How the super-rich self-isolate

    25 March 2020

    With much of the world taking drastic measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, more and more of us are stuck at home – including the rich and famous.

    But it turns out some are more stuck than others. Not only are the super rich finding ways to make self-isolation more bearable (or in some cases, plain luxurious), some have even been planning for this kind of disruption for a while. Here’s how they’re doing it:

    Luxury isolation

    When the virus hit Europe, many people felt the urge, rightly or wrongly, to flee the big cities – and the business elites more than most. Over the past two months, charter flight companies have reported a huge rise in calls from people looking to pay five figure sums to escape, often to remote locations across Europe and North America. Many customers, they said, were happy to pay ‘whatever it takes’ (to borrow a phrase) to get out.

    The concierge company Quintessentially – which provides luxury airport experiences – reported a similar spike in inquiries about its private check-in service, which lets passengers do their pre-flight admin in a private terminal. Presumably the cautious passengers were looking to minimise their interactions with crowds in the airport (albeit before boarding a plane which runs on recycled oxygen).

    Of course many of the seriously rich won’t have to worry about all that: they will have planes of their own. At the beginning of the year, there were 4,800 private jets operating in the world (a number that’s expected to double in the next decade) with a quarter of those owned by individuals. Flight-watchers say there’s been a steep rise in activity since Covid-19 began.

    Though even the very richest came unstuck when countries began closing their borders. What to do now? One London superyacht company says it’s had families seeking to avoid the pandemic by self-isolating at sea on long private cruises. A large superyacht can apparently hold enough food and supplies for months. Expect to pay around half a million a week to keep it running.

    Private bunkers

    When Downing Street says no-one should respond to the outbreak by fleeing to their second home, they probably aren’t thinking of private nuclear bunkers. But for a small number of rich ‘preppers’ – who have been taking steps to mitigate against global crises for years – that’s exactly the plan.

    A Texas-based company, Rising S Bunkers, has been manufacturing blast-proof steel hideouts for private use for a number of years now. Even before Covid-19, its founder reported a sharp rise in sales inquiries. Now they’re anticipating even more interest.

    Their deluxe option, the spectacular ‘Aristocrat’ complex, costs just over £7m to build and easily outsizes most hotel penthouses. As you’d hope, it combines all the benefits of a luxury apartment with some neat post-apocalyptic twists. These include bullet-proof doors, a two-foot dead-bolt lock, and an inconspicuous above-ground ‘safe house’ which serves as a secret entrance to your underground pad.

    Of course if you’re buying your own bunker, you’ll need somewhere to put it (more on that later). Or you can solve that problem by looking to the growing number of specialist survival complexes, which look to repurpose former military hide-outs into ready-to-use condos. One US-based company claims to have turned a former Soviet military bunker – itself in an undisclosed location – into a ‘modern day Noah’s Ark’ ready to withstand a nuclear blast. Impressive.

    Apocalypse insurance

    If this craze for upmarket survivalism has a home, then it’s Silicon Valley. Back in 2017, the early days of the Trump presidency, the New Yorker reported that uber-rich techies had become obsessed with devising their disaster escape plans in case the stuff hit the fan. It was known in the Valley as having ‘apocalypse insurance’.

    If things really take a turn for the worse, then expect the tech survivalists to head to their new home: New Zealand. The island nation has become an obsession for rich-listers looking to hedge their bets. Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, Texan billionaire Bill Foley, and Titanic director James Cameron (net-worth $800m) have all purchased private estates there. Incidentally, the private bunker companies claim to have shipped units there – although, understandably, they won’t say to whom.

    Queenstown, New Zealand where Paypal founder Peter Thiel has bought a home

    Queenstown, New Zealand where Paypal founder Peter Thiel has bought a home

    New Zealand has long been a popular choice for moneyed folks seeking peace and quiet – so much so that in 2018 its government moved to stop non-citizens from buying houses there. Yet the existence of billionaire-friendly investor visa schemes – which offer a fast-track citizenship route for anyone looking to invest big money in the economy – means that the seriously rich can still live the dream.

    But if things get even worse – say, full-scale zombie pandemic worse – will even a remote island offer a foolproof escape? Perhaps not. Tesla supremo Elon Musk has long touted the idea of establishing a human colony on Mars as a way of keeping the human race alive should earth face an existential threat. His SpaceX venture seeks to do just that.

    Staying alive

    Leaving aside the shameful toilet roll panic, we can be grateful that, for all its problems, the coronavirus hasn’t stopped us from getting hold of food and daily essentials. Although most survivalists, rich or otherwise, won’t have taken that risk in the first place. In true Boy Scout style, they’re always aiming to be prepared.

    In the US, there’s already a thriving ‘prepper’ industry catering to people looking to be one step ahead of the herd in the event of societal breakdown. And in these uncertain times, it’s become a multi-billion-dollar industry. One leading company is currently selling emergency containers containing some 5000 meals – imagine a Fortnum & Mason hamper for the Mad Max world. The food lasts for up to 25 years too.

    Elsewhere prepper superstore the Wise Company markets a number of high-tech gizmos designed to keep you alive in an apocalyptic landscape. The sleek-looking Steripen Ultralight – yours for just £69.99 – uses UV rays to eliminate 99% of bacteria and viruses from clear water. I suspect they may have shifted a few more of those recently.