The super wealthy on the Riviera

Local journalist Bruno Aubry has been taking a look at our seriously rich neighbours

Milliardaires bookA few years aga Bruno Aubry wrote a book about the Côte d'Azur's top gangsters; in Les milliardaires de la Côte (France: l'Archipel) he turns his attention to the super-rich who live among us. One thing that emerges clearly from this account is that they are, as Scott Fitzgerald said long ago, "different from you and me". You're unlikely, rd say, to end up envying them. Their lives seem for the most part sad and boring. 

Across sorne 250 pages he covers sorne familiar ground - Arab princes and their entourages, men who' ve made money from money and showbiz types - but he is especially fascinated by the Russians who have alighted here across the past twenty years. They are notoriously fond of bling - from gold-plated cell phones to, in one case, a gold-lined lift linking a villa to the beach. 

Aubry makes a couple of good points to explain their often grotesque vulgarity. They got rich very quick and, like lottery winners, they don't quite know what to do with the moolah they're swimming in; also, unlike most of the very rich in Scott Fitzgerald's time, they're relatively young. The average Russian novaritch, to use Aubry's term, is 46-years old. 

Frankly, they don't sound attractive people. Many of them, Aubry implies, made their money in dubious ways and are paranoid about threats from actual and potential enemies. Spending like mad is their way of demonstrating their power as well as their wealth. Having five yachts is a pretty definitive statement in that sense; other demonstrations are more transitory as with the man who ordered up 70 bottles of Cristal Roederer - at €140 a pop to use in a beach shower. Almost any whim can be immediately gratified, from flying in Lenny Kravitz to sing for your supper to ordering the suite you' ve reserved at the Carlton completely redecorated because you don't like the look of it (tab: €84,000). But not quite any whim: the SNCF refused to re-route a rail way line when a Russian offered to pay for the necessary work to reduce noise near his villa. 

A local shopkeeper said of his clients from Cap d'Antibes, "They're very good customers but you must be careful what you say and never ask questions, including of the servants." For the women you have to feel sorne sympathy. The life of a trophy wife sounds grim. As a high-end beautician told Aubry: 

"They live in a gilded prison with nothing to think about other than what they'll wear that evening ... They bitch all the time about each other and seem to get no real enjoyment out of life." It's hard to disagree with the book's conclusion about its subjects: "Underneath the glitz they're a very sad lot."