Highgate Village offers olive branch to Witanhurst’s Russian billionaire owner
A village has tentatively extended the hand of friendship to the Russian billionaire owner of London’s largest private house – after his identity was revealed this week following years of speculation.
Fertilizer magnate Andrey Guryev Sr – one of Russia’s richest men – was named as the “beneficiary” of the company that owns the sprawling Highgate mansion, off Highgate West Hill, by The New Yorker magazine on Sunday.
The 55-year-old, whose net worth is £2.6billion, will live in the house with at lwast two generations of his family after controversial excavation works to build a £50million underground palace underneath the mansion for his family are completed.
The double-storey basement – containing a 70ft swimming pool, two-tier cinema, hair salon, massage parlour, and a car park with space for 25 vehicles – will make the house the largest in London after Buckingham Palace.
For Mr Guryev’s Highgate Village neighbours, the news that a Russian billionaire owns the property has come as no surprise. But despite opposing the excavation and bemoaning the five years of disruption that have followed, they are offering him an olive branch.
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Michael Hammerson, vice-president of the Highgate Society, said: “We would extend the hand of friendship to anyone who wants to give it. But I’m not holding my breath.
He added: “We would like to think he would be willing to talk to the community about Highgate, and become a little more part of it, but I very much doubt it – a shame following the years when Witanhurst was very much a focal part of the village.”
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Mr Hammerson has suggested the billionaire could support the village by saving prized land known as Highgate Bowl from developers by buying and giving it over to the community.
Rachel Allison, chairwoman of the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum, agreed, and said: “It doesn’t really matter which oligarch owns Witanhurst, but everyone is welcome at the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum.
“It’s very unlikely that they are going to take part in the community, but we would welcome it.”
Mr Guryev is the founder of PhosAgro, one of the world’s largest producers of fertilizers. It has been reported that he lives in a gated community on the outskirts of Moscow with his wife, close to the main residence of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
In a statement to The New Yorker, a spokesman for Mr Guryev said the Russian billionaire is not the “legal owner” of Witanhurst, but a beneficiary of Safran Holdings Ltd, which bought the property in 2008.
But he added that the house was always intended to be used for “the benefit of the family”.
Before it was bought up in 2008, the house had been left to decay for decades aside from a short-lived stint as the home of BBC talent show Fame Academy in 2002.
It was last called a home between 1911 and 1970 by the Crosfield family, whose tennis parties at the house were attended by Wimbledon winners and the royal family.
David Johnson, 40, who works as a security guard at a house opposite Witanhurst, welcomed Mr Guryev to the village, and praised his restoration of the house.