For once, Steven Prowell is determined to be ahead of the curve. Since he sold his reality TV empire, he’s ranked several places above the Queen on the Rich List. But he can’t seem to keep up with Lakshmi Mittal, and his pride is still smarting from a humiliating foray into superyacht wars. It turned out that the Nadija – the 552ft beauty named after his (only marginally shorter) Bosnian supermodel wife – was not the longest yacht in the world. It was a devastating 5ft shorter than a neighbouring oligarch’s boat in Monaco. Steven spent the entire maiden voyage sulking on a Croatian lake, while his wife and her guests polished off his Almas caviar in the on-board casino.
So when Steven feels the earth move on Billionaires’ Row, he knows that it will be his basement excavation that finally lays to rest his Jungian shadow, his fear that, despite all the zeros, he is still a loser. With planning permission in order for his “renovation”, Steven and Nadija will dig as deep as they can – the underworld is their oyster.
The subterranean paradise will boast an 18-lane bowling alley, complete with retro burger bar, and a private Pilates studio, where Nadija will work on her already highly toned core. (She also secretly plans to tame her husband’s unsightly abdominals – a cruel epigenetic reminder of his beer-swilling northern forefathers.) All this in addition to the standard billionaire-basement fare of personal cinema with uniformed e-cigarette girl on a retainer, and a spa, hastily transmogrified from Turkish to Moorish when Nadija saw in Architectural Digest that Mislava had “done” Istanbul in her Bishops Avenue home. Naturally, there are staff quarters in the depths and an underground car park, which had to be rerouted to avoid collision with the Central Line. The consensus is that it now lies somewhere beneath KFC on Notting Hill Gate.
But Steven begins to worry that the stress of the project is taking its toll on his wife. In fact, he’s been treading on eggshells ever since Giles the architect pointed out that accessing her favourite boutiques on Ledbury Road via a private tunnel would most likely not be possible, given building regulations.
Ultimately, it’s this death blow to Nadija’s dream that Steven blames for his wife’s departure on the very morning of their grand “Lair Warming Party”. The invitations were hand-delivered to 1,800 of their closest friends weeks ago. Surely she could have picked a better moment to drop her bombshell?
Apparently not. Nadija has put up with the day-and-night churning of rubble along the conveyer belt; she has taken the havoc wrought by cement dust on her skin in her etiolated stride; but what she can’t bear is the thought of spending the rest of her days in a bunker. She escaped from Sarajevo – she doesn’t want to go back there. Which is pretty much her parting salvo as she hops on the back of Lars the chauffeur’s motorbike and hightails it to Mishcon de Reya.
It takes true northern grit for Steven to decree that the party must go on. He waits, champagne flute in hand, to greet his guests. But as the hands on the clock glide past eight his nervous tic comes out of hibernation. Of course, he’s made a few enemies in his locale since ground was broken three years ago, but surely the shovel can be buried on a night like this?
Mercifully, just as the clock chimes nine, there’s a knock on the door several storeys up. Steven sprints from his torpor, somewhere below sea level, to the ground floor. He flings open his double doors to welcome chiffon-swathed hordes.
Instead, he’s met by the ancient duchess from next door, and she’s furious. She can’t get her front door open and the duke is trapped inside. Steven steps out and sees cracks appearing up the walls of just about every property on his street. He had been warned about something called “settlement” in nearby houses, but his ego had made him deaf.
As Billionaires’ Row crumbles, Steven anticipates the thud of lawsuits. He sees his multitude of zeros popping like bubbles in his mind’s eye. And although he knows he ought to cry, instead a slow smile creeps across his face. Truth is, he’ll probably be relieved to return to a humble life in Rochdale. But what will poor Nadija do without her Crème de la Mer?