Picture above : The Batcave.
Picture bellow : Emma Sherrard Matthew, chief executive of Quintessentially. Members shell out £24,000 a year upfront for the service, and there’s a waiting list to join in London.
It might be hard, but try to imagine you’re a billionaire who suddenly “needs” a pet jellyfish, or you’re the scion of an uber-wealthy family and have a sudden urge to convert one of your many spare rooms into a Batcave. There’s only one person to call (possibly on your batphone).
Emma Sherrard Matthew, chief executive of Quintessentially, a concierge company for millionaires, promises that she can get you anything your heart desires – from help with your children’s homework to buying your partner the perfect birthday present, or even organising your marriage proposal – if you are rich enough.
Most of the requests are for tables at the hippest fully-booked restaurants or tickets to sold-out events.
But occasionally Matthew is pushed to deliver on the company motto that “nothing is too big or too small (as long as it is legal)”.
Recent demands from members, who shell out £24,000-a-year for the privilege, have stretched from persuading a world-class tenor to perform at an intimate surprise party to sending a circus troupe to a child’s birthday in Dublin – both tasks a doddle compared with the jellyfish and batcave.
Matthew’s team of 1,000 fixers – managed from Quintessentially’s grand townhouse headquarters among the embassies of Portland Place – were given half a day to find the pet jellyfish when a member suddenly decided that medusozoa were this season’s absolute must-have accessory.
The fixers, who are hired on the basis of their connections, convinced the manager of an aquarium to personally install the tank and jellyfish and give the proud new owner a 30-minute lecture on the difficulties of keeping a jellyfish healthy at home.
An “elite” Quintessentially “lifestyle manager” was seconded to oversee the Batcave project from start to finish. Top-name landscape architects and interior designers were hired to create an “authentic-looking Batcave” reached, naturally, through a secret door from the library.
Despite the hefty membership fee, which must be paid up front each year and is equivalent to the cost of employing a personal assistant, Matthew says the promise to be a billionaire’s “little best friend in your top pocket” has proved immensely popular.
There’s a waiting list to join as a member in London because the company – established by Ben Elliot, a nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, and two friends in 2000 – has capped membership in the UK at 5,000.
Matthew says people are queueing up to have access to her “super-well connected” team, which can get you into “the best nightclubs, the best restaurants and get you access to sporting events around the world”.
When a spot in the club opens up, membership does not necessarily go to the next in line.
Potential members have to be mega-rich to join, but Matthew believes it’s vulgar to enquire about someone’s wealth. “We don’t ask them what’s in their bank account. We don’t do credit checks,” she says. “But by asking intelligent questions we get an idea of their net worth.”
Once membership is granted, clients are interviewed so that the company knows what members might like before they even ask for it. “We profile them when they join to find out how they travel, how many homes they have around the world and how they wish to use us as a service.”
She says the key selling point of the service is the links her team build with the maitre d’s at top restaurants, theatre managers, ticket agents (both official and black market) and even the admissions officers at top private schools. “We’ve got incredible relationships with the key people that are there. They help get us access.” It is for those links and that access, Matthew says, that her members – who include Jemima Khan, Sophie Dahl and Tatjana von Bismarck – are really paying. For help with their everyday lives, she explains, most of her clients have a PA (if not several).
“Let’s say you’re a billionaire with an army of people around you. A lot of assistants don’t necessarily fly with them. Their assistants are still in Hong Kong. Maybe they’ve never been to London before but they want to get into the Wolseley or another great restaurant or night club,” she says. “How much easier to call your elite account manager here, who can meet you off the plane and chauffeur you around and be your support on the ground.”
The company has expanded to New York, Hong Kong, Russia, Dubai and a dozen other locations, and is now following the money trail to developing countries. Offices have recently opened in Nigeria, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The latest project is Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, where a mining boom is under way. The city has been dubbed the “Kuwait of Central Asia”.
Luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Emporio Armani and Burberry have opened stores there and Porsches and Hummers cruise the streets. “They need us,” Matthew explains. “Mongolians are travelling now and they want to know where to go and what to see.”
Oligarchs and their pampered offspring are also a growing market for Quintessentially’s army of young fixers, who sit eating their Boots £3.29 meal deal sandwiches at their desks while booking tropical holidays for their super-rich clients.
Matthew has hired 20 Russian speakers to a dedicated and expanding Russia desk, in the grade-II listed London headquarters designed and built by Robert Adam. The team helps new Russian members “find the very best properties, advice and support on leading London schools and tutors for their children, and sourcing Russian speaking staff, especially nannies, for their home”.
Other popular requests from the oligarch set include “daily private jet travel” between Moscow and London.
What next? Matthew is, as always, following the money – and that means new, dedicated Chinese and Arabic-speaking desks in London.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010