DNA-laced security mist and superyacht getaway submarines
John Arlidge — Evening Standard Oct 22, 2015
Most people come to Mayfair to buy. It could be dinner at Scott’s or a little but rather expensive something from the boutiques on Mount Street. Perhaps it’s a fancy car from Jack Barclay on Berkeley Square. The Bentley Bentayga, the firm’s first 4×4 — bigger than the average starter home and more expensive — is currently the most coveted ride for one per centers. Biggest of all is a new house. The starting price for a pied-à-terre is £5m and the damage quickly rises to £40m.
Heyrick Bond Gunning — yes, that really is his name — visits Mayfair most days, but he does not come to buy. He comes to sell. The imposing 44-year-old, a former Grenadier Guards officer, is one of a new breed of salesmen.
He’s selling building and contents protection, but not the kind you’re used to. As the managing director of security firm Salamanca Risk Management, he sells a guarantee that you and your family will never again be bothered by anyone or anything you don’t want to be bothered by.
Business is booming because billionaires are a paranoid bunch. Take one who recently moved to Mayfair. ‘He wanted everything, from protection from cyber hacking through to physical intrusion and kidnapping,’ says Bond Gunning. ‘We ended up installing fingerprint-activated locks for family members and programmable keys for staff that limit the time they are allowed into the property and the rooms they are able to enter and exit.
‘Inside and outside we installed 24-hour monitored CCTV cameras that are so hi-tech they can tell the difference between a dog, cat and a person. In the garden there are thermal-imaging cameras that can detect heat sources in the undergrowth. One thing intruders can’t hide is the heat of their bodies.
‘Should an intruder evade the cameras or ignore the warnings they automatically broadcast, the property itself is protected by bulletproof glass and alarm sensors in all rooms. There is a bullet, gas and bombproof panic or safe room, with its own food and water, medical supplies and communications, and an impregnable supply of fresh air. Just in case the family cannot make it there in time, key rooms are sealed by reinforced shutters.’
The bill for such peace of mind? A cool £1m.
Just as boutique finance houses, family offices, lawyers, private tutors, butlers and nanny services have sprung up to cater for the ‘needs’ of London’s super-rich, an army of James Bond-type ‘Qs’ now develop and sell the kind of safety systems and gadgets that 007 could only dream of.
Some of their tricks are easy to understand and relatively easy to install. Former Israeli Major-General Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, one-time head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, runs a company called FST21 that merges facial, voice and behavioural recognition technology into an unhackable and secure keyless entry system for London’s newest fortress homes.
To protect the exterior of their homes, some townhouse owners add a blast film to their window panes, which means they don’t shatter in an explosion and are all but impenetrable. Inside their mansions or lateral living apartments, most of the super-rich have two codes that open their safe(s) — one if everything is normal and another if they are what security folk call ‘under duress’. Key in the duress code and armed private security guards will arrive at the house in less than three minutes.
Ultra-high net worth households also demand that their telephone and internet communications are encrypted. ‘I’ve been to some houses that look more like the NSA [America’s National Security Agency just outside Washington DC] than a family home,’ jokes one of London’s leading security consultants. Mobile phones have tracking devices to help protect family members in a kidnap situation.
And don’t forget the smoke. Not the Cohibas in the fumoirs many wealthy men — and the odd woman — like to retreat to after dinner. Some homeowners have installed systems that billow out fog that disorientates intruders.
Other tricks of the trade are sneakier — and almost impossible to detect. In many homes, CCTV cameras are not just mounted discreetly on the ceiling or the wall, miniature cameras are also hidden in the eyes of sculptures, picture frames and light switches. Some are so sophisticated that they learn behavioural traits and alert monitoring services to unusual or suspicious movements.
