God is an Englishman,’ declares Irvine Sellar, as he strides on to the newly opened 69th-floor observation deck of the Shard, the skyscraper he developed. Looking out of the vast floor-to-ceiling windows, it is tempting to agree. There’s the Shard itself; the jagged steel and glass tip of the £1.5 billion, 1,016ft tower seems to pierce the sky. To the east, the Olympic Stadium rises like a giant crown. To the north lies Camden Lock, where teenage tourists and ageing punks shop, and just across the Thames there’s a bigger market, for everyone except teenagers and punks: the London Stock Exchange. Squint through the telescope and you can make out the eagle that flies above the US Embassy on Grosvenor Square. A mile to the west, the lights of Harrods are reflected in the bulletproof glass of the £1 billion One Hyde Park, the most expensive apartment building in the world. In the distance, you can make out the glow of Heathrow’s new Terminal 2.
But while God might have provided the inspiration for the new glittering monuments to London’s prosperity, he didn’t pay the bill. A single investor has stumped up for almost all of it. This man has bought up the Shard, part of the Olympics site and Canary Wharf, a chunk of Camden Lock, One Hyde Park (in conjunction with his cousin), Harrods and ten per cent of Heathrow. He also owns Chelsea Barracks, the W Hotel in Leicester Square, and has big stakes in companies whose names are emblazoned across the capital: Barclays Bank, the London Stock Exchange, Sainsbury’s, Santander bank, even luxury handbag brand Anya Hindmarch.
The new landlord of London is the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who rules a scalding, pancake-flat Arabian peninsula the size of Yorkshire, with a native population smaller than Bradford. Londoners are used to oil- and gas-rich gazillionaires and their wives flocking to London to party and to buy things in Harrods, but not the entire store. Why is the emir playing real-life Monopoly?