New Athlone House owner: 'I want to restore it to its former glory'
PUBLISHED: 11:21 30 June 2016 | UPDATED: 11:31 30 June 2016
Mikhail Fridman, a Ukranian-born oligarch and the chairman of investment business Letter One, exclusively describes his vision for Athlone House
Why did you decide to buy Athlone House?
I liked the Highgate area very much and had been looking for a family home. Someone persuaded me to look and the rest is now history. I liked that the property has historical relevance combined with its setting in beautiful grounds; representing a true British property. It intrigued me that the building had originally been designed as a family home about 130 years ago for a wealthy industrialist working in London. It felt like fate that I, as a businessman, would be similarly drawn years later to the same property and grounds. I knew that earlier plans for the property had been turned down and so I made it clear that I would only buy Athlone House, and restore it to its former glory, if planning permission was approved.
What is your vision for the House?
An historical family home for a 21st century family! My former wife (a professional designer) has been advising me on its interior and the garden. My daughter Laura has been involved and came to the meeting at The Highgate Society to see the plans. My other daughter Katia and my son Alex visited the property and were both charmed by the prospective beauty of images presented by the designers SHH. We are all enjoying being involved in this project to convert the property and its gardens back into a family home (it was an NHS hospital for years and is currently derelict). I travel internationally on business a great deal and so spend about half my time in London at the moment. We have researched original drawings and historical photographs of the house to understand where to re-instate those details such as the Dutch gables, castellation’s on the tower and heraldic beasts.
What issues