Back to Russia

Shipi and I flew to Moscow at the end of 2008 for a New Year’s party in the world’s wealthiest playground, Rublyovka. This collection of villages outside Moscow features the highest real estate prices on the planet, and is home to the country’s oligarchs and leaders, including Vladimir Putin. Locals call it the Billionaire’s Ghetto.

We were picked up at the airport by a chauffeured GranTurismo. “The hotel is only about five miles away,” our driver explained, “and in this car we could cover that in less than two minutes, at 180mph… if the roads were clear.”

But they weren’t clear. I thought I’d seen Moscow traffic jams before, but the gridlock awaiting us was beyond my nightmares. The queues stretched for miles. And I was doubled up in a passenger seat made by an Italian sports car company that still believes that only the slenderest, most double-jointed dolly birds will ride next to their drivers.

Shipi was crammed in the space behind my seat. He couldn’t move, but every time he breathed in, my face was pressed up against the window.

“What kind of idiot sends a supercar on the airport run?” I demanded. “If you’d sent a rusty old van, I wouldn’t be complaining — at least I could stretch my legs straight.”

We finally got off the ramp and onto the freeway, and then didn’t move for an hour. Then another hour. Before we reached the three hour mark, my temper snapped, and I stormed off.

Or I would have stormed off, if my legs hadn’t been cramped rigid. It took me two minutes of stamping and swearing before I could stand up straight.

It was minus eight degrees Celcius outside, but I had my boiling anger to keep me warm. Picking my way between the cars, trying not to break a leg on the patchy icy over the motorway tarmac, I set off to walk to the Billionaire’s Ghetto.

Almost every car I passed was new, from top-of-the-range BMWs to Rolls Royces and Cadillacs. And as I wrapped my coat more tightly around me, I realised this was how the credit crunch has hit Russia’s super-capitalists — they’ve been forced to give up their private jets and travel by road.

After two miles, I saw the traffic was beginning to move, and I turned round to meet the Maserati as it crawled towards me. When we reached the Barvikha hotel, the driver pointed out the wide road ahead: there was not a car on it. “Pedestrians only here,” he explained.

“Great,” I told him. “I’m never going to leave.”

But with hotel rooms costing up to £3,000 a night, I wasn’t going to be staying long. The Barvikha’s manager, Hiren Prabhakar, was delighted to see us: we were his only guests. The village seemed to be deserted.

I had been invited to perform at a New Year’s Eve party, with the Gypsy Kings as the musical entertainment, and tickets rumoured to be changing hands at £5,000 each. At the 750-seater auditorium, however, I saw a disappearing act that was better than anything Las Vegas could create — all the seats vanished. With the push of a single button, the rows of upholstered chairs were swallowed up by the floor.

What appeared in their place was a long table, set for 25 people. My host had decided to invited only his closest friends and family.

The last time I played to an audience that small must have been in a Tel Aviv nightclub, before I left Israel to go to Europe. And now I stop to remember, it wasn’t long after that I had my first taste of a supercar.

The BBC was making a documentary about my life, and they wanted me to show off my taste for fast living. We hired a Ferrari, squeezed a camera crew around the driving seat and lit out along the M4… because back in 1974, the M4 was a long. straight, lonely, carless tract, like the Salt Lake flats.

The car’s power was intoxicating, and I kept talking to the camera as the speedometer needle glided smoothly past 80, 90, 100… At 120mph the cameraman started screaming at me to slow down, and of course I didn’t.

Everything in life is karma. I paid my spiritual debt for that 120mph blast by trudging along a Russian motorway in eight below zero. I guess you’d call that superkarma!

After the New Year’s show, we visited Ilya Lagutenko and his wife, the supermodel Anna Z. Ilya and Anna have just had their first child, and it was truly moving to see their happiness. He’s the lead singer with Mumiy Troll, a massive Russian rock band, and music writers call him Moscow’s Mick Jagger. But it was clear to me that all his success and wealth was insignificant beside the joy of his family.

I didn’t catch the brunette girl’s name, but I know the blonde was Nadia… I’ll never forget her after I saw where she tucked the bent spoon I gave her. Both these young ladies were friends of the event’s agent.


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