out of rock crystal. Even when it's ugly, massive wealth is dazzling and entertaining - that's the whole point. You are meant to observe the very rich at play and be amazed, appalled and sometimes envious. You are supposed to think, "Silly sods. But, ooh, I wouldn't say no to a bit of Chanel couture". 


When we imagine what we're going to do with our lottery winnings it involves a very big house and a very large party, possibly with Adele singing and Brad Pitt serving his own Miraval rosè (Angelina being too busy to attend), and everyone you love having money-no-object fun. We're only human.

But this lot aren't human. Or entertaining. Because all the entertaining they're doing is out of sight, underground. They aren't going into the garden, let alone a restaurant. Maybe they get out to the park, but probably not. Who needs a park when you've got a state-of-the-art treadmill with birdsong on a loop? This is the joyless face of the modern rich. We don't envy it any more. We have seen the light - which is more than they can say.

The Telegraph, London