How rich boy racers and their supercars leave the residents of west London fuming every summer
I confess I’d never heard of London’s “Arab Supercar Season”, but Millionaire Boy Racers (Channel 4) made it look like a genuine fixture. Every summer rich young men from the Gulf states pile into exclusive Knightsbridge – “for years a byword for wealth and respectability” – having airmailed their high-performance sports cars ahead to meet them there. For a few noisy weeks they race up and down Sloane Street and Brompton Road, gunning the throaty engines of their Maseratis and giving local residents the vapours, until it’s time to go home for Ramadan. I don’t know how I missed this event, but I don’t get over that way much.
The conflict between boy racers and locals was presented as a clash of cultures, but it was really just a clash between the rich and the richer; its consequences didn’t concern the rest of us at all. We could just watch and point and, where appropriate, snigger.
In Kuwait Rashed, 24, was preparing two of his cars, one a £250K Lamborghini Aventador, for shipment to London ahead of his summer hols. It was clear he had enough money to do so without ever stopping to question whether the price was worth it. In fact it was clear he had little idea how money works – he seemed to think everyone in the UK would be just as rich as he was if we stopped gambling and going to nightclubs all the time.
But it’s hard to put a price on the freedom that men like Rashed derive from a few weeks in Knightsbridge, from the availability of nightclubs and casinos and other cool stuff to spend your money on, where the only obstacles to having a good time are heavy traffic, pedestrians and the genteel hostility of the natives.
Panda Morgan-Thomas has lived in her Knightsbridge flat for many years, and had an accent and a ceiling-high stack of dried roses to prove it. They were given to her at the rate of one per day by her partner, Sir-wisely-not-appearing-in-this-film. Panda saw the whole supercar noise issue as a symptom of undesirable social forces, specifically the influx of wealthy Arabs. “There’s been quite a large exodus of what I would call the more traditional residents of Knightsbridge,” she said. Let’s take a moment to admire quite how carefully worded that was.
Fellow resident Justin was less fastidious. He spoke warily of “cosmopolitan types” and of Knightsbridge becoming “cosmopolitan in a way that is rather extreme”, but he also said: “We call them Gulfies. I suppose we shouldn’t.” You could tell tolerance wasn’t Justin’s strong suit by the way he berated a dark-skinned child for accidentally brushing him with his umbrella on the pavement. “Idiot!” he shouted.
Personally, I thought the symbiosis perfect – the millionaire boy racers were noisy, ridiculous and antisocial, but they seemed to be pissing off all the right people – until a third element crept in: the car-spotters. Liam, who works in a kebab shop in Cumbria, travels to Knightsbridge every summer to film the largest concentration of supercars – cars that can go at 240mph, cars they only make 30 of – in the UK, uploading the results on to YouTube. One video went viral and made him £500.
So now we had a little ecosystem – some people depend upon the supercars coming to Knightsbridge every year. Into this delicate balance weighed the local police, ostensibly at the behest of residents, to run spot checks on supercars and ruin Liam’s holiday. “It’s unfair,” he said. “Just pickin’ on ‘em.”
It’s quite easy to find something wrong with a supercar. A lot of them don’t have front number plates – no place to put one – and paperwork from a Kuwaiti insurance company may not look as valid as it actually is. And there was Rashed, having his Aventador seized outside Harrods. Rashed! Fancy running into you again! Small world, the Arab supercar summer scene. So stunning was the coincidence that I was forced to surmise that this is where the film-makers found Rashed in the first place – pulled over in a roadblock – only following him to Kuwait later.
As the programme progressed it became clear that this clash of cultures was largely the result of a lack of communication – the first the supercar drivers heard about noise complaints seemed to be from the film-makers. None of the residents at the residents’ meeting had ever upbraided, or even spoken to, an offending driver. It’s amazing how people can see sinister forces at work in a little local noise pollution. As Justin unjustly put it: “I think this sort of behaviour is incredibly uncivilised and if this is all about diversity I don’t want to know.” Idiot!
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