$1m an hour to schmooze sheiks? No wonder Mr Blair’s preening like the new peacocks on his country estate

* Engineering Evil Note: This is also filed under Security. Reason being, this Makes Mr. Blair a security risk.

By Paul Scott

PUBLISHED:18:34 EST, 14  September 2012| UPDATED:18:34 EST, 14 September 2012

 

Schmoozing sheiks: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was reportedly earned $1m (£620,000) to broker 11th-hour talks in a mining business takeoverSchmoozing sheiks: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair  reportedly earned $1m (£620,000) to broker 11th-hour talks in a mining business  takeover

They say the best revenge on one’s enemies is  to live well, in which case Tony Blair is certainly having the last laugh on his  many detractors. Take, for example, South Pavilion, his magnificent country  house nestling in the heart of the picturesque Chilterns.

On rising each morning and descending the  elaborate staircase into its 50ft drawing room, he is watched over by the  framed, brooding countenances of long dead noblemen and women.

The former Labour Prime Minister and his wife  Cherie have in recent times been scouring the finer auction houses of London to  add to their growing collection of 18th-century portraiture, whose grand  subjects’ lives were far removed from those of Liverpool-raised Cherie’s  ancestors, or Mr Blair’s own father, who was brought up in a Glasgow  tenement.

The pricey wall hangings represent a  prosperous past somewhat at odds with the Blairs’ more humble antecedents – the  couple’s present-day reality is unalloyed privilege.

By way of illustrating the fact, Mr Blair has  recently been overseeing some expensive changes at the grand Grade I-listed  Buckinghamshire pile. As well as stacking the inside to the gunwales with  hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of Regency and William IV antique  furniture, he has been taking charge of elaborate renovations to the already  impressive gardens.

The couple have commissioned, at great  expense, an elaborate fountain complete with dancing, chubby-faced  cherubs.

Meanwhile, an artist has been commissioned to  work on a vast tromp l’oeil on a wall in the grounds, which in turn gives way to  a secret garden.

Of course, it is the little touches that all  add to the impression of stately home splendour, to which end the Blairs have  installed a pair of peacocks, I am told, whose cacophonous calling reverberates  atmospherically around the grounds.

At the same time, they have taken delivery of  a cockerel and a small flock of hens to provide daily fresh  eggs.

And a large kitchen garden has been planted  to supply fresh vegetables for the couple’s full-time cook, whom they headhunted  from Chequers, the nearby country retreat of the sitting Prime  Minister.

At weekends, a steady stream of guests are  put up in two lavishly appointed four-bedroom cottages in the expensively  renovated grounds.

And when his busy role as an international  businessman allows it, Mr Blair can take his daily dip and indulge his passion  for two-hour long gym sessions in a state-of-the-art pool and fitness  complex.

Country house: Valued at £5.75m, Blair's home is nestled in the heart of the ChilternsCountry house: Valued at £5.75m, Blair’s home is nestled  in the heart of the Chilterns

To add to the sense of wellbeing, a female  instructor makes daily visits to the house – or to the Blairs’ £3.65 million  London residence in Connaught Square – to put Tony and Cherie separately through  a morning yoga and meditation routine.

No wonder, perhaps, given the  no-expense-spared work Mr Blair has paid for at South Pavilion, that the couple  were thrilled to learn recently that the house, which used to belong to Sir John  Gielgud, is now valued at twice the £5.75 million they paid for it four years  ago.

The mansion is not, however, to everyone’s  taste. ‘It’s all monumentally over-the-top,’ one recent overnight visitor tells  me. ‘The place needs a curator, not a housekeeper. It simply doesn’t feel like a  real home.

‘But Tony loves the opulence. There is a  sense of entitlement about him since he has become rich that was not there  before.

‘When I think back to the way they lived at  their old house in Islington before he was PM – which was frankly a bit of a  dump inside – the change in their circumstances is pretty  mind-blowing.’

South Pavilion in Wotton UnderwoodCountry house: Valued at £5.75m, Blair's home is nestled in the heart of the Chilterns

Unalloyed privilege: Tony and wife Cherie have spared no  expense in costly work on the opulent house, scouring finer auction houses to  add to their growing collection of 18th-century portraiture

Such indulgence is made possible by Blair’s  growing pre-eminence as the Mr Fix-it of international corporate diplomacy. His  skills as a mediator are highly prized.

