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‘This is where people with staggering wealth end up’: who will buy Britain’s most expensive house?

2-8A Rutland Gate in Knightsbridge, London is on the market again – yours for just £200m. The story of the mansion – which has been empty for years – is a lesson in how London has been captured by the super-rich

Twice a day for the past 12 years, Markus Roggen, an artist and fashion consultant, has walked past the house at the end of his road and wondered to himself: “Why is it still empty?” Roggen’s road is no ordinary road, and the house on the corner is no ordinary house. It is a 45-room “private palace” with 116 windows, 68 of which have views over Hyde Park, in the most exclusive and pricey corner of central London. Welcome to 2-8A Rutland Gate, officially Britain’s most expensive house, and a property that lies completely empty.

Every day, thousands of people pass the building, which stands on the busy Kensington Road near a stop for the number 9, 23 and 52 buses, but most of them probably don’t give it a second glance.

Like many neighbours, though, Roggen, 48, is obsessed with it. He lives in a top-floor, two-bedroom flat owned by his “much richer boyfriend”, 100 metres up the street. “It is the talk of the neighbourhood,” says Roggen, who is tall, thin and dressed all in black, with a mop of artfully messy dark hair. “On both my morning and evening walks I pass it, and I want to know more and more about it.”

Roggen, who grew up on a farm in Bavaria and feels “blessed” to live in the centre of London, has tried peering through the windows, but that provided few clues. “It is totally vacant, there’s nothing in it at all – not even doors,” he says. “There has only ever been one light on, in one small room in the basement.”

I try to imagine who’d live there, but I can’t. It has a dark energy. I wouldn’t live there even if I could afford it
Photos of the interior, published by developers, show a hollow shell, with crumbling internal walls, missing floorboards and half-ripped-out bathrooms. “I try to imagine who would live there, but it is just so big, I can’t,” Roggen says. “There’s a dark energy about the house. I wouldn’t live there even if I could afford it.”

He definitely can’t afford it. Few people on the planet could, given that it has been quietly put up for sale for £200m. The last time it changed hands, on 7 May 2020, it fetched even more than that, with Land Registry filings showing a sale price of £210m. It had been on the market for almost a decade, since its previous owner, the Saudi Arabian crown prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, died in 2011. He had been given the house by the estate of Rafik Hariri, a billionaire businessman and prime minister of Lebanon, who was assassinated in a suicide truck bombing in Beirut in 2005.

Despite spending £210m on it, the new buyer never moved in. This is often the case with some of the world’s most expensive homes, which are bought as trophy assets or investment properties. But, in an unusual move given that most uber-rich people guard their privacy as fiercely as their fortunes, the estate agent did announce the buyer’s identity.

Beauchamp Estates, which promotes itself as selling London and the south-east’s most expensive houses to the world’s richest people, emailed journalists announcing that “2-8a Rutland Gate is in the process of being acquired by funds advised by the Family Office of Mr Cheung Chung-kiu”. Chung-kiu, better known as CK, is a Hong Kong-based billionaire who owns a string of property companies, including CC Land Holdings. He owns part of the former Whiteleys department store in Bayswater and 122 Leadenhall, the triangular-shaped skyscraper in the City of London better known as the Cheesegrater and worth more than £1bn. However, CK was never the ultimate owner of 2-8A Rutland Gate. He appeared to be, according to Land Registry filings, just a frontman – but more of that later. For now, what Roggen and his neighbours want to know is who might buy the house next, and what might they do with it.

Whoever does buy the Rutland Gate mansion is likely to immediately start demolishing it. The house is being sold with planning permission to be partially knocked down and rebuilt, bigger and bolder. The two‑storey basement is to be dug even deeper to install a larger swimming pool, a health spa and underground parking for the new owner’s inevitable collection of luxury cars. The house itself will be reconfigured to include a triple-height ballroom, and the living space extended to a total of 5,760 sq m (62,000 sq ft). That’s the equivalent of just over 29 tennis courts.

Plans for the “mega mansion” were voted through despite the local council’s ban on new “Monopoly board-style” residences, intended to free up space for more affordable homes. Westminster city council imposed no commitments on the developer to build or contribute to the construction of any affordable homes in the borough. The council says the house was exempt from the rules requiring residential projects to include at least 30% affordable housing as it is not considered a “new” development, and because it was previously a single residence it is not caught by the mega-mansion ban. So the development will go ahead despite more than 4,000 families sitting on the borough’s affordable housing list, many of whom have been waiting more than a decade for safe housing.

The current building is, in the words of architects, urban planners and historians, “unremarkable”, “bland” and “ugly”. While it is now a single home, it was designed to mimic a row of five townhouses that stood on the same spot a century earlier, but with just one central door.

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