Oligarchs such as yourself are all over the news these days. How much are you worth?
I honestly don’t know. Forbes magazine calculated around $5.4 billion (£2.7 billion) three months ago – but we’re growing fast.
How did you make your fortune?
I am a self-made man. I went to live in Moscow as a teenager and at the time they’d give you somewhere to stay if you swept the snow from the steps of businesses in the city. The work was terrible.
And that made you rich?
No, I started my business career in the early ’90s, when everyone in Russia did. My idea was to bring things into the country that people didn’t already have – the first thing I imported was Kinder Surprise. The eggs, with the toy, you know? I then set up Russian Standard vodka and the bank… but it was not as if I was just suddenly where I am today. I kept doing the right thing and the company kept on getting bigger.
Can we have some money? Like, £100,000 right now?
What? Now? Why? A hundred thousand?
Come on! It’d be like us giving a homeless man £1.
I don’t have any money on me! And bear in mind that, personally, I’m always in debt as I always invest my personal money. It’s funny, all these banks come after me for my individual business and one time I let one open an account for me. The banker said, “What would you like for your first transaction, sir?” I said, “I would like to borrow one hundred million dollars.” He had to think about it for a while!
How much have you got on you right now?
Here, look, just money for tips – and my cards.
That black one looks a bit special…
Yes, it is an Amex Centurion, the other is Russian Standard Imperial. This one has nothing on the front – the Mastercard logo has to go on the back. We are the only bank in the world that has special permission to do this. Both these come with very special services. If you want to borrow £2,000,000 you can. And there’s a concierge service – if you want tickets for the World Cup Final, they can get them for you. There are also extra-special services, but I can’t tell you what they are. You’ll have to get the card for yourself…
Ever come a cropper in business?
Yes, on the internet. You remember the bust of a few years ago? I lost two businesses. One was an electronics shop and one was a business-to-business site. If they were still going now they’d definitely be big.
How much did you lose?
Not much. $5-10 million.
Do you get bored with spending money?
Usually I don’t think much when I’m buying. There was a time when I would keep on going out and buy the same thing, I would have 50 or 60 of the same shirt. Sports cars are different, I love them. I like high technology cars in particular – I have a Bugatti Veyron, I bought that in five minutes. Most sports cars are very uncomfortable, but the Veyron is a nice combination, speed and comfort.
Do you put your foot down?
I’ve taken it up to 220mph. It feels brilliant – exciting but scary. Outside Moscow they have very large roads. Perfect for driving fast.
What’s your biggest vice?
Well, I can’t really say that I don’t like a drink… vodka is my big thing.
When’s your first drink of the day?
Oh, in the morning. You know, if you’re in America and you say that you drink before 12, they think you’re an alcoholic! I did not know that. I exercise a lot, though. I run. I have this special music and when I run, many beautiful business ideas come to me.
How often do you get threatened by Russian gangsters?
Only twice in my life. One time was to do with one of my biggest clients in a department store. She was complaining that these gangsters were coming in making trouble, so I told her, don’t worry, and gave her a telephone number. The next time they came in she gave them the number and told them to ring it before they went any further. They went, called it, and never came back.
Whose number was it? What did the person say?
I don’t know! She never had any other trouble.
So, do you have armed bodyguards looking after you?
Oh yes, we have security. There are always people you have to look out for, people known to us. There are kidnappings happening in my country – it could happen. It’s very serious.
Do you have a jet?
Well, I have many businesses all around, so I spend a lot of time travelling. My jet is a bolt-hole for me – it is like a flying penthouse and the crew is on standby. They can be fuelled and ready to go anywhere in the world in two hours. I’ve not told the pilot to get out of the way and taken the controls. Well, yet…
Do you rub shoulders with royalty?
No, although I’d like very much to meet your Queen. I have met several Russian presidents, obviously. Putin of course, and plenty of business people such as Bill Gates…
Did you ask him for a loan?
Have you ever been asked to be a spy?
No, I’ve never been tempted to work for the State. I think they’d fire me the next day anyway.
If, in a moment of madness, you blew all your money on one enormous hat, how big would that hat be?
What do you mean hat? Hat on your head? Oh. I understand your question now. You mean how big would it be? Reasonable size, I’m sure. As big as Spain, maybe. Ha!
Do you have a nemesis business rival who is out to get you?
Not just one, many. That’s the nature of business every day in Russia. People are trying to hit you day after day commercially and there are always articles that come out with people saying something about you. The media get to you as well – if I wake up and don’t see an article where someone is having a go at me it’s a pretty good day.
What’s the best story you’ve read about yourself?
There was one recently where they said that I’d bought a painting by Picasso from Sotheby’s. The story started with a ‘mystery Russian buyer’ and it ended up being me! It was funny for a while and then galleries started lining up asking if they could exhibit ‘my’ masterpiece. I got beautiful, official letters from all over the world – I had to set the record straight.
Do people try and rip you off?
Yes, all the time in one way or another. Everybody tries to defraud me – I was reading that nearly one in ten people is capable of it. So I have internal and external systems in place, internal audits… you name it.
So finally: fancy buying a certain football team off one of your fellow countrymen?
In London? No. In Russia, maybe one day. I believe Mr Abramovich is somewhat richer than me, anyway.