Last week he reportedly earned $1 million  (£620,000) for three hours’ work when he was called in to broker 11th-hour talks  between two of the parties involved in a stalled £23 billion mining business  takeover.

Though sources close to Mr Blair do not  dispute the figure, one I spoke to this week told me: ‘Actually, it took up no  more than an hour of his time.’

‘Tony loves the opulence. There is a sense of  entitlement about him since he has become rich that was not there  before.’

Nice work if you can get it, and there are no  shortage of takers prepared to pay top dollar for the ex-premier’s conciliation  skills and his bulging contacts book.

That said, as we shall see, his lucrative  role in these latest negotiations only serves to highlight the sometimes blurred  lines between Blair’s money-making ventures, his roles as a Middle East peace  envoy and figurehead for his own eponymous charity empire.

‘Tony sees himself as a sort of Red Adair  figure (the famed American oil well fire-fighter) who parachutes in to get  people around a table and, occasionally, to knock heads together,’ a source told  me this week.

‘He’s worked very hard at nurturing business  contacts in almost every country on the planet and invariably he knows both  sides personally.

‘It makes him a rare animal and highly  prized.’

It goes without saying, perhaps, that the  people Mr Blair has so assiduously cultivated since leaving office five years  ago almost all have one thing in common: they are vastly rich.

Take, for example, Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin  Jaber al-Thani, who was one of the two parties the ex-PM cajoled into sitting  down last week for those late-night talks in a beautifully appointed suite at  London’s Claridge’s Hotel. (Al-Thani was representing a major shareholder in one  of two companies negotiating the takeover deal.)

Mr Fix-it: Blair was mediator for two parties, one of which included the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani last week after a £23bn mining business takeover stalledMr Fix-it: Blair was mediator for two parties, one of  which included the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber  al-Thani last week after a £23bn mining business takeover stalled

The Sheik, who is known to friends by the  initials HBJ, is the Qatari Prime Minister, and even more importantly, the man  behind the oil and gas-rich Gulf state’s sovereign wealth funds, Qatar Holding  and the Qatar Investment Authority.

Indeed, so powerful is he that it’s said that  in his homeland ‘all roads and sea lanes lead to HBJ’. And with power comes  money.

The 53-year-old member of the country’s royal  family is the proud owner of the blue-hulled Al-Mirqab, a 437ft floating palace  that is one of the eight largest yachts in the world, and cost a cool £620 million when it was built in 2008.

Earlier this year, he pulled out of a deal to  buy a £56 million duplex penthouse in the 1,000ft One57 tower being built in  Manhattan’s Midtown district – and bought a £29 million townhouse nearby  instead.

Before that he’d offered £20 million for two  apartments, once owned by a copper heiress, overlooking New York’s Central  Park.

The moustachioed Sheik, who has two wives and  15 children, is also a partner in Project Grande, the Jersey-based company run  by property developer Christian Candy, which is behind the construction of the  prestigious One Hyde Park building in London, where a single flat reputedly sold  for £140 million only last year.

The Qatari prime minister, then, is just the  sort of influential – not to mention filthy rich – contact that Mr Blair has  sought to cultivate through Tony Blair Associates, the money-making arm of his  ever-expanding business and charitable empire.

Cultivated relationship: Mr Blair is considered a close personal friend of the sheik and has played a pivotal role in various negotiations involving the sheikCultivated relationship: Mr Blair is considered a close  personal friend of the sheik and has played a pivotal role in various  negotiations involving the sheik

Nor is it the first time Mr Blair, who is a  close personal friend, has played a pivotal role in negotiations involving the  Sheik.

During a court case in April, it was revealed  that Tony Blair Associates advised on a controversial – though ultimately  unsuccessful – scheme for Qatar’s ruling al-Thani family to take control of a  group of London’s most prestigious five-star hotels, including Claridge’s, the  Connaught and the Berkeley.

