For high fliers in Mumbai, looking to invest £50m in a suitable London property, I have done the recce and have a suggestion to make.
Forget Kensington Palace Gardens, the so-called ‘Billionaires' Row’, where steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal has a house (three, actually, if reports are to be believed).
Forget, too, Hampstead, in north London, where Mittal apparently still has not sold his previous residence, the Summer Palace. Give Mayfair, beloved of dozens of Indian multi-millionaires and Bollywood superstars, a miss. The US embassy is moving out of Grosvenor Square so there is no reason for fastidious folk from Mumbai to move in. And, puhleeeease, don’t even bother to look at St John’s Wood which is full of mere desi millionaires.
The coolest place to get an apartment is The Shard. The only thing is that to enjoy The Shard, you must not suffer from acrophobia, a fear of heights.
This is because The Shard, at 310 metres (1,106ft), is now the tallest building in London. It is even said to be the tallest building in the European Union. The ethereal structure, which rises like a sharp glass pyramid into the sky, has been described as a “vertical city” by its Italian architect, Renzo Piano. He is best known for having designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Perhaps Mukesh Ambani should recruit Piano should he think of putting up another tall residence in India.
Nothing would please me more than to be able to report from London: “The first of the 10 apartments in The Shard, London’s newest tourist attraction, has been snapped up by a Mumbai man (or woman)."
It is estimated that two million tourists a year will visit the building.
To check out its pros and cons, I took a lift up The Shard, which is clad with 11,000 glass panels on the outside, which is equal to eight football pitches. Incidentally, booking online is best, with £24.95 for an adult ticket and £18.95 for a child. That's not cheap but it is not an unreasonable price to pay for the thrill of being scared.
And though I don't have an irrational fear of heights, I admit that right at the top my legs did feel a little like those of Indian batsmen of old facing the likes of Roy Gilchrist, Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith (remember Nariman Contractor? Ouch!) and other West Indian speed merchants of yesteryear. My legs did go wobbly as I looked down from the 72nd floor.
How does one describe The Shard, which is taller than anything else in London? Over the last few years I have seen it go up, section by section, and now it changes mood and atmosphere depending on the weather. It is located by London Bridge train and Underground station. Sometimes, I have got off a train and taken a photograph from one of the platforms. However, it is not easy to capture an image of something that rises into the beyond when you are literally standing in its shadow.
I am sure people in India will soon get used to views of The Shard which is bound to be included by location hunters for Bollywood movies. They have done Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, the River Thames, and will be hankering for something new and exciting. One can imagine Anil Kapoor giving the following dialogue to the lucky would be heroine: "Come up to my penthouse suite and see my awards."
By now after years of living in London, I think I know the first city of the erstwhile British empire reasonably well but from up there, believe me, the landmarks look completely different. First of all, you have a 360-degree panoramic view of London. On a clear day, it is said you can see up to 40 miles away. Sprawled below you, it is fascinating watching the toy trains come into and leave from London Bridge. On either side of the Thames winding its way through London, you work out the well-known features of the capital. I spot Canary Wharf, once the tallest building and my work place for nearly two decades almost from the time it was built. From the 14th floor, we thought we were masters of all we surveyed.
Now, from inside The Shard, we are high above the highest buildings in the City, the financial sector of London. We look down on St Paul’s Cathedral, which held 2,300 people last month for Lady Thatcher’s funeral. On a sunny day, you can see the pointed shadow of The Shard falling across the Thames. Not far is Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast, a former warship moored by the water's edge. Inside the viewing gallery on the 68th floor, there are fixed telescopes that focus on London’s main 250 landmarks. The telescopes are fixed so that tourists cannot actually pry into people’s bedrooms. “In that case, I’ll have my money back,” I guess some will protest.
Perhaps it would be useful to get a few statistics out of the way so that the potential buyer from Mumbai knows what he is getting for his money. From the first floor reception lobby, having gone through security, I am whizzed up to the 33rd floor. Here, I change lifts and travel up to the 68th floor. The whole journey takes about 60 seconds. Then I walked up to the 72nd floor, which is as far as you can go. This is partially open to the elements. As I peer down, I can see window cleaners on the outside of the building. Even if I were unemployed that is perhaps not a job for which I would apply.
If I were giving a buyer a guided tour, I would begin at the bottom. “The lobby is on the first floor. Floors 2-28 are the offices -- may be your secretary could move in here. Floors 31-33 are the restaurants, handy if your wife has had enough of making dal-chawal and wants a break. Floors 34-52 will be taken up by the Shangri-La Hotel which may be a good place to put up your corporate clients should you wish to impress them. It will have 185 rooms. The spa is on the 52nd floor.”
The next section is the most relevant: "The residential apartments are from floors 53-65." After the public viewing area in floors 68-72 - the 72nd floor is at a height of 244.3 metres (802ft) - comes the public viewing area in floors 68-72. A further 15 levels make up the “Spire”. There are 44 lifts in all and 306 flights of stairs.
If you wish to win over a girl, there is nothing like proposing to her on the 72nd floor. When the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, cut the ribbon at the formal opening of The Shard on February 1, 2013, James Episcopou was already there asking Laura Taylor to marry him (she said yes). The couple, who met through friends five years ago, were congratulated by Johnson. Episcopou, 22, a Waitrose Supermarket sales assistant, commented, “It sounds corny but she makes me feel like I’m on top of the world. I have been planning it for a while but did not tell her before. I did not realise Boris was going to be here.”
The mayor said of The Shard, “It is like something prodding up through the frail integuments of the planet like an intergalactic spear” (an “integument” is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “that with which anything is covered, enclosed, or clothed; a covering, investment, coating”).
The cost of The Shard? It took £2bn to put up the construction. In late 2007, the gathering uncertainty in the global financial markets sparked concerns about the viability of the project. The Shard’s construction was almost cancelled, but in January 2008, it was announced that a consortium of Qatari investors had paid £150 million to secure an 80 per cent stake and take control of the project.
Piano met criticism from English Heritage, which claimed the construction would be “a shard of glass through the heart of historic London”, giving the building its name, The Shard.
Giles Barrie, of industry magazine Property Weekly, predicted, “The developers (headed by London-based entrepreneur Irvine Sellar) could get whatever they want for them. People are falling over themselves to buy trophy homes like this in London. The capital is benefiting from trouble elsewhere.”
Seven of the flats will be single storey and three will cover two entire floors. An example floor plan included in an advertising brochure depicts one of the duplex apartments. On the ground floor, there are large open-plan living areas with a reception area, cloakroom and cinema room. Next to the kitchen there is a service lift where the flats can be provided with caviar and champagne by the Shangri-La below.
Interested purchasers are expected to come largely from the Middle East, Russia and other former Soviet states. But I would like someone from Mumbai with money and taste to sneak ahead of the pack. Mind you, whoever buys the flats should be prepared to spend a bit of money on curtains.
Personally, I would do what I always do -- get some nice silk fabric from Fabindia in Kala Ghoda.