Lifestyles of the Really, Really Rich (but They Don't Want to Be Famous)

The fiery Ferrari crash last weekend that critically injured Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov has turned a spotlight onto the playgrounds of the ultrarich.

Though the crash occurred on the Riviera, just a quick hop away -- by private jet -- is London, where a disproportionately high number of billionaires have settled, according to this year's Forbes magazine survey of the world's richest people.

London's shops, exclusive nightclubs, and top-notch private schools cater to them -- famed department store Harrods has an entire department of personal shoppers to fulfill their every whim.

And members-only nightclubs like Annabel's make sure to keep the riffraff -- like lowly millionaires -- behind the velvet ropes.

Of the 23 billionaires based in London, only 12 are British. The rest come from places as far-flung as India, Iceland and South Africa.

At the top of the London list, and ranking as the world's fifth-richest person overall with a fortune of $23.5 billion, is Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.

Close behind is the Russian owner of the Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich, who ranks the world's 11th-richest person with $18.82 billion.

Yet another Russian, oil tycoon Leonard Blavatnik is said to be worth $5 billion; Dutch heiress Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken inherited her $5 billion fortune from the brewing empire of her late father, Freddy Heineken.

They're not exactly household names.

While many American millionaires like a little attention (Donald Trump, anyone?), these billionaires are a fairly anonymous and low-keyed lot -- except to each other.

Why is London an attractive place to settle?

"Billionaires are, by nature, [a] peripatetic lot," said Paul Maidment of Forbes. "They can afford to own property on many continents, and do. Their business interests and their investments are global. … In a sense, they are citizens of no country but the self-contained universe of the superwealthy."

And London has many unique attributes: "Number one, it's a tax haven, but it's the cocoon and isolation from the rest of the world they want," Maidment said.

Low taxation is a major enticement.

Russian oligarchs and Arab petrobillionaires are lured to London by British Chancellor of Exchequer Gordon Brown's willingness to allow 60,000 foreigners to escape paying tax on income and investments held abroad.

London's innovative and open financial markets are another draw for the superrich.

The billionaires already invest in real estate and gold bars, and stow away dollar bills in Swiss bank accounts.

London offers them a convenient plethora of banks with marble floors and investment firms with elegant pillars, which are scattered across the poshest residential districts: Mayfair, St. James and Belgravia.

According to Richard Skinner, a strategist for Price Waterhouse Coopers: "The time difference is optimal for trading with the Middle East, and London is a bridge between North America and Asia. Being able to conduct business in the English language is another draw, not to mention being able to find your own set of people in London, whether it be Arabs, Asians or Russians."

Furthermore, the political stability that the United Kingdom enjoys is an invaluable benefit. The politicians and bureaucrats aren't corrupt, and there is a sound legal system.

This billionaire ecosystem generates a lot of jobs up and down the employment food chain: chefs, gardeners, drivers, nannies, bodyguards, and the agencies that employ them -- not to mention the restaurants, clubs and boutiques where they can while away the day.

Shopping With a Personal Touch

The higher echelons of English society must be a veritable minefield for foreigners and/or the nouveau riche.

However, help is at hand from the Harrods personal shopping service, "By Appointment."

Michael Mann, Harrods public-relations manager, was quick to point out that the store "offers a lifestyle service that goes way beyond a concierge service. I'm not talking sofas and beds. If people come into new money, we can advise them where to live, where to find a butler, a chauffeur. Where to buy theater, cinema, polo or football tickets."

Sukeena Rao, who heads the Harrods Personal Shopping group, marvels that: "Eighty percent of last year's Forbes Top 10 list shops with their personal shoppers."

Among the requests from the ultrawealthy clientele: "The craziest thing they've ever been asked to do was kit out [furnish] the interior of a Gulfstream jet in 24 hours," Rao said.

"Everything was thought of, from cashmere blankets on every seat, mini Louis Vuitton bags with Creme de la Mer toiletries for everyone. And all the beautiful air hostesses were decked out in Fendi to board the jet to St. Petersburg."

