Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Extravagance Knows No Bounds – £36m Mansion Previously Owned By Disgraced Tycoons Alan Bond And Conrad Black Again For Sale

Matthew Steeples takes a look at a £36 million Kensington mansion formerly owned by disgraced business tycoons Alan Bond and Lord Black; its former chatelaine was known for stating “I have an extravagance that know no bounds”

Sir Winston Churchill’s daughter Mary Soames once described the buccaneering businessman and media tycoon Lord Black of Crossharbour as “London’s biggest bore unhung” whilst his wife, Lady Black – better known as the author and journalist Barbara Amiel – was suggested to be just a “rich bitch” by Sarah Sands in a “case for the defence” article in the Independent in October 2006.

 

“Poster boy for the 80s” turned fraudster and jailbird Alan Bond (1938 – 2015) was an English-Australian businessman equally Marmite-like in being liked or loathed and now a Kensington mansion owned for a time by both subsequently disgraced businessmen is once again for sale.

 

14 Cottesmore Gardens, formerly known as 12 – 14 Cottesmore Gardens, was purchased by Alan Bond’s Satellite Group for £7 million in the 1980s and sold by administrators of that business to Conrad Black and his wife for the knockdown sum of just £3.5 million in 1992.

 

Plain old Mr and Mrs Black (as they then were) lavished further millions – some of which came from the company Hollinger International, Inc., which ultimately resulted in their downfall – on the double fronted 19th century mansion and used it for entertaining on a lavish scale. Guests, including the likes of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Joan Collins, Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Goldsmith, James Hanson, Arnold Weinstock, Jacob Rothschild, Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair, were said to flock to the parties they gave there, but in 2005 these gatherings of upto 400 people at a time came to an almighty end.

 

Forced to sell at a bargain basement price of just £13.1 million on an ask of £17.5 million as the Canadian born billionaire faced jail time in America, Lord and Lady Black’s tenure was over and the residence saw its “arriviste torch” passed to Juan and Adriana Villalonga, a couple described as “a Mexican telecom czar and his beauty-queen wife.” Of what came next, The Globe And Mail’s Paul Waldie pointedly penned in February 2007: “[They] quickly erased many of the features that the Blacks prized.”

 

Once again for sale as of April 2023, the value of 14 Cottesmore Gardens has again been deemed to have substantially risen. Knight Frank offer the 12,310 square foot, five-storey residence at a punchy price of £36 million and laud it as “imposing” and “presented in good order throughout.” They add that a “pre-planning consultation” has found that further accommodation could be added that would take the internal space to more than 15,000 square feet; business barons with deep pockets only need apply.

 

Editor’s Note – Unlike as is the case in many publications, this article was NOT sponsored or supported by a third-party. Follow Matthew Steeples on Twitter at @M_Steeples.

 

Pictured Top – 54-foot wide 14 Cottesmore Gardens is described by selling agents Knight Frank as “offering lateral living so often requested but so hard to find in central London.” They neglect to mention that with its hedges cut back to the minimum, the place actually looks extremely forlorn.

 

