One day in the early Noughties, Roman Abramovich found himself pining for a plate of sushi from his favourite Japanese restaurant Ubon in London’s Canary Wharf.
Unfortunately he was in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, approximately 2,500 miles away.
But when you’re a Russian oligarch with billions in the bank such petty obstacles are easily overcome.
And so an aide was instructed to place an order for £1,200-worth of delicacies for the boss and his friends.
This consignment was then picked up by chauffeur-driven limousine, ferried to Luton airport, loaded on to a private jet and whisked across Europe to the place where Abramovich was waiting, chopsticks in hand.
It has been reported this week that things have become so bad he has been reduced to asking friends for loans
At an estimated total cost of £40,000, it must rank as the most expensive takeaway in history.
When you’ve been living this sort of cartoonishly opulent lifestyle for more than two decades, it must come as quite a blow to have the silver spoon snatched away.
But that is just what has happened to the embattled owner of Chelsea FC following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
With his assets frozen by both the UK and the EU because of his links to the Kremlin, Abramovich, 55, has found himself cut off from the bulk of his £6.4 billion fortune (down from £11.1 billion at the start of the war).
Indeed, it has been reported this week that things have become so bad he has been reduced to asking friends for loans.
Abramovich has reportedly approached a range of wealthy contacts in the U.S., from the Hollywood producer Brett Ratner to members of the plutocratic Rothschild family, asking for $1 million apiece to enable him to pay his $750,000 weekly staff bill — although the oligarch denies these claims.
Because, of course, one of the downsides of owning a portfolio of homes around the world, a five-strong fleet of superyachts and at least three private jets is the massive cost of maintaining them.
Private jets need pilots and cabin crew. And this complex superstructure has to be controlled and administered by a team of accountants. And Abramovich is by no means the only oligarch feeling the pinch. A file image is used above
The salary of a top-notch yacht captain alone can set you back £220,000 a year, then there’s the army of officers, engineers, deck-hands, stewardesses and chefs that make up the crew. The 550ft Eclipse, with its 24 cabins and brace of helipads, has a crew of no fewer than 70.
Mansions, meanwhile, require housekeepers, butlers, cleaners and gardeners.
Private jets need pilots and cabin crew. And this complex superstructure has to be controlled and administered by a team of accountants. And Abramovich is by no means the only oligarch feeling the pinch.
His old friend Petr Aven, the man on whose yacht Abramovich was first introduced to his late partner Boris Berezovsky in 1995, has been whining to anyone who’ll listen about the rigours of being a member of the nouveau pauvre.
Aven, 67, a director of Russia’s biggest private bank who made his £4.5 billion fortune from oil investments, never learned to drive and is now being forced to contemplate life without a chauffeur.
While his wife toured London’s cashpoints taking out as much money as she could before sanctions hit, that nest egg won’t last for long.
The salary of a top-notch yacht captain alone can set you back £220,000 a year, then there’s the army of officers, engineers, deck-hands, stewardesses and chefs that make up the crew. The 550ft Eclipse, with its 24 cabins and brace of helipads, has a crew of no fewer than 70. Solaris, a superyacht linked to Abramovich, is pictured above
‘Will I be allowed to have a cleaner, or a driver?’ Aven wailed in an interview last month.
‘I don’t drive a car . . . maybe my stepdaughter will drive. We don’t understand how to survive.’
Before we allow our empathy- ometers to go into overdrive, however, let’s bear in mind that he was saying this while sitting at a table laden with fruit and snacks in his penthouse apartment in the exclusive St James’s area of Westminster in London.
A few miles away in Surrey’s Virginia Water, Aven — who was raised in a communal apartment in Moscow with a kitchen and bathroom shared by eight families — has an even more salubrious property, a neo-Palladian mansion set in 8.5 acres of green lawns. In the grounds, ‘Reclining Figure’, an 8ft-long bronze nude by the late British sculptor Henry Moore, which he bought for £19 million, has pride of place.
Inside the house, Aven’s multimillion pound art collection, includes paintings by Russian masters such as Kandinsky and Chagall.
Not that he can sell off any of these assets to raise a little pocket money, of course.
Sanctions prohibit it.
Aven’s business partner Mikhail Fridman — worth £11.9 billion at the last count — has also been bellyaching about his new life on the breadline.
Speaking to Spanish newspaper El Pais, he said: ‘The authorities in the UK should give me a certain amount so I can go in a taxi and buy food, but it will be a very limited amount in relation to the cost of living in London.
‘I can’t even pay in a restaurant. I have to eat at home and I am practically under house arrest.’