"By Appointment" knows its customers intimately: They require bespoke (handmade) and exclusive pieces from luxury brands like Balenciaga and Oscar de la Renta, which Harrods will source for them.

And if the billionaire is looking for a gift for a billionaire "already has it all" friend, there is the chance to book a private dinner with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay -- but, frankly, if you have to ask how much it is, you can't afford it.

The Whims of the Wealthy

Culture vulture billionaires in London have everything at their disposal: world-class galleries, concerts, operas and theater.

They are absolutely drowning in choices where gastronomy is concerned.

There are dozens of top-flight restaurants, serving up a cornucopia of delicacies in addition to the mainstay English dishes of celery and stilton soup, Dover sole, roast beef and horseradish sauce.

And how about a little summer pudding to send you into a hyperglycemic attack?

For those who want to party after dinner, the piece de resistance of nightclubs is the aristocrat discotheque Annabel's where you can hobnob with the whole of Debrett's Peerage -- every viscount or lady and German and Arab prince or Russian czar makes the scene sooner or later.

The spokesman for Annabel's, who wanted to remain anonymous, was very guarded in giving any secrets away about his exclusive clientele.

He did admit that the club had its fair share of royals through the door and that there were always parades of limos clogging up the entrance at closing time.

The club, he says, "was founded 40 years ago by Mike Birley, who wanted to provide a good quality service with attention to detail in an atmosphere where the customers are comfortable. It's like a home from home."

The clientele "comes from all over, but in the last 10 years a lot of wealth has come from the Middle East, Far East and Russia."

Members, ages 18 to 85, observe a strict door policy of jackets for men and no jeans or sneakers. And with a $1,000 annual membership fee, it's not hard to see how the club has managed to keep its glamorous cachet over all this years.

Buying the Brits Out of House and Home

The rich are also keeping London's estate agents in work. Foreign buyers bought more than half of the London homes that sold more than £2 million last year.

Indeed, the massive spending power of the "novi Russki" has been a driving force behind the 25 percent rise in price since January for property in the few squares miles of what real estate agents call "prime central London."

Lulu Egerton of Lane Fox Estate Agents says the English "are clinging on to plush Chelsea streets by their shirttails" as they are priced out of the market.

Brothers Nick and Christian Candy are taking advantage of this foreign boom and creating apartments especially for Russian oligarchs, British chief executives, American film stars, Arab princes, and the new billionaires from India and China.

One of their properties, a $53 million flat behind a 19th century facade on Manresa Road, Chelsea, is the most expensive apartment in London.

Candy flats include an "intelligent mirror" that combines a hidden camera with a 50-inch plasma screen to show the viewer in full from all angles; they also offer a pool table made from solid Venetian glass (and felt, of course).

And where property is concerned, the sky's the limit.

Billionaire Roman Abramovich -- who has racked up a dizzying portfolio of properties, including the Chelsea Football Club and a couple of yachts (the 377-foot Pealrus and the 282-foot Ecstasea) -- has a $12 million house in Chester Square (where his neighbors include Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber), a couple of $10 million flats, and a 434-acre estate in Sussex previously owned by King Hussein of Jordan.

And that's not to mention the governorship of the Siberian province of Chutoka, the exiled duke of Windsor's former chateau near Cap d'Antibes, which cost $30 million in 2000, a villa in Saint-Tropez and a walled estate outside Moscow.

Private Schools Par Excellence

London also offers his children an unrivaled education and is a stone's throw from all the major British public schools, like Eton, Radley and Harrow, where his children can learn math and English as well as proper English etiquette.

British public schools are the equivalent of prestigious American boarding schools like Andover or Exeter.

Standing in their little tweed coats and squashy velvet hats at the gates of one smart prep school, Abramovich's kids are not picked up by their yummy mummy, Irina.

Instead, there is a sport utility vehicle with tinted windows waiting, with a tough young man who has "bodyguard" written all over him standing by.

Apparently, the Abramovich family has a team of four permanent bodyguards run by a team of former Special Air Service soldiers.

Paul Maidment, editor of the Forbes' list, pointed out that Samuel Johnson's exchange with his biographer Boswell in 1777, still rang true today.

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." And then some.