The Less Well-known Big Earners
London Portait Magazine c. 1985
Despite decades of politicians' promises about prosperity for all, London suffers from an aching chasm between rich and poor. Nevertheless, small fortunes are made in surprising places, as CHRISTOPHER LONG discovers...
This item was commissioned but not published.
By Christopher Long
Twenty-five years ago London's most famous hotel hall-porter died leaving a mere £417. During the previous 48 years George Criticos, 'George of The Ritz', is believed to have earned and gambled away as much as £1.3 million.
"All Greeks are born gamblers. He picked too many losers," his mourning widow admitted.
As a hall-porter he had received staggering generosity from his gold-plated and illustrious guests, as well as from running the Aga Khan's racing empire from the hotel desk and dishing out pocket money to the infant Aly Khan when his father was away.
George made a fortune from his own brand of 'pocket money' and lost the lot which shows that you don't have to be a City financier or a bullion bank robber to earn an easy retirement on the Costa de Sol.
The recent story of a Fleet Street print worker demonstrates the point. Nicholas Maxwell, 43, appeared in court to hear it revealed that he earned £900 per week and had borrowed another £100,000 on the strength of it. Mr Maxwell (no relation, one assumes) had alleged liabilities of £164,668 when he appeared before an Official Receiver in bankruptcy.
He admitted he was addicted to gambling but mystified the court when it was alleged that he was known by three different names. It wasn't revealed whether he had benefited from the print workers' 'Spanish Rules' system which allows men with different names (but who bear an uncanny resemblance to each other) to turn up for work at several different publications in a week.
What interested the court most, however, was his inability to account for an annual income of nearly £200,000.
Like some print-workers and hall-porters, some commissionaires are big earners too. No-one, least of all the tax-man, knows quite how much can slip into those right-hand pockets from arriving and departing guests let alone how many night-clubs, cab firms, restaurants and agencies show their gratitude in the 'appropriate' manner for any business put their way.
Certainly few hotel managers earn or live as well as the men who open their doors for them.
Chefs do well rather differently. London's top chefs are unlikely to earn more than £25-30,000 per year but for them, like many journalists, the perks can be fantastic. Normal company 'invisibles' may be supplemented by free accommodation in 5-star surroundings while plenty of time off allows for frequent free trips abroad to promote the hotel, sample exotic foods and wines, or to accept invitations from anxious-to-please suppliers.
"Well, it's got to be worth £100,000 a year, hasn't it," whispers a man who usually does the washing-up and who then mumbles something about 'not counting the kick-backs and inducements...'
Naturally the stars of stage, screen and sport do very nicely, but what about Miss Mandy Smith?
Miss Smith, it will be remembered, won the close friendship of a Rolling Stone, Bill Wyman, when aged a mere 13. The exposure she received when this friendship was exposed three years later might have quite enough for any 16 year-old let alone her mother.
Miss Smith, however, endured a little more exposure at a recent modelling session for Brutus Jeans. One hour's shooting apparently earned her £5,000. If she could keep that up for a 35 hour week she would gross £8.75 million a year.
It would certainly outstrip the highest and mightiest in the City where London's brightest accountants can charge their time out at £250-350 per hour and where the best Chancery barristers are reputed to cost their clients £900 per hour as much as Mr Maxwell was earning in a week.
However, most barristers earn much less often less than their clerks who are the professionally unqualified though highly experienced dynamos of the legal world.
One clerk may work for as many as 20 or 30 barristers in a set of chambers, though it often appears that he employs them. He it is who distributes their work to them as he sees fit, negotiates their fees and can effectively make or break their careers.
In return they pay him at least 5 per cent of the fees earned plus whatever else he can negotiate. The clerk's professional body modestly reckons its members earn between £10,000 and £50,000 per year, but you don't need too many successful barristers in chambers before you become a very rich clerk indeed. Five per cent of 30 barristers' incomes at a modest £40,000 each producers £60,000 per year.
London's window cleaners form another group of surprisingly high earners. In Earl's Court, Joe charges us £10 for cleaning six sash windows. He hates them because they have bars so we tip him another £1.00. He comes every month and his fees seem modest enough for a messy job. But he can usually manage to clean five or six flats in a standard London Victorian house in a morning. Presumably he does the same in the afternoon. On that basis he may be earning up to £500 per week, in cash, plus tips at least £25,000 per year. What's more he can't cope with the demand for his services.
He says short daylight hours in winter don't help and that parking tickets can be a nightmare so that if he wanted to make a small fortune he would go into emergency breakdown services on the M25 motorway or on the North Circular. Replacement windscreen services make a bomb, he says, but tow-away operators do better.
" I reckon they could expect to haul in a dozen or more in a 12 hours at £70 minimum a time and that's before any repairs are started usually paid for by the insurance companies so nobody minds."
If Joe's right that might net £2,800 or more in a 40-hour week, less the cost of the truck.
Less obvious high-earners are the 'meeters-and-greeters' who do just that for passengers arriving at airports. They are often professional 'fixers' who, for a percentage, can supply anything from Rolls Royces to Wimbledon tickets, or from short-notice hotel bookings to a personalised tour of London's sights.
From there it's only a short step to that essential accessory for stars of stage, screen and surgery a minder. Bought by the stone, a chunky specimen, big enough to fend off the most determined fans, might cost around £1,500 per week earning him, perhaps, £50,000 per annum after his agency takes its cut.
And who knows how much electricians, plumbers, builders and decorators earn doing small jobs for Knightsbridge households. Even the taxman must wonder when he too has to pay £25 for the call-out fee alone. He must then be calculating how many drains can be unblocked in a day at £30 for 15 minutes "not including parts and materials, guv'nor". If it were only a modest five per day (say 3-4 hours actual work), that's £750 per week in call-out charges alone.
Then there are all those stories of scrap-metal merchants and street traders. Mr Nandikishore Ram started off selling umbrellas in Oxford Street from which he built a high-street store empire which in turn allowed him to open a £1 million night-club with Régine on the roof of Derry & Toms in Kensington.
There are tales perhaps exaggerated of market porters who made it big in Covent Garden, Billingsgate and Smithfield. In fact the jobs are so sought after and protected that it can be harder to become a docker, market porter, print worker or commissionaire at a grand hotel than it is to get into Eton or the Stock Exchange. Something must make such apparently uncomfortable jobs worth handing down only to the closest relatives and friends.
I interviewed dockers from Canning Town during the sad death of the London's docks in the 1970s.
"You reckon we make a packet, don't yer?" said one. "Look, here's me pay-slip £102 take-home including overtime and bonus."
Then he smiled slowly and winked. "Truth is you shouldn't be looking at the take-home pay," he said. "What matters is what yer takes 'ome with yer, if you get me meaning!"
But that must be true of many occupations. There are perks and 'invisibles' legal or otherwise available to many and these have become almost integral elements in much employment.
Which is how one commissionaire in Berkeley Square manages to send his son to Harrow. And jolly good luck to him! It's much better invested there than on the horses, where George of The Ritz invested his £1.3 million.
© (1985) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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