Lord and Lady Black Tom Bower Cardinal Richelieu Marie Antoinette
Flamboyant Lord and Lady Black dressed as Cardinal Richelieu and Marie Antoinette for a party at Kensington Palace in 2000. For a time, the couple employed 17 butlers (if Tom Bower is to be believed) and had two private jets and homes – aside from the 19th Cottesmore Gardens mansion – in New York, Palm Beach and Toronto. “Guests packed into their parties at Cottesmore Gardens,” Bower remarked in his 2006 book the couple, adding: “Amiel was a big spender… Under the control of senior butler Andrew Lightwood, second butler Peter Wilson and a succession of third butlers, Amiel’s life in Kensington had become what her constantly changing staff called ‘bizarre.’ Each recruit was taken by Lightwood on an introductory tour of the house, ending on the roof. ‘Make sure the landing lights are on at all times,’ instructed Lightwood solemnly, ‘because Madame takes off from here on her broomstick looking for cats. She needs the lights to guide her return.’ His face would crack into a smile. ‘Most important, take care that she never sees you. She hates seeing any of us.’ Amiel’s eccentricity demanded that her staff hid whenever she approached, diving into cupboards if necessary, and never entered her quarters when she was present. Every day, all the bed linen was changed and subjected to ‘the penny test.’ A coin was dropped onto the sheets. If it failed to bounce they were not drawn sufficiently tight. Every cushion was arranged to a precise pre-ordained position, and each towel placed exactly as Amiel had predetermined. ‘Andrew!’ she screamed down the telephone on one memorable occasion, ‘the towels are in the wrong place!’ Lightwood, as Amiel knew, was in New York, but he was expected to telephone the staff in the house in London to rectify the error. ‘You f**king pillock!’ she yelled at another member of staff for reading her ‘Daily Mail’ before it was delivered to her.”
Barrbara Amiel drawing room 14 Cottesmore Gardens
Barbara Amiel Black (or ‘Lady Black’ as she prefers to be known) in her drawing room at Cottesmore Gardens (pictured). Of her, Sarah Sands on Lord and Lady Black in the ‘Independent’ in October 2006 opined: “Conrad and Barbara in their monstrous, glamorous way, knew how to throw parties. The talk was of geo-politics and hemlines. Nowadays, we scorn their extravagance and doubt the source of their wealth with prune-faced hindsight. Meanwhile, everyone is sucking up to Russians…. Barbara would disingenuously begin her midnight calls to me by saying in her low, breathy voice: ‘I hope I am not disturbing you.’ She would then offer little glimpses of her own home life. I remember her mentioning that Conrad Black was upstairs playing with his fleet of toy gun ships in the bath… I remember her examining an exhibition of doll’s houses at the Chelsea Flower Show and sighing how restful it would be to live in this cosy little home. How she envied people in small houses. The burden of wealth was one of her more dangerous fantasies. At one of her Gatsby-style parties in Kensington, she flinched at the elaborate canapés on offer: ‘Really, all I want is a sausage,’ she said, piteously. Then, she ran a hand down her inconceivably expensive dress and whispered: ‘I hate these parties, I am so shy.’ Later, I was invited to her boudoir, where she lay on cushion surrounded by her women friends. She was Kensington’s Cleopatra, surrounded by maidens such as the designer and Forte daughter Olga Polizzi, the political thinker Tessa Keswick and the writer Miriam Gross.”
Drawing room 14 Cottesmore Gardens today
The very same drawing room at 14 Cottesmore Gardens today. The décor is now somewhat more modern and less ‘classical country house-ified.’ It’s certainly more Soho Farmhouse than Alberto Pinto in style; it is currently a space that the former Meghan Markle would feel more at home than say, perhaps, the likes of Lord and Lady Black’s chum Ghislaine Maxwell and her fellow noxious nonce Ponzi scheming paedophile boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein. Mr Pinto was responsible, it should be noted, for the designs of most of Epstein’s residences.
12 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens Conrad Black
