Amazingly, considering this column has been going since the mid-cretaceous period, Lost in Showbiz has yet to do a power list. This is mainly because it could never top the GQ one that decided David Beckham was more powerful than Rupert Murdoch. It certainly couldn’t surpass the Details one where Britney Spears’s ex-backing dancer husband was deemed a more powerful man under the age of 45 than Bashar al-Assad. That aged less well than it might have.
But I could definitely consider a Shower List – a list of the biggest shower of horrors in any field at any given moment. First up, then: Britain’s Ghastliest Financial Sublebrities. The idea is tangentially suggested – but of course – by the FT’s exposé of the Presidents Club, a men-only charity party at which City chaps apparently seem to trade donations to the sick children of Great Ormond Street Hospital for the chance to sexually harass the female help. Think of it as Eyes Wide S**t.
The guestlist to this fauxlanthropic event is already a matter of many and varied disputes. Property tycoon Nick Candy’s PR people say he didn’t attend and is not a current patron, for instance, while restaurant magnate Richard Caring’s lawyers say he attended but wasn’t involved and didn’t know unseemliness even occurred, as he arrived late and left early.
Whether or not they attended the Presidents Club party, it has never felt like a better time to start showcasing the guys who remind us that “larger than life” is always a euphemism. So let’s immerse ourselves in just a few of these big hitters – their likes, their dislikes, their battles with their various appetites, and all the crazy stuff they pull at their country estates. A £150,000 Palladian hen house? Yes, please, Crispin Odey! Ideally, I would like Lost in Showbiz to be the first port of call for knowing which one of the arseoisie just groped for Great Ormond Street, bid on the elephant man’s skeleton, or deployed a surface-to-air missile at their shoot. (“We always use the Starstreak on the afternoon drives. Wafic gave it to Coco for her 18th, but she doesn’t need it at Vassar.”)
As a first step, I took the liberty of appealing for entrants this week, and my immediate takeout was … we are going to need a bigger hut. What follows is very much just a start. To give you a sense of the scale, it doesn’t even include Lost in Showbiz favourites Richard Branson or Tony Blair. Indeed, space constraints mean even the following runners and riders are limited to name, business interests, and a thoughtfully hand-plucked character note. So pop on your Louis Quatorze hazmat suit and, without further ado, dive in!
Guy Hands (Private equity)
Character note: A year after his 2009 move to Guernsey in protest at income and capital gains tax rates, Guy explained that he had “never visited” his school-age children since departing. They were required to come to him. “I do not visit my parents in the UK,” a court deposition went on, “and would not do so except in an emergency.”
Richard Caring (Restaurants, fashion, property)
Character note: Probably Richard’s Somerset shoot, described deathlessly in one edition of Field Sports magazine: “Elevenses are held in an African tiki hut which is situated next to the river. On the bank are two huge bronze life-size crocodiles.” One of the drives is on a lake, and involves the guns shooting from five pontoons. “Richard has speakers installed at the end of each pontoon, and to keep his guns from falling asleep after the awesome lunch and too much sake, he has been known to blast out Queen or the Dambusters March!” Paging Dick Cheney. (Or the late Willie Whitelaw.)
Charlie Mullins (founder of Pimlico Plumbers)
Character note: If you wished to find a single image to represent the concept “Last Days of The Remoaners”, it would surely be the picture of Charlie Mullins’s personalised Bentley parked halfway on to the pavement outside the High Court for the Article 50 challenge. I literally contracted Brexit from it.
Michael Ashcroft (Business services, political polling and publishing)
Character note: Perhaps our simplest entry. A non dom who collects other people’s Victoria Crosses.