Still, if you are going to be confined to quarters, Athlone House on the edge of Hampstead Heath in North London is as good a place as any.
When you’ve been living this sort of cartoonishly opulent lifestyle for more than two decades, it must come as quite a blow to have the silver spoon snatched away
Apart from the usual amenities, the mansion Fridman bought for £65 million in 2016 has an underground swimming pool, wine cellar, cigar room, and yoga room.
London-based Russians are not the only ones feeling hard done by.
Many living on home soil are feeling resentful about being denied access to their Italian shopping trips and French beach holidays after being added to the EU’s list of sanctioned individuals. Take Russian state-television host Vladimir Solovyev, who owns two luxury villas on Italy’s Lake Como, where George Clooney has a $100 million estate.
Solovyev, who is known for his strident attacks on the West, flew into a rage over the impact of sanctions on his Italian properties, said to be worth a combined total of £6.7 million.
‘I was told that Europe is a citadel of rights, that everything is permitted, that’s what they said . . . I know from personal experience about the so-called “sacred property rights”,’ he ranted on air, in an emotional diatribe against his tormentors.
‘I bought it, paid a crazy amount of taxes, I did everything. And suddenly someone makes a decision that this journalist is now on the list of sanctions.
‘And right away it affects your real estate. Wait a minute. But you told us that Europe has sacred property rights!’
If Solovyev was angry then, he’s going to be even more furious now.
On Wednesday morning, Italian firefighters were called to put out a fire at his villa in the village of Menaggio.
His other villa, a magnificent, salmon-pink edifice that sits in a prime spot on the lakefront, had the words ‘Killer’ and ‘No war’ daubed in spray-paint on its facade and entrance way. Red paint was also poured into the water in his swimming pool.
What Putin’s poodles and the dozens of oligarchs who have profited greatly from their relationship with him have learned — to their cost — over the past month or so is that even into the most gilded life a little rain must fall.
As for the rest of us: is there anything more deliciously satisfying than the sweet taste of Schadenfreude?
Roman’s massive weekly payroll
The revelation that Abramovich is having trouble paying his staff has thrown the spotlight on his enormous outgoings on personnel. According to the New York Post, he spends $750,000 (£575,000) a week on staff wages — that’s almost £30 million a year.
But when you assess the scale of his property holdings and the extent of his collection of boys’ toys, it becomes clear that he requires an army of — often highly paid — staff to run them. His superyachts alone have 176 crew members. And, as Abramovich has discovered this week, it all adds up.
Britain: Abramovich’s British property portfolio is made up of around 70 homes, buildings and plots of land. His prime acquisitions are a £170 million 15-bedroom mansion on Kensington Palace Gardens, and a £30 million three-storey penthouse in Chelsea Harbour.
US: £38 million ranch in the Rocky Mountains.
Caribbean: £54 million, 70-acre estate on Gouverneur’s Bay, St Barts.
Israel: £52 million home in Herzliya district of Tel Aviv, £17 million beach-front hotel in Neve Tzedek, £46 million office block on the Tel Aviv seafront.
Russia: Abramovich’s holding company, Millhouse Capital, owns more than £760 million of assets in his homeland, including Four Winds Plaza, an office and residential block in Moscow, and the recently acquired Kristall hotel in the Black Sea resort of Gelendzhik.
Key household staff: House manager (£50,000 a year), chef (£50,000), butler (£47,500), chauffeur (£40,000), cleaner (£23,000), gardener (£21,000).
Abramovich has a fleet of five yachts. (The annual running costs of a 50-75-metre yacht is estimated to be 3-5 per cent of the vessel value — excluding provisioning, mooring fees, fuel and major works — while for vessels of 80m-plus they are 5-7 per cent.)
Eclipse: Cost £335 million, length 162.5m, 70 crew.
Solaris: Cost £363 million, length 140m, 60 crew.
Halo: Cost £29 million, length 58m, 15 crew.
Garcon: Cost £22 million, length 67m, 20 crew.
Sussurro: Cost £8.5 million, length 49.5m, 11 crew.
Key staff: Captain (£170-£220,000 a year), first officer (£120,000), chief engineer (£140,000), chief stewardess (£40,000-£70,000), deck-hands and stewardesses (£20,000-£45,000).
His aircraft include: Boeing 787 Dreamliner — £265 million; Gulfstream 650ER — £49 million; Bombardier — £8 million; Two Airbus helicopters — £21.5 million
Key staff: Pilot (£85,000-£125,000 a year), cabin crew (£15,000-£19,000).
Abramovich is said to travel with a team of up to ten bodyguards including ex-special services men, who can charge up to £450 a day.