The front elevation of 12 – 14 Cottesmore Gardens during the era it was owned by Lord and Lady Black.
Conrad Black Barbara Amiel Ghislaine Maxwell Jeffrey Epstein Little Black Book
Multiple entries for Lord and Lady Black during the time they owned 14 Cottesmore Gardens appeared in the ‘Little Black Book’ address book often attributed as being that of the friends and associates of Jeffrey Epstein, but that featured more of the contacts of Ghislaine Maxwell in fact. In October 2020, Barbara Amiel took revenge on the pension pot plunderer’s padeophile sex trafficker daughter by featuring her in her “score-settling” memoir ‘Friends & Enemies: A Life in Vogue, Prison, & Park Avenue.” Maxwell had “dumped” Lady Black when Lord Black was being investigated for fraud. She wrote of their last meeting: “We were friends – so putting on my ‘So good to see you’ face, I headed for her. She bolted. Turned that sharp tight little turn when you really want to get away. And that was it.”
Barbara Amiel
Of the clear lover of plastic surgery Lady Black, in October 2020, Sarah Sands remarked in ‘The Mail on Sunday’: “She had a bohemian, almost masculine, view of opportunistic sex. She describes, for instance, accompanying an early love in his white Triumph sports car ‘in which once or twice I had performed fellatio to the fascination of passing truck drivers, all for fun.’”
Conrad Black Barbara Amiel 2012
After getting out of the clink in 2012, Lord and Lady Black decided to go back on the ‘razzle-dazzle’ and posed for photographers before heading back to London to party with friends. In May 2019, the rambunctious peer arrogantly announced he’d be returning to the House of Lords after President Donald Trump pardoned and praised him. Commenting, of this pardon, Lord Black declared: “I’m not bitter… Officially in the United States, I’ve never been charged and I won in the end. It was a war and there are casualties in wars. I lost the time, I lost a lot of money, but as you can see my standards of living isn’t bad… The truth is, these, last 15 years, I haven’t been as interested in British politics as I was before – in the Thatcher years. It could be quite interesting again, in fact it is as of right now – it’s very interesting… It’s my good fortune that at a time when it is feasible, it happens – by happy coincidence – that it is a time of great fermentation in British public affairs.” Surprisingly, he doesn’t seem to have turned up on occasions since.
Alan Bond
The previous owner of 14 Cottesmore Gardens, Alan Bond (1938 – 2015), will forever be remembered as “Australia’s most notorious corporate criminal.” Born in Hammersmith, London, Bond’s first crime occurred when he was charged with theft aged 14 in Fremantle in Australia and whilst he is remembered for bankrolling the successful challenge for the 1983 America’s Cup, it is for causing the then biggest corporate collapse in Australian history that he will be go down in history.
Adriana Abascal López-Cisneros Villalonga with Emmanuel Schreder
Former Miss Mexico Adriana Abascal López-Cisneros (at the time Adriana Villalonga) bought the house in 2005. She divorced the Spanish businessman Juan Villalonga in 2009 and married the French businessman Emmanuel Schreder in Ibiza in June 2013. In August 2014, the magazine ‘Quién’ featured the model and television presenter on its cover and at that time she described her new husband as “the love of my life.”
Telefónica Juan Villalonga and wife Adriana Abascal
Madrid born Juan Villalonga became the joint owner of 14 Cottesmore Gardens with his then wife Adriana Abascal – the couple were married between 2000 and 2009 – in 2005. He is listed on Companies House as being a director of the now dissolved Medikidz Foundation at the address between August 2009 and November 2013. Married since 2011 to a photographer named Vanessa Von Zitewitz, Mr Villalonga was a partner at McKinsey & Company in the 1980s, CEO for Credit Suisse First Boston and Bankers Trust in Spain in the early 1990s and CEO of Telefónica from 1996 to 2000. He was named as one of the best performing chief executive officers in the world by ‘Harvard Business Review’ in 2010 and is also linked to addresses in Monaco.