Philip Green (Retail)
Once upon a time, Phil’s bazillion-pound birthday getaways marked him out as a sort of Great Twatsby, whose legendary parties concealed a secret longing for shop assistants’ pensions. I’m kidding! As the Pension Regulator’s report found, his main purpose in selling BHS for a quid to someone with no experience of retail was to prevent himself having to take on liability for the company pension scheme. But Green eventually agreed to fund the scheme. Once a magnet for the A-list, his last birthday party was attended poignantly by Vernon Kay (also guestlisted for the Presidents Club). Still, Phil was recently filmed spraying champagne in a Mykonos bar with buddy Robert Tchenguiz (cf The Tchenguiz brothers), so this is one 65-year-old who has still got it.
Nick and Christian Candy (Property)
Character note: As with the Chuckles, never bother trying to differentiate between these brothers – just be like a kid in a Candy store and scoop ’em all up. Joint ventures with the prime minister of Qatar, personalised superyachts, court cases where the judge says things such as: “None of the protagonists emerge from the trial with great credit … Each has been shown to have been willing to lie when they consider their commercial interests justify them doing so.” I am sure the Candys would direct you to that old adage: where there’s a hit, there’s a writ. Still, there is one absolute touchstone of British arsery: your neighbours being plunged into darkness by your giant hedge. There is really nothing more spiritually exposing than erecting a privacy copse. Or as Nick Candy’s spokesman has it in relation to this £75m Chelsea property: “The owners have done everything the right way and will continue to do so.”
Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz (property)
Character note: Believed to have been sent back in time to throw the Candy Brothers into sympathetic relief, the Tchenguizes have adorned London for decades. And yet, their appeal is still unfurling itself to us like a lotus blossom. Their family trust is the ultimate owner of a Croydon tower block with dangerous cladding, residents of which are being asked to find up to £31,300 per flat to replace it. As one resident put it last week: “I have to pay more than I earn in one year’s salary in six weeks’ time for something I am not even responsible for.” The Tchenguizes haven’t got around to commenting yet. But soon, maybe.
Character note: A Presidents Club trustee, Bruce is such an expert in reading the state of the nation that he would like less government intervention in the residential property sector. We don’t usually judge a book by its cover, but let’s but make an exception in Bruce’s case. It looks as if it will save time.
James Stunt (“Billionaire” “businessman”)
Character note: James is embroiled in a bitter divorce from Bernie Ecclestone’s daughter Petra. James has told Belgravia police that he was the victim of a burglary of £90m worth of cash, gold bars and jewellery last month, having failed to arrange house insurance. James was pictured arriving at a Mayfair restaurant last weekend encircled by no fewer than nine bodyguards. I expect we’ll be hearing more from, and, indeed, about James in due course.
James Caan (Recruitment entrepreneur and former Dragons’ Den investor)
Character note: It is hard to zone in on a particular Dragon or ex-Dragon, given the strong claims to prickery of both Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne. (The latter once texted an ex with an inquiry she took to be menacing: “You are happy with me showing the pictures you sent me?”) But James did once offer £725 to buy a baby in a flood-hit Pakistan village. And for that reason, we’re all out.
Evgeny Lebedev (Owner of the Independent and the Evening Standard)
Character note: Lebedev is clearly a monstrous joke, although whether it is at his expense or London society’s has yet to be established. There are believed to be no other life forms in the universe who are more dedicated starf**kers. And if there were, Evgeny would certainly be on first-name terms with them. Claims his favourite possession is a signed copy of Pinter’s No Man’s Land (“I’ve done read-throughs with Michael Gambon and Ian McKellen …”) Also owns the preserved skeleton of a dwarf.
As indicated, these are just the start in an occasional series. If you would like someone included in a future instalment, do email with the header: “A GENTLEMAN FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION”. The main problem, utimately, will be establishing who is the bigger s**t at any given moment. To keep the list au courant, we will probably need an annual judging lunch, which would likely take place in St James. Panel applications will be open to anyone who doesn’t own a black Range Rover (the Unforgivable Vehicle; no exceptions); is capable of amusing conversation about ideas as opposed to mutual acquaintances; and – crucially – has never, and will never, self-style as a “philanthropist”.