OK so what would you spend £20m on?

This is a posting taken from my blog Pasta Paulie which cheered me up writing it one evening back in February. I hope you enjoy it…..

So, picture the scene (and it’s one that we’ve all fantasized about I suspect); you win £200m on the Euro lottery and you’re thinking about how to spend/invest it all. Ah choices, choices. Here’s the twist, just suppose one of the conditions is that a 10% chunk of the prize has to be spent on a single thing. What would it be for you?

Tricky eh? You’ve sorted out your nearest and dearest so they don’t have to worry about paying their utility bills ever again. You have a lovely house and a second glorious pad in the spot you just adore on the Cornish coast, or overlooking Central Park or beach-side in Barbados or nestling in Sydney Harbour etc. You also have a fleet of cars to cover every situation, including something very fast and bright red once owned by Rod Stewart. The trust funds have been set up for the grandchildren and you’ve made generous contributions to the charities you feel most connected to. You have £80m left and perhaps the time has come to indulge your ultimate fantasy and buy the thing you’ve always wanted secretly.

So what’s the thing eh? I know guys who would buy their local football club (or a large shareholder stake in it) and absolutely love it. But to me it’d be a money drain and a drag. Imagine having to deal with all those football divas – ball boys, players, agents, managers, media reporters, pundits, fans, Garth Crooks! No thanks. What about a private jet? A bit of fun but what an indulgence. When would it be seriously beneficial to fly privately over flying first class? I genuinely can’t imagine it unless it was a dire emergency or for critical business reasons. For simply getting from place to place a tiny bit more quickly? Forget it.

How about the yacht? Ah getting closer. But what type and what size? I have a horrible suspicion that whatever you’d choose there’d always be a slightly grander and faster one in the harbour which would drive you sea-green with envy. It’s like watching the oligarchs and oil sultans whose yachts today are almost as big as battle cruisers. What is the point – is there any enjoyment from having a crew of 50 onboard to do all the work? Possibly but only until the next mega-rich guy comes by in one just 1 foot longer. Just to annoy you intensely. Then your plaything is just an embarrassment. No I couldn’t deal with all that.

So how about becoming the owner of a fine vineyard and building a substantial wine collection? Getting very warm now. But one of the things I’ve learned about having a small olive grove is that it takes a fair bit of work to maintain it but conversely all the real pleasure comes from doing the hard graft picking yourself and watching it being pressed. Would it be as much fun knowing that you owned a substantial vineyard/grove and that all the work was done by others and you’d just become another absentee owner like Sir Cliff Richard for goodness sake?  Ah I know you’re going to disbelieve me but I couldn’t own it without knowing I was a full time farmer and committed to the estate. I’d have lots of holidays of course but I’d need to get the ground dug and the new vines/trees planted and older ones pruned. And I’d have to be involved in the picking process, maybe involving some old friends just as we do now.

Another choice would be to invest in a business of course. At least that might provide an income source and a focus for all that spare time. A restaurant perhaps? I’d love that but everyone I know who’s been in that business says it’s incredibly time-consuming if you want to be hands on and subject to constantly shifting changes in public tastes. A bakery with my dad perhaps – too late now. A small marketing agency – too competitive. Property development – possibly but in reality what do I know about gutters and waste systems and is the economic climate really that favourable? I’d love to own a successful architectural practice but how would I play a creative part – I wouldn’t of course.

See it’s not so straightforward is it when you start to think about it? But I do have a secret dream if you want to know. I’ve always enjoyed having a bit of art on the walls – mostly it’s been framed prints and self-collected material. But we’ve started collecting a few original pieces from our good friend Keith (see http://www.keithjansz.com). But if I had a fortune I’d love to invest in something stunning that I could look at on the wall of the office in our Italian home overlooking the olive grove and valley beyond, as I sat down to write something brilliant for my column in the Sunday Times/Independent, with a glass of chilled white wine by my right hand. Ahh picture that.

And what artwork would do it for me? Well absolutely anything original by Picasso (my daughters and son-in-laws treated me to the next best things for my 60th) or by Matisse. Or something by Pollock, David Hockney, Lucien Freud or Roy Lichtenstein would be very very nice. But if there was one piece I could own it might have to be ‘Nighthawks’ by Edward Hopper, the realist American painter from the mid-20th c. At BT I was lucky enough to host a private event at Tate Modern to preview the retrospective show on Hopper. We’d been very irreverent and created an American diner scene as the eating backdrop on the Turbine Hall balcony. I had to introduce the showing and thought about what I was going to say to an audience of art lovers. Play safe and say nothing other than welcome or talk about what I personally felt about Hopper’s art. Well who wants to be known as a no-view no-mark? So the audience got my considered thoughts on this, Hoppers’ most famous piece ‘Nighthawks’, and the star exhibit of the show:

Image

I just love this painting. It’s a late night diner in New York painted in 1942. Now what attracts me more than anything else, as I dared to explain, is the context. What is the back story to these late nighters – the couple, the single guy and the waiter? I’m fascinated to know. To me Hopper has created something stunningly evocative. This scene could so easily be the opening scene to a movie; it’s so rich in potential. Are the couple lovers or has he just chatted her up? Why’s the guy there alone? Has he just split up or been disappointed in some way or is there something more sinister going on with the girl or the couple or is he a hoodlum waiting to knock off the joint? Equally the picture could just as well be the final scene in a movie; are the couple about to commit to each other at last or split up, is the lone diner about to hit rock bottom, is the waiter going to get home or get shot? Every time I see the painting I imagine another scenario. That’s the genius of the work.

I don’t remember sitting down to thunderous applause for this insight but I do recall that my burger was cold. Hey ho. Here’s the thing, ‘Nghthawks’ was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago shortly after its airing for just $3000. Would they take an offer of $20m now? It’s not a bad RoI and they have had the pleasure of viewing it for 70 years now. If I could have it for one year they could have it back for the same price plus a crate of great wine and an honourary VP.  I’m not a greedy man.

What’s your dream investment?

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