Rosemary McLeod: Lifestyles of the flaming rich

Firefighters burn a Waiheke home that used to belong to Mark Hotchin to the ground.
FAIRFAX NZ/CHRIS SKELTON

Firefighters burn a Waiheke home that used to belong to Mark Hotchin to the ground.

OPINION: The rich are not like other people, as Truman Capote said, who knew them well. Here in New Zealand they burn down a mansion when they don't like the curtains.

I'm currently having a place renovated. How average. It's much more interesting to see how the 1 per cent go about it.

In that light the torching of Mark Hotchin's former holiday home on Waiheke Island was an epic performance piece on the theme of one-per-cent-ism, acted by firemen for practice, and applauded by many onlookers. I'm not sure what they would have applauded more, the symbolic demise of the unpopular Hotchin, the roar of the flames, or the sheer grossness of the $14 million purchase price going up in smoke. It needed a symphony orchestra and a soprano to fully do the event justice.

Firemen could usefully follow through with the whole of Auckland's hideous Paritai Drive, where the excessively rich gather to outdo each other as Hotchin once did, pouring more than $42 million into a sprawling residence in the exclusive street before things went belly-up. It would have blended in perfectly.

As the flames roared and crackled last weekend, 16,500 investors probably wished, uncharitably, that Hotchin was being incinerated too. They lost half a billion dollars between them when Hanover Finance (remember the TV ads?) collapsed, but their indignation didn't just involve the money. Losing your life savings to people you trusted is one thing, but having them continue to flaunt their personal wealth afterwards, as if they're untouched, is quite another. But it's a 1-per-cent kind of thing. As Brian Jones reportedly said of the young Rolling Stones, "We piss anywhere, man."

Memories, how they flood back. Remember the birthday party Hotchin held on an exclusive Fiji island resort while investors counted their losses? He reportedly shouted 80 "friends" accommodation and entertainment at the hangout, where rooms can be $1160 a night, and private residences $7000. Bruce Sheppard, then chairman of the NZ Shareholders' Association, said on hearing of it that Hotchin should have had someone turn up with a packet of razorblades. But that sort of outrage never really happens.

I highlighted the word "friend" because only the rich, and kids on Facebook, claim to have 80 of them.

With assets frozen, and Hanover in liquidation, the Hotchins set up home in a Gold Coast mansion, saying that they needed a $7000-a-week allowance to cover their $6500 a week outgoings and have small change left over, and wanted to have their $200,000 Porsche and $200,000 Mercedes shipped over. Nobody seemed to understand that a clapped-out Toyota wouldn't cut it.

Such memories doubtless caused Tom Brosnahan, who lost "a substantial amount" when Hanover collapsed, to say he was "bloody ropeable" that the former holiday pad had sold so well for the Hotchins. He wouldn't have minded some of that.

But the truly fascinating players in the entertainment, bringing us to the present, are surely the current owners, Brent and Louise Sutton, and John Burns. The Sutton Group, which provides services to the food, beverage and dairy industries, and is wholly in private hands, sold recently to French food giant Danone. The sale price was not disclosed, but the Overseas Investment Office had to approve a sale exceeding $100 million, National Business Review reports.

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The Sutton Group made NBR's rich list last year with an estimated modest value of $50 million. It seems that was an understatement. The discreet couple plan to replace the former holiday home with something, "discreet, stylish and elegant."

Such was not the brief for our state housing. Practical considerations included the aesthetic decision to place kitchens and toilets facing the street, with a range of cleaning products displayed stylishly on the windowsills. Some of those houses have become quite valuable, simply because prices everywhere have appreciated over time.

How the 1-per-centers would chortle at the thought that the three currently highest valued state houses in the country outside Auckland ($801,064 in Wellington's Island Bay, $698,968 in Wellington's Mt Cook, and $652,309 in Riccarton, Christchurch) when added together could barely purchase the boat ramp and perhaps a bathroom door on the incinerated Waiheke estate.

 - The Dominion Post

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