The billionaire likes to flash the cash in the town that loves money, but since the BHS debacle, residents fear he is dragging them into the dirt, writes Katie Glass in Monaco
In Le Roccabella building, home to Sir Philip Green’s Monaco apartment, is a shop selling diamanté-covered tins of beluga caviar for £3,000. Next door, a flash interior design store flogs pink ponyskin stools for £3,000 each. As the designer explains, when I inquire about them and the gold-leaf room dividers: “When our clients spend money, they want people to be able to tell.”
On a desk nearby is a framed photograph of Prince Albert II of Monaco and Princess Charlene. The Greens were once close friends of the royal couple. Snapped with their arms around each other at countless Riviera parties, Green attended the royal wedding in 2011. Now relations have cooled.
In light of the scandal over the collapse of the retail chain BHS, sources claim the Monaco royal family is so concerned that Green is giving the principality a bad reputation it is considering revoking Lady Green’s residency. As news emerged of BHS’s 11,000 job losses, its £571m pension deficit and the fact that Green had sold the chain for £1 to thrice-bankrupt Dominic Chappell, even Monaco — a mecca to hyper-capitalism — felt squeamish watching Green take possession of a new £100m yacht.
Now neighbours in the billionaires’ playground are complaining. One prominent Monaco resident is said to be “thoroughly pissed off” with Green, that he is “dragging the whole principality into the dirt”. Another neighbour claims Green has “lost quite a lot of friends recently because people don’t want to be associated with him in the way they used to be”. In the fallout of BHS’s collapse it seems the Greens have become too tacky even for the capital of bling. The sunny place for shady people (as Somerset Maugham described the Riviera) has finally found the limits of taste.
Le Roccabella is “where the rich people live”, the taxi driver says as he drops me off. Avenue Princess Grace is one of the most expensive streets in the world. In the 27-storey block the cheapest flats cost £20m, although you would not guess that to look at the building. It is an ugly beige rectangle with orange awnings flapping over narrow balconies. Monaco’s front is thick with similarly repellent 1970s blocks, jutting grimly into the sky like a high-rise holiday resort.
It is like Magaluf in Mallorca, with a less beautiful beach. Still, next door to Green’s apartment it costs £110 to sit on the sand and have your sea view blocked by three-storey mega yachts. Savills estate agents tells me it can cost £84,000 a square metre to buy here. Why would you pay that to live like you are on a package holiday on the Costa del Sol?
Tax. No income, wealth or capital gains tax. Still, as Green has said, he came here for his health.
Why else come to Monaco? To show off. Monaco is compared to Mayfair and Las Vegas, but is tackier yet more expensive than both. “Rich people come to Monaco to peacock,” one regular explains. “To parade their new bigger boat, the new car, the new girlfriend.”
Here, gaudy displays of wealth are encouraged. Last time I visited, someone tried to sell me a credit card made of solid gold. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Green loves it here. Besides, everyone looks like him: Ronseal tan, thinning hair, mobile phone glued to hand.
The main pastime is shopping. Every store is a big name: Chanel, Chloé, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton. In Dior I watch a woman drop £2,000 on a bag (the same amount as some BHS redundancy packages are worth). Windows display solid gold tea sets. In the mall the cafe sells £57 bottles of champagne beside a shop with diamond tiaras on display. Perhaps this is the jewellery shop where I am told Green was spotted banging the door after hours to get in, shouting the infamous line: “Do you know who I am?”
In Monaco cars are an obsession. After all, they are a conveniently mobile way to show off your bank balance. Thus, a city small enough to walk around has been turned into Spaghetti Junction, filled with the screeching of tyres and stinking of petrol fumes. There are white Lamborghinis, Rolls-Royce Phantoms and red Ferraris everywhere you look (I am not sure what Green drives. Perhaps he does not need a car, what with his speedboat, helicopters and £46m Gulfstream jet). They park in front of the casino so tourists can photograph them — one Russian pulls up in his £2.5m Bugatti every week — then take their wives to Café de Paris for lunch. Tina Green is a regular here, joining the tiny bronzed women patted down with metal detectors and opening their Hermès bags to spend £15 on an Aperol spritz.