Billions In The Bank: Shopping Among The Richest

You probably have a fairly good idea of what you would buy if you won $10,000, but what would you do if you won $10 billion? Would it be as easy to come up with a shopping list?

You really have to feel sorry for the world’s billionaires because they have exactly the same problem. I mean, how can you spend a billion dollars? Can you think of anything – just off the top of your head – that costs a billion dollars? You could, perhaps, buy a small country with that, but you would still have $9 billion left. What next?

Some of the world’s most famous billionaires have struggled for years with this problem. Here is how ten of them solved it. Or, rather, attempted to solve it. What they’ve spent here is just pocket change to them, but you have to admire them for trying.

10 Necker Island- $175,000

One of the most famous islands in the world belongs to Richard Branson. He purchased a 74 acre uninhabited island when he was 28 and his Virgin Group had been operating for just six years. A gamble at the time considering he made his first million at the age of 25.

He reportedly paid $175,000 for the lush island, although some estimates say $270,000. OK, he’s spent a few bucks developing it but it’s still a good investment. It’s now valued at $60 million and is a popular vacation destination for some of the most famous people in the world.

9 Custom Built Rolls Royce- $14 million

The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, bought this Rolls Royce convertible, known as the Star of India, which was originally built in 1934 for the Maharajah of Rajkot, for $14 million. The Maharajah had it custom built by Rolls Royce and the bodywork by Thrupp and Maberley is finished in ochre and polished aluminium. Originally it had no fewer than 14 headlamps – the Maharajah liked to see where he was going.

As far as the Sultan is concerned $14 million is probably only pocket change for the weekend, but at least he’s trying.

8 Hitler’s Mercedes - Between $6 million and $15 million

An anonymous Russian billionaire (you’ll need to guess which one of the 62 Russian billionaires it was) paid somewhere between $6 million and $15 million in 2006 for Hitler’s private Mercedes 770k finished in midnight blue. Not surprisingly the vehicle is armour plated and weighs in at five tons.

It also comes with a curse. Everyone who has purchased the car has died not long afterwards – including Hitler himself.

7 Flying Heritage Collection -  $21 million

Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-5Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-3 (Emil)

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, started his collection of vintage and WW II aircraft in 1998. He now has a collection of over twenty, many of which have been recovered from battlefields and former airfields. The collection is kept at Paine Field, Everett, Wash.

These are not just museum pieces, as Allen is continually restoring them so that once again they can do what they were built to do – fly.

The collection includes not only American aircraft, but British, German, Japanese and Russian examples, many of which fought against each other in the skies of the 1940’s.

Also on view are some other artefacts such as a German V-2 Rocket, a Flak 37 88mm Gun and an M4A1 Sherman Medium Tank.

So far, Allen has spent $21 million on his collection. The hangar to house the aircrafts cost an additional $5.2 million. So when you buy and download Windows 8 you now know where some of your money is going.

6 Badminton Cabinet- $36 million

This 18thC Florentine cabinet, known as the Badminton Cabinet, was purchased in 1990 by Barbara Johnson (of Johnson & Johnson fame) for $16.59 million. It came back on the market in 2004 at Christie’s Auction House when it was sold for $36 million to Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein, making it the most expensive piece of furniture ever sold.

The ebony drawers are inlaid with lapis lazuli, agate and amethyst. Prince Hans very kindly donated it to the Liechtenstein Museum in Austria because he couldn’t find room for it in his palace. It’s a tough old life being a billionaire Prince. 

5 The First Commercial Spacecraft - $200 million

Sir Richard Branson is not content with taking his passengers across the Atlantic, or even around the world. He spent $200 million of his $4.2 billion net worth building the Enterprise, (yes, he’s a Trekkie), the world’s first commercial spacecraft.

Tickets for the flight which will involve six minutes of weightlessness in space are being gobbled up at an alarming rate at a cost of $200,000 a pop. Among the 500 buyers of tickets (yes, 500, so Branson’s got half his money back already) are Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Stephen Hawking. To be fair, Hawking got a freebie from Branson in order to publicise what he sees as a vital mission to explore space. He doesn’t think we will live another thousand years without having to escape from Mother Earth.

4 Lauder’s Art Collection - $650 million

This 1907 painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1 by Gustav Klimt is recorded as the third most expensive painting ever sold. Adele was the wife of a sugar magnate, and hostess of a Vienna Salon.

For many years the painting was the subject of a battle between the Austrian Government and Adele’s niece Maria Altmann who argued that this and four other Klimt paintings had been seized by Nazi troops during WW II. In January 2006, together with the other four Klimts, it was returned to Maria, then 90, who lived in Los Angeles.

She promptly put it up for auction and in June 2006 it was purchased by Ronald Lauder, heir to the cosmetics company. He paid $135 million for it bringing the total value of his art collection then to $650 million. Not a cheap purchase, but it probably looks nice hanging on the living room wall. 

3 536’ Foot Private Yacht - $1.5 billion

536-feet long and styled after military vessels, we simply had to take a look.

This is The Eclipse, all 536’ feet of her, the yacht belonging to Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich. It is rumoured that he paid close to $1.5 billion for it.

It has bullet-proof glass in the master suite and the bridge. It has two heli-pads – well you never know when you might have two friends dropping in for cocktails at the same time, do you? It houses a mini submarine and a missile defense system. It takes a crew of seventy to run it.

It costs around $1.5 million a week to run. Just to pop out for the day for a cruise around the bay would cost $25,000 in fuel, but Abramovich can afford it. He’s worth $13.6 billion.

2 27 Storey Home-  $2 billion

While 42% of Indians live below the international poverty line on less than $1.25 per day, spare a thought for the world’s fourth richest man, Mukesh Ambani, with $21.5 billion to spend. He decided it was time to move house and thought he’d have one built to order.

Not just any old house. This 27 storey skyscraper standing 550’ high above the slums in Mumbai cost him close to $2 billion. It looks rather like a stack of old boxes piled on top of one another, but I’m sure it’s lovely inside with its 4,000,000 square feet of space.

1 Journey Into Space - Billions

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (net worth around $35.6 billion) has put some of his money to work by founding Blue Origin. Like Branson, he plans to take people into space, but in his case for scientific research.

His technicians are working to lower the cost of space flight by building re-usable vehicles.

Traditional space flight has used a rocket booster costing billions to design and build which is used once for about two to three minutes and then thrown away.

Blue Origin has designed a Crew Capsule which sits on top of a Propulsion Module. Following lift-off the two vehicles operate for two and a half minutes after which the Propulsion Module will shut off its engines, separate from the Crew Capsule and make a vertical landing back on earth where it can be used again.

As Bezos points out, traditional boosters have two drawbacks. Not only are they thrown away after use, but you can’t flight test them, which makes reliability something of a challenge. It’s rather like building a car and selling it without ever having driven it on the road. You want to buy one of those?

Bezos is well aware that his project will take years to come to fruition, but at least he doesn’t have to lie awake at night worrying about his overdraft.

So that’s how some of the world’s billionaires spend their money. Of course, the problem is that they’ve got so much of the stuff that the interest piles up faster than they can spend it. But you’ve got to hand it to them, bless ‘em. They do try.

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