But such is the scope of Mr Blair’s sphere of  influence that the Qataris were only one of the various players linked to him in  last week’s high-level buy-out negotiations over plans by international  commodities trader Glencore to take over Swiss-based mining company  Xstrata.

Also set for a large cut of the deal if  shareholders – including Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund – sanction it, will be JP  Morgan, the Wall Street Bank which pays our ex-leader £2.5 million a year to act  as a senior adviser. JP Morgan is one of no fewer than ten banks helping broker  the deal, which would create one of the world’s largest mining  concerns.

Blair was called in to help on this occasion  by another high-profile contact, millionaire banker Michael Klein, a fellow Mr  Fix-it who was once a senior executive at international financial conglomerate  Citigroup, and is an adviser in the Glencore/Xstrata deal.

‘Tony sees himself as a sort of Red  Adair  figure who parachutes  in to get people around a table and, occasionally, to  knock heads  together.’

In 2008, Klein was paid £6 million to advise  now discredited former Barclays boss Bob Diamond on the purchase of stricken  U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers. City sources I spoke to this week say  Klein and Blair know each other through their mutual connections to Abu Dhabi,  where Mr Blair is on the payroll of Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund that  invests Abu Dhabi’s vast oil profits.

Increasingly, however, it is hard to tell  where Mr Blair’s business dealings – which are said to have earned him as much  as £60 million – end, and his charitable role and unpaid work in the Middle East  begin.

In his job as Special Envoy to the so-called  Quartet (comprised of the UN, the U.S., the European Union and Russia), he is  expected to be in close dialogue with the aforementioned Sheik al-Thani, who is  also the country’s foreign minister, about the search for peace in the  region.

Nor is it the only part of the world where  there is confusion over his myriad roles.

In Rwanda, one of the several countries where  his Africa Governance Initiative charity – which seeks to encourage investment  into the continent – is based, Blair has been a long-time supporter of its  controversial leader Paul Kagame.

But in July, the U.S. cut aid to Kagame and  threatened him with criminal prosecution over his backing of rebels in the  neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where Kagame is vying to get his  hands on the country’s vast mineral resources.

Supports controversial leader: Mr Blair has been a long-time supporter of Rwandan leader Paul KagameSupports controversial leader: Mr Blair has been a  long-time supporter of Rwandan leader Paul Kagame

Glencore, meanwhile, which called on  Mr  Blair’s negotiation skills last week, also has major interests in the Democratic  Republic of Congo, where earlier this year the conglomerate  faced accusations  of using child labour in its mines – something the  company denies.

Perhaps  such complications are simply an  unavoidable by-product of Mr Blair’s  astonishingly wide array of international  contacts.

One thing that’s for sure, however, is that a  very large bank balance almost invariably offers an entrée into his  orbit.

Yet another exceedingly rich businessman to  whom he has become close is Nigerian Tony Elumelu – Mr Blair’s new official  partner in an ambitious charity scheme to secure investment in poverty-stricken  African countries.

The Africa Governance Initiative, the charity  Blair launched in 2008, has joined forces with the Tony Elumelu Foundation to  create the Blair-Elumelu Fellowship Programme. The new charity even has its own  high-profile section devoted to it on Mr Blair’s website, which pictures the two  men beaming for the camera.

Certainly, father-of-five Mr Elumelu, a  billionaire who used to run one of Nigeria’s biggest banks, makes for a  distinctly colourful bedfellow.

In May, his mother was returned safe after  being taken hostage by armed kidnappers, who shot and wounded another woman  during her abduction.

And his brother, Ndudi, a prominent public  official in the country’s oil-rich Delta state, faced charges earlier this year  of siphoning off up to nearly £12 million meant for bringing much-needed  electrification to poor rural inhabitants, though the allegations were later  dropped.

But then Mr Blair would no doubt argue that  when one is a friend and Mr Fix-it to billionaires the world over, it is only to  be expected that you are inevitably going to rub up against some interesting  characters.

Should it all become a little overwhelming,  of course, he can always fall back on those meditation sessions or go and visit  his hens in a bid to restore his peace of mind.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2203546/Tony-Blair–1m-hour-mediator-lives-opulent-country-estate.html#ixzz26eW99JS4