The Names & Numbers – 14 Cottesmore Gardens (formerly known as ’12 – 14 Cottesmore Gardens’), Kensington, London, W8 5PR, United Kingdom

April 2023 – Offered for sale for £36 million ($44.4 million, €40.9 million or درهم163.2 million) through Knight Frank. Valued on Homipi at an upper sum of £28.558 million ($35.250 million, €32.440 million or درهم129.456 million).

 

2009 – Mr and Mrs Villalonga divorce and subsequently Adriana Abascal married Emmanuel Schreder, a French businessman, in Ibiza in June 2013.

 

2005 – Sold by Lord and Lady Black for £13.1 million ($16.2 million, €14.9 million or درهم59.4 million) to Spanish businessman Juan Villalonga Navarro and Mexican model, Miss Mexico winner and television presenter Adriana Abascal López-Cisneros Villalonga.

 

October 2004 – Placed for sale for £17.5 million ($21.6 million, €19.9 million or درهم79.3 million) according to NZ Herald.

 

January 2004 – Valued at £14 million ($17.3 million, €15.9 million or درهم63.5 million) according to The Globe And Mail. At the time, the “mansion” in “the upscale Kensington neighbourhood” was described as having “10 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms and a swimming pool.”

 

Featured also in The Guardian in an article by Chris Tryhorn. Quoting Lord Black, he shared: “At a certain price, anything is for sale. [It has] been shown to people in the not-too-distant-past.”

 

Going further, Tryhorn added: “Artwork from the 18th and 19th centuries lines the walls, and there is plenty of storage space for the extensive wardrobe and shoe collection of Lord Black’s wife, Barbara Amiel, who famously declared once that her ‘extravagence knows no bounds.’ … It was originally two homes and one of the two original front doors is now a ‘deliveries’ entrance. He has used it in the past to host dinners with butler and maid service that was part-paid by Hollinger.”

 

Also in 2004, in a profile in The Spectator, Peter Oborne wrote:

 

“Every year the Blacks threw two parties, one at Christmas and one summer event, at their double-fronted 11-bedroom mansion in Cottesmore Gardens. Everybody who mattered at the time went: Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Goldsmith, James Hanson, Arnold Weinstock, Jacob Rothschild, royalty, the playwright Tom Stoppard.”

 

“Some of these, injudiciously as it turned out, agreed to join the main Hollinger board. The luckier ones – Peter Carrington, Robert Salisbury – got away with being made directors of The Telegraph. As the Tories faded out, Labour ministers started to arrive, the indefatigable Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett and other ministers eager to ingratiate themselves with the Tory press. Prince and Princess Michael of Kent were assiduous in attendance. In London, the Nineties belonged to the Blacks. They were London’s most glamorous power couple.”

 

“There had been a time when both Blacks had kept their feet on the ground. This ceased to be the case. One evening Barbara Black rang Charles Moore panic-stricken from her Kensington home. There had been a last-minute drop-out from one of the famous Black dinner parties. ‘I’m short of a woman,’ she told Moore. Moore surveyed the newsroom. His gaze alighted on the journalist Eleanor Mills, by chance the stepdaughter of the Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell.”

 

“An hour later, hastily groomed, made-up and brushed, Mills was sipping pre-dinner drinks in Cottesmore Gardens. Then disaster struck. A male guest, Max Fisher, dropped out. Mills was approached by Conrad Black. ‘Finish your drink and skedaddle,’ he told her. Barbara Black then told her to go to the kitchen and out through the servants’ door, where the driver would pick her up and take her home.”

 

2001 – Conrad Black is elevated to a life peerage in the United Kingdom at the suggestion of Tony Blair. He sat on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords until 2007 as The Right Honourable The Lord Black of Crossharbour KCSG, but took a “leave of absence” between 2012 and 2019.

 

28th May 1996 – The Royal Borough of Kensington And Chelsea ordered that 12 – 14 Cottesmore Gardens “shall be known and described” simply instead as 14 Cottesmore Gardens.

 

Mid 1990s – The Blacks set about renovating 12 and 14 Cottesmore Gardens with the help of J. E. Evans Associates. Of the work in October 2006, The Sunday Times shared a segment of Tom Bower’s 2006 hatchet job Conrad and Lady Black that read: “Amiel vowed to create a palace that would attract celebrity worshipers of a power couple. Part of the first floor was to be removed to create a huge ground floor reception area.”

 

1992 – 12 and 14 Cottesmore Gardens sold by the administrators of the affairs of Alan Bond through estate agents Savills to media tycoon Conrad Black and his Watford born journalist wife Barbara Amiel Black for “well under the asking price” for a sum of £3.5 million ($4.3 million, €4 million or درهم15.9 million).

 

Mr Bond had been granted mortgages valued at £16.2 million ($20 million, €18.4 million or درهم73.5 million) on the property by Bell Satellite Services on the property along with two others at 4 and 16 Belgrave Mews in London, SW1 previously according to a report published by Financial Review in March 1990.

 

1991 – Rented to an American businessman for £6,000 per week ($7,400, €6,800 or درهم27,200 per week).

 

1990 – Placed in the hands of administrators of Mr Bond’s and placed for sale through Savills for a bargain basement sum of £3.8 million ($4.7 million, €4.3 million or درهم17.2 million) according to Financial Review.

 

1980s – Sold to Alan Bond’s Bell Satellite Group for £7 million ($8.6 million, €8 million or درهم31.7 million).

 

Circa 1905 – Walter Tapper is said to have “designed a library with handsome Arts and Crafts plasterwork (now removed) at the rear of the building.”

 

1903 – 14 Cottesmore Gardens registered as the home of a Mrs Benson according to the Muster Roll of Angus: South African War, 1899 – 1902.

 

1869 – In their current marketing blurb, Knight Frank suggest: “There has been a house on the site of 12 – 14 Cottesmore Gardens since at least 1869. The current house has been altered, extended and most notably joined over the subsequent century and a half. With the local planning department strongly opposed to further amalgamation of homes, opportunities to acquire a house of this width will be rarer still in the future.”

 

1850s to 1860s – Built “under the direction of David Howell, of Serjeants Inn, Fleet Street.” Mr Howell was described in 1853 as an “articled clerk to a solicitor, lately carrying on business as a solicitor.” The architecture was lauded as: “Designed in a bold classical manner, with rather fleshy consoles and modillions… and bands of Vitruvian scroll between the bases of the ground-floor windows.”

 

More photographs of the £36 million mansion…

Image 1 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
An entrance hall where power and privilege have most certainly mingled previously.
Image 2 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
The 54-foot wide drawing is lauded by selling realtors Knight Frank as “arguably the best room in the house” and “double aspect.” They add: “[It has] six windows overlooking the street and additional views over the private garden to the rear.”
Image 3 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
The columns where Barbara Amiel Black once posed for photographs remain, but the subsequent owners eliminated much of the 1990s ‘brash’ that had been installed by a Watford born woman whose excess clearly offended so many.
Image 4 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
This dining room, where Conrad Black hosted presidents and prime ministers, is now somewhat diminished. The table for eight looks completely out of place and a future owner would do well to install something a little grander.
Image 5 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
A double height entertaining space was installed at the insistence of the loftier-than-lofty Lady Black in the 1990s and it remains today. However, it is now currently being used for more casual affairs such as Netflix viewing rather than being the scene of something that you’d more likely find in the ‘House of Cards’ in fact.
Image 6 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
A new owner might reinstate the grandeur of the past; sadly, however, this seems unlikely and the purchaser is more likely to be a footballer or Internet tycoon than a super-connected business tycoon.
Image 7 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
This currently very dark and very depressing study would most certainly not appeal to the very clearly very, very bright yet very, very pompous The Right Honourable The Lord Black of Crossharbour KCSG – a man who is said to count Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte as “his military heroes.” Of him in July 1997, Mark Honigsbaum in the ‘Independent’ remarked: “Although Black’s grandfather had briefly been a business partner of Harold Harmsworth, the original Viscount Rothermere, it was from his father, George Montegu Black Jr, that Black learned the art of corporate warfare, the importance of historical perspective and that gambling provides a disappointing rate of return compared to the Dow Jones index… The young Conrad was precocious. At the age of eight he sank his life savings of $60 into a single share of General Motors. He also became obsessed with Napoleon, and would astound his father’s friends by reeling off details of campaigns. Another story has him washing dollar bills and hanging them out to dry on a line outside his father’s home in Toronto. The last is apocryphal – Black says he slipped in the mud and was cleaning his change – but the image of the young capitalist, wise beyond his years, is accurate. His childhood tutor, the historian Laurier LaPierre, once asked Black why he always seemed to have the air of someone waiting for something to happen… A few years ago, for instance, the rumour went round Fleet Street that Black had bought Napoleon’s preserved penis at an auction. Black denied it, but many remain convinced that Bonaparte’s body part sits in Black’s collection of military curios… Black is no philanderer and is devoted to his second wife, the former ‘Sunday Times’ columnist Barbara Amiel. They are said to be intellectual soul mates and the parties at their four-storey mansion in Kensington are famous for bringing together a cross-section of the great and good.”
Image 8 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
One could not imagine the likes of the late great Baroness Thatcher, for example, liking the idea of sitting in this extremely depressing and dark waiting area. A new owner would do well to obliterate a décor scheme that could have only been favoured by a completely colour blind banker.
Image 9 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
A room currently described as a ‘cinema room’ measures 28’6” by 21’6” and is situated at the rear of the house. One can imagine Conrad Black having sat here for hour upon hour watching historical dramas about Napoleon with the likes of chums such as the acclaimed historian Andrew Roberts, the gambling tycoon John Aspinall and the politician and diarist Alan Clark, but a new owner will be more likely next showing episodes of ‘Succession’ – based on ‘The Telegraph’ tycoon’s rival Rupert Murdoch – than viewing historical works one most definitely suspects.
Image 10 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
Dining whilst the staff cook would NEVER have been on the agenda in the era that pomposity reigned whilst Lady Black was chatelaine of 14 Cottesmore Gardens.
Image 11 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
A 2,000 square foot entire floor fit for a tycoon… The master bedroom suite of the house takes up the entirety of the second floor of the building. It incorporates not only the principal bedroom, but also a “his” dressing room and a “her” dressing room as well as a sitting area, a bathroom, a shower room and storage rooms. It has direct lift access and is bigger than the average Brit’s entire house.
Dressing room 14 Cottesmore Gardens Barbara Amiel
A dressing room in the house where Barbara Black opened up to ‘Vogue’ and displayed “closets overflowing with dazzling evening gowns, designer handbags and 100 pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes. ‘I have an extravagance that knows no bounds,’ she famously declared. Unfortunately for Lady Black, the article was closely perused at investment company Tweedy, Browne, a Hollinger International shareholder.”
Image 12 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
This playroom certainly did not exist in the era that Lord and Lady Black owned the property. It would be more likely crammed with books or stuffed with Manolo Blahnik shoes than toys from Toys ‘R Us. A new owner may likely reinstate it as an additional bedroom or office or games room perhaps.
Image 13 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
The pool room measures 43’9” by 26’9” and is no doubt where Lady Black spent many an hour relaxing.
Image 14 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
The garden to the rear was where Lord and Lady Black hosted their annual summer party (with guests “spilling” into their drawing room also). In surprisingly Tardis-like fashion, the duo were able to supposedly squeeze in upto 400 guests at such occasions. Amongst those said to have enjoyed hospitality there were Joan Collins and of such, magazine publisher Nicholas Coleridge wrote: “If you get a kick out of milling about with present and former prime ministers, cabinet ministers, minor royals, dukes, editors, vastly rich Americans, distinguished historians, gossip columnists, playboys and lots of pretty ‘it’ girls, then this was the place to be.”
Image 15 - 14 Cottesmore Gardens(1)
The existing floor plan of the property illustrates the vast scale of the building offered. A buyer, Knight Frank observe, has additional options and “a pre-planning consultation has been carried out with RBKC by leading architects Studio Indigo.” They add: “[It] would completely reconfigure the house adding an additional basement floor and taking the internal space to more than 15,000 square foot. The resulting house would have a 40-foot by 41-foot south-facing rear garden.”
Site plan 14 Cottesmore Gardens
A plan of the site as presented in 1996 when 12 and 14 became known just as 14 Cottesmore Gardens.
Matthew Steeples
Matthew Steeples
A graduate of the London School of Economics, Matthew Steeples is a writer and marketing consultant. He conceived The Steeple Times as a media arena to fill the void between the Mail Online, The Huffington Post and such organs as the New York Social Diary in 2012.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Utterly lacking in soul; badly decorated. Will need at least £3 million spent on it, probably more. Disgusting. Tasteless. Bad. Yuck. Wrong.

  2. Me again!!!!!!!!!!! I’m back and I say: SEND IN THE WRECKING BALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Only a demolition squad is required here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Wow. How the other half live!!!
    Thank goodness I don’t have the misfortune of hosting parties for likes of these two and the rest you mentioned. I’ve little idea of house prices south of the border, however 36M seems a fair price for this palacial property, when compared to other prices in the big smoke.
    £

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