My first car was a Rolls-Royce.
In 1975, my first proper office as an independent entrepreneur, working for myself, was in Wellington Court, Knightsbridge. The move there gave rise to one particular event that changed my perspective on how to do business at its most effective level, but with a certain distinctive style of my own.
Having secured a consultancy with Asprey of Bond Street, John Asprey, the chairman’s son, and I would often have a quick bite to eat at Brown’s Hotel in Albemarle Street, and then go for a short walk to Berkeley Square to look at the array of Rolls-Royce cars in Jack Barclay’s showroom.
On one occasion a long-base royal blue Rolls-Royce attracted my attention and we both went inside to give it a closer inspection.
Jack Barclay’s son, who knew John from their schooldays, came up to greet him warmly, and showed us around as potential customers.
Meanwhile I could not take my eyes off the blue Rolls-Royce. I asked for details, and found out it was a second-hand car that had only one owner on the logbook. The mileage was low and the asking price was £17,000. I suddenly became overwhelmed with excitement and, although I did not possess anything approaching the funds for the purchase, I immediately said without the least hesitation I would like to buy it.
John looked at me stupefied as he knew perfectly well that I could not afford the car – and, what was even more crazy, I was on the verge of purchasing a vehicle which I could not even drive.
He took me aside and kept reminding me of these salient points. I was adamant and all of his reasoning fell on deaf ears.
‘You will need a chauffeur,’ he bellowed, ‘which is something else you do not have the means to do in your present circumstances.’ But again he got no joy.
Everything happened at bewildering speed. In a moment of sheer madness I had irresponsibly purchased a Rolls-Royce to fulfil a dream that had been with me ever since the early days of my marriage, when we were living in Royal Crescent, Holland Park, in a dingy flat where we had to share a bathroom with another tenant. In the evenings after work we would walk along Holland Park Avenue and peep into the rich houses – these monuments of wealth – and look at the row of Rolls-Royces parked outside. I would then turn to my wife and tell her, ‘Baby, you’ll be a princess one day with a Rolls-Royce at your beck and call’ and she would dismiss what she termed as my usual flippancy and retort, ‘Dream on, silly boy.’
That day in Berkeley Square was to herald the beginning of a new life for us, although John, as soon as he got back to his office, could not resist mischievously phoning my wife Maria to forewarn her how I had, in a moment of wild exuberance, bought myself a Rolls-Royce – emphasising the make of car to get the maximum amount of rise out of her. ‘It’s a Rolls-Royce, you know…’
It bloody worked. She was livid, though the word is too mild to describe her actual response. She would never set foot inside such a car, she swore to John in her fury. I would have to return it or ride in it alone. John then phoned me to report her displeasure, and alert me to the bombshell waiting at home.
I braced myself to face the music, but while Maria was truly upset, she came to accept the fact that it was too late to do anything about it without an embarrassing loss of face to all concerned. She also realised that if she pursued the matter too fiercely she could undermine my morale and shake my confidence. That was the last thing on her mind.
In times of crisis, it was typical of her to close ranks with me so that we could present a united front. Whatever chastising was done was carried out behind closed doors. She never allowed her anger to spill beyond the confines of our home.
On the other hand there was actually very little time for me to arrange for the financing of the car. I spoke to Lord James Crichton-Stuart, who was on the board of Coutts. I told him of my agonising plight and asked for his intervention. Miraculously the bank agreed to advance me the purchase money, thanks to Lord James who was always sympathetic to me and had helped me in the past.
The question of a driver was also soon resolved. The chauffeur who had formerly been in the service of Princess Margaret came forward to apply for the job after he heard about the vacancy on the grapevine.
The scene was therefore set for me to be driven about in grand style, giving the impression of wealth without actually having any. The paradox was that owning the Rolls-Royce probably did indirectly bestow on me many of the things I was seeking to achieve. It was still an era when ostentation played a major part in the making of a business magnate, though the principle does not necessarily hold true today.
However, all said and done the lesson should not be overlooked: those with two farthings to their name, take heart. Look cheerful and brim with optimism. Fairytales are not beyond the realm of possibility. It happened to us, it could happen to you!