Valuable artworks can be injected with tiny microchips linked to the home’s security system. If they are moved without warning, they automatically trigger a lockdown of the house and the police are alerted. Gerard Cooper, MD of private security specialists AllCooper, explains that the chips are like those in a mobile phone that can sense if you are holding the screen horizontally or vertically. ‘They have an accelerometer, a device that can detect all motion forward, back, up, down, left or right. As soon as you take the painting away from the wall the chip triggers a camera to look at it. If something is wrong, an alarm goes off and the doors to the room lock automatically so the intruder has nowhere to go. You can put these chips on hanging art or statues or anything.’ Most exotic are the so-called SmartWater Index and Smoke Cloak systems. This is the last line of defence in a burglary. In the very unlikely event that an intruder does make it into a house and escapes without being caught, the chances are he or she soon will be. Not only will police have images on CCTV, but a smoke gun can be activated remotely once security personnel monitoring the CCTV realise something is wrong. The gun can create a mist laced with unique, synthetic DNA that is so fine it goes unnoticed, yet lingers on skin for weeks and shows up under UV light. Thanks to unique markers, it can be traced directly back to a specific home. ‘It makes the chances of catching the culprit way higher,’ says a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police.
Working out what futuristic security you need is only one part of the job. Getting it built securely is the other. Estate agents and security consultants say contractors must undergo rigorous background checks and, if approved, sign non-disclosure agreements. When building is under way, the owner’s name should never appear on legal documents or building plans submitted to local government. When plans are submitted, the security overlay should be filed separately from the architectural drawings so it doesn’t become available to the public.
It’s not just homes that are getting the Spectre treatment. London is the centre of a new breed of car manufacturer that pimps the rides of the super-rich on the inside but makes them as safe as their houses outside. Dany Bahar, who runs Ares in Mayfair, creates cars that combine the clout of military hardware with all the finishing touches — hand-stitched Italian leather, precious metal inserts — that any self-respecting oligarch would expect of a top-end Rolls-Royce. They cost from £500,000 to £1m.
All of his models come with bulletproof glass, gas-proof exteriors, under-bonnet fire extinguishers, tyres that keep working even if they are shot out, encrypted mobile and satellite phones, tracking devices, panic buttons and live stream emergency communications to a monitoring centre. But some buyers want more. They pay up to £1m for Bentleys with carbon-fibre casing or supercharged Range Rovers with bespoke interiors.
Of the ten vehicles that his company produces a month, Mr Bahar says two are luxury armoured cars for private individuals. ‘These kind of people simply expect a little bit more than your standard luxury,’ he says. ‘Usually, with armoured cars, you have to cut corners just to incorporate all the protective steel and carbon fibre needed. What we’re trying to do is combine protection with luxury, so you can choose the type of leather or personalise the size of the seats. There are so many elements you can personalise.’ One Chinese billionaire asked the company’s designers to upholster the seats of his Bentley to match the denim of his girlfriend’s jeans. (He may have to choose a new model, when he chooses a new model.)
Being super-rich is not just about being super-paranoid, of course. It’s also about having more fun than the average bear and London’s super-prime homes have plenty of new ways to show off. Charles McDowell, one of London’s leading super-prime property agents, recalls viewing one home with a solid gold safe that rose out of the floor whenever the owner wanted to remind himself — and his guests — how filthy rich he is and what appallingly bad taste he has. ‘I did not take on the house,’ McDowell laughs.
Others are content with avoiding the everyday hassles of life — for instance, reversing the car out of the garage. The latest homes come with garages equipped with a turntable so that the owner can drive in and out without looking over their shoulder. Frank Townsend, of Savills estate agents, adds that a turntable also increases the number of cars that the garage holds.
The ultimate vehicle of choice is no longer an armoured limousine or a private jet. They’re so Noughties. If you want bragging rights these days, you need your own submarine, which floats out of a sub-sea compartment in your superyacht. ‘It’s a toy, but if the worst happened, it could also be an escape route,’ says one prominent London tycoon with a weakness for Monaco-berthed superyachts — provided they have military-grade radar jammers and missile and torpedo defences.
Like most things the super-rich do, the race to get the latest security has become a competition to see who can lavish the most on the most outlandish kit. All of which is a bit ironic since, as one London-based oligarch concedes, ‘We all know the best security system in the world is the one you never use.‘