In March, Madonna called Covid “the great equaliser”, nattering on about unity from a rose petal-strewn bath in one of the seven bathrooms in her £6 million, 18th century Portuguese palace.
Seven months later, it’s still only the super-rich that can take such a rosy view of Covid; for them, the pandemic is a manageable personal inconvenience, not a global humanitarian crisis. This week, Kim Kardashian West was widely criticised for posting pictures of her lavish 40th birthday celebrations at Marlon Brando’s island resort, The Brando, on Tetiaroa.
Although technically not breaking any laws, the celebrity’s decision to fly out 30 of her family members and closest friends by private jet to celebrate with a sense of “normality” on a private island was unpalatable to even the most dedicated Kim fans. Because this is a time when for many people, the only ‘normality’ they dream of is being able to visit their family, or take their children to nursery, or even go back to work in a currently restricted industry, to earn money.
40 and feeling so humbled and blessed. There is not a single day that I take for granted, especially during these times when we are all reminded of the things that truly matter. For my birthday this year, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than with some of the people who have helped shaped me into the woman I am today. Before COVID, I don’t think any of us truly appreciated what a simple luxury it was to be able to travel and be together with family and friends in a safe environment. After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time. We danced, rode bikes, swam near whales, kayaked, watched a movie on the beach and so much more. I realize that for most people, this is something that is so far out of reach right now, so in moments like these, I am humbly reminded of how privileged my life is. #thisis40
A post shared by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on Oct 27, 2020 at 10:59am PDT
But she’s not the only privileged person who feels entitled to ‘normality’ – one that takes the form of champagne, luxury interiors, a personal chef, a nanny, a private jet and an entourage of equally privileged faces.
Kyra*, a fashion designer who pivoted to produce protective gear and masks for NHS and key workers during the pandemic, has been “shocked at how many of my friends simply see lockdown as an ‘opportunity’ to take up a new hobby, like ceramics, or work on their golf swing or surf skills, or do a juice cleanse and lose two stone,” she says.
“Every day someone cheerfully tells me they’re treating lockdown or quarantine as a ‘kundalini yoga retreat’ or a ‘digital detox’, or they tell me how excited they are to finally have a chance to ‘reset’ and ‘redecorate’ their farmhouse in the Cotswolds.” She mentions one wealthy couple who immediately rented a vast RV and are currently driving around the Italian lakes. “They actually said the words: ‘The pandemic is the best holiday we’ve ever had.’”
Indeed a stark line has emerged between the haves, and have-nots; that is, the ‘households’ who have-live-in-staff and have-not-live-in-staff.
Nadine* is a personal trainer and massage therapist who has been working for the same wealthy sports mogul and his family for five years. At their winter home in Megeve, south eastern France, she is still expected to give massages and treatments to the family’s regular stream of guests – including A-list celebrities. Temperatures are taken at the door, as if peace of mind can also be purchased for the price of an infrared thermometer gun.
“I joke with friends that I’m the closest thing to a legal spa right now,” she says. “With regular spas, and restaurants etc closed, being able to offer your wealthy friends the services of a private practitioner is even more of a bragging right these days.”
Anyone with access to a personal yoga teacher, vegan chef, reiki practitioner, life coach or ceramics teacher is in high demand these days, able to offer ‘sessions’ for select groups of friends, family or business associates. “The pandemic has made the art of schmoozing even more elitist and grasping than it was before,” Nadine reveals.
The market for private chefs, too, is booming, and among the super-rich, the gossip is that it’s possible to hire top chefs that would normally be working in Michelin-starred restaurants or in the employ of entrepreneurs. Laurence* normally works at a central London hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, but since March has been making cash offering Covid-compliant vegan catered gigs for fashion and beauty photoshoot crews.
“Then I got a call from a wealthy friend of the creative director on one of my shoots, saying I came highly recommended, and inviting me to join his ‘household’ for the next three months and work as his personal chef,” he says. Laurence was tempted by the monthly salary of £5,000, at a time when the hospitality industry is woefully uncertain. “But I realised I would be selling my own right to see my own family and friends,” says Laurence. “At the moment, this matters more to me.”
Laurence knows the 30-year-old Welsh chef who wound up taking the gig; he’s currently residing in a six-room private chalet in Gstaad, where every visiting guest is issued with a fully sanitised £2,200 Inokim OXO electronic scooter, so they can dart around town without coming into contact with other, potentially infectious, mortals.
On the subject of transport, a private jet, naturally, is a must-have for any self-respecting pandemic party jetsetter. “As the world began to lock down we experienced our biggest ever surge in enquiries,” says private jet hire company 365 Aviation’s executive chairman Colin Baker. “We expect to see increased use of private air travel as clients allocate a higher proportion of their budget to an aircraft shared only with those they are holidaying with.”
Baker points out that it’s not just the super-rich looking into private jet travel. “A one-way flight from the UK to the Côte d’Azur can cost less than £1,000 per person based on filling an eight-seat Citation XLS+,” he says. “What we call ‘controlled environment travel’ will become a trend in the months and years ahead.”
Naturally, there’s been a parallel spike in interest in private islands, to land these private jets on. Jimmy Carroll, founder of Pelorus Travel, says: “We’ve seen an increase in clients wanting to travel to remote and private destinations, travelling by private yacht, or helicopter or private jet, and a lot of enquiries from clients wanting to stay on private or small islands.”
According to Spaseekers, in the UK, interest in private islands spiked by 320 per cent over the past year; in August alone there were more than 8,100 searches for ‘islands for sale’. Private jets, while they don’t permit this odd pandemic jet-set to circumvent quarantine laws when they land, do allow canny travellers to dodge changing regulations and restrictions in different destinations.
“I know that there are some travellers who move on to the next place when they hear new regulations might come into play; they’re able to always stay one ahead of the restrictions,” says Nadine.
But frankly, when you’re destined for a private chalet with a personal chef, personal trainer, in-built gym, in-built cinema and the rest of your family or friendship bubble, what is quarantine anyway?