by India Sturgis
Quintessentially does nothing that’s not legal or moral. Beyond that, almost no task is impossible for the private concierge club that caters to the world’s wealthiest 0.01 per cent.
Known as ultra high net worth individuals, or UHNWs, these are people who can buy well-nigh anything they want. Quintessentially makes the impossible possible; it is a fixer that panders to each and every whim of the super-rich from its 65 offices worldwide.
In short, this week may have marked 10 years since the start of the financial crisis, but conspicuous consumption is alive and not just well, but positively thriving.
Aaron Simpson, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, who I’ve come to meet at its HQ near Regent Street in London, gives me an example. One client (he is careful to give no names) who “wasn’t very attractive but was very wealthy was drinking at a French nightclub when three beautiful youths arrived, and he was booted off the VIP table. The client rang Quintessentially and asked for the number of the club owner. Quintessentially arranged a meeting between club owner and client that very evening.
The “harbour” of the Quintessentially One. Quintessentially
“He bought the club, booted them out and fired the doorman,” says Simpson, as casually as if he’s retelling a playground dispute settled by a long-suffering teacher.
The anecdote is perhaps what you might expect from a member of a club whose annual fees start at £5000 ($8217) and rise to £150,000 for access to a personal lifestyle manager as well as travel, wedding, gifting and PR subsidiaries.
Founded in 2000 by Simpson and friends Paul Drummond and Ben Elliot, the Duchess of Cornwall’s nephew, Quintessentially prides itself on doing “anything, anywhere, anytime”.
Madonna, Richard Branson, JK Rowling and P Diddy are rumoured to be among its members. The PA to Coldplay has reportedly described the service as “indispensable”.
Simpson, 45, a married father of two, is a fast-talking, messy-haired Willy Wonka of a man from Brentwood in Essex, who has had to borrow a jacket from someone in the office – a place filled with dogs, laughter and beautiful blondes – for our photo shoot.
While we chat, he tucks into a lunch of chips, Caesar salad and San Pellegrino that has been delivered to him on a tray by a chef. “I don’t do this every day, I’ve just been back-to-back,” he apologises.
So, apart from revenge, what else do his members want? The answers range from the humdrum – last-minute restaurant reservations – to the extraordinary: the carpeting of an entire beach in case a client’s feet got sandy during a date; a $US40 million ($51 million) marriage proposal by a Saudi royal at Egypt’s pyramids, where 300 guests were flown in and the groom’s fiancee was carried in a chariot pulled by eight stallions.
In 2019-2020, the Quintessentially One (QOne) will take to the seas. This 220m (722ft) superyacht will be 40m (130ft) longer than the world’s current largest private yacht, Azzam, cost £250 million and contain 112 boutique cabins, plus 12 ultra-lux residences priced from £7.2 million to £10.8 million.
The aim is an elite club-within-a-club for the top one per cent of the top one per cent, and a floating tour boat of the world’s most desirable events – the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival are already on the itinerary.
“It can’t dock in many places because it is so f—— big,” enthuses Simpson, who enlisted the help of Italian designer Stefano Pastrovich for this latest venture. “I just said, ‘look, throw out everything. Come at me with an iconic vessel. When you see it in the water you’ll know what it is… like the Empire State Building [or] the Eiffel Tower’.”
Surely the UHNWs want their own private yacht, away from hoi polloi? “The most important thing to the very wealthy and successful is that they meet interesting, energetic, young, vibrant people,” says Simpson. “You can’t remain an island any more. We are so interconnected – even though we’ve Brexited. It’s ironic.”
The QOne is, naturally, invitation-only. Quintessentially members who pay a £13,600 annual fee and are accepted by a committee will secure a spot. Almost all of the suites have sold, with buyers ranging from biotechnologists to investors in African start-ups and Britons who have made fortunes in electronics and retail.
But there’s more to being a billionaire than superyachts and sunshine. “It’s not just about sitting in the south of France and spraying champagne,” says Simpson. “It’s now about making some difference. Mindful entrepreneurism is a big thing. The very wealthy understand they rely on the communities in which they make their money, so they have to give back.”
He cites Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who joined The Giving Pledge, a campaign for wealthy people to donate at least half their net wealth to philanthropic causes.
Then there are those with material consumption fatigue, who crave experiences more than things. Increasingly, Simpson is seeing requests for extreme immersive scenarios. One client has booked a £1 million kidnap experience lasting three months.
“You are psycho-profiled so we know your extreme points and push buttons. You basically sign away to us that whatever we do will be appropriate, not illegal, but we will put you through an experiential, fully submersive event. People are demanding that they are taken to the edge of their normality. They want to be challenged to see how they react.”
As for Simpson’s own fortune, he tells me: “I work for a living.” His first job was at Church’s shoe shop, in Knightsbridge, where his father worked as a senior manager. From there he went to Oxford, then into film, with jobs at Scala and Rocket Pictures before starting his own production company, Flashlight Films. The idea for Quintessentially came from being a Black Amex member and looking after actors when they jetted into London.
“Ben, Paul and I just thought, ‘why don’t we do something better and more exclusive with better access?'”
Their boldness paid off and, in 2008, when the financial crisis had gained a chokehold on everyone else, Quintessentially upped its prices and survived. Simpson leaves me with one last story about one of his clients, an American who flew his wife’s pedigree poodle across the world in a private jet with two vets (in case one became ill).
“I warned him it might cost £400,000 to £500,000,” chuckles Simpson. “He said, ‘If this poodle dies it will cost me £500 million!’ I kind of loved that.”
Article source: afr.com