It used to be a point of pride – or a point of estate agents’ patter – to have a famous person in the neighbourhood, but for well-heeled Londoners, having a celebrity in your backyard is worse than wind turbines, Japanese knotweed and a third runway put together, it seems. The problem is, London’s mansions are no longer proportionate to celebrities’ egos. Well-appointed homes that once adequately housed the capital’s great, good and just plain loaded are now judged rather pokey, which means an awful lot of building work, and an awful lot of grief for the neighbours – who often turn out to be other celebrities.
As a result, once-respectable postcodes are starting to look like a horrific mashup of Grand Designs, Neighbours From Hell and Stella Street. Such as Holland Park, where Robbie Williams’s plans to add a huge basement to Michael Winner’s former home (it’s only got 46 rooms) have drawn vehement complaints from his neighbour: Jimmy Page. The vibrations caused by Williams’s proposed property-pimping would damage his own carefully restored home, Page has complained to the planners. Williams had better watch it: Page formerly occupied the Scottish home of occultist Aleister Crowley, where strange and violent things are said to have once happened.
A few streets away, meanwhile, it’s the Beckhams who have had neighbours aghast with their Ceausescu-level upgrade. As well as the obligatory basement cinema, wine cellar, gymnasium and whale shark sanctuary (probably), the Beckhams plan to add air-conditioning to their £30m Victorian pile. The horror!
Over to north London, and Tom Conti has been up in arms about the “phenomenal noise” emanating from the end of his garden. Blame Thierry Henry, who is demolishing his Hampstead pad to put up something grander – though he didn’t get permission for the three-storey, 25,000-litre fish tank he wanted (the Beckhams will have to find new owners for their baby whale sharks). The property has been a building site for three years, and now Conti is selling up in disgust. In nearby Highgate, it’s Kate Moss who is upsetting the locals with £2.5m-worth of renovation works. Samuel Taylor Coleridge previously managed to live in the Grade II-listed house without the benefit of a “luxury basement gym and steam room” – though admittedly they might have helped him kick his opium habit. It is only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt, or sued, or accidentally knocked into a giant cement mixer.
They could always take a leaf out of Richard Hammond’s book: the ex-Top Gear star settled a dispute with his Herefordshire neighbour by simply buying the neighbour’s house, for £1.2m. But taking the longer term view, when it comes to the housing crisis, the government is clearly looking at the wrong end of the property ladder. Instead of affordable homes and garden cities, what is urgently needed is a new, purpose-built, mega-scaled Celebrity City. Each home would be the size of an airport terminal with a Sea Life centre attached, high-speed transport links to the Chiltern Firehouse, and the geological bedrock would support the construction of basement complexes extending to the centre of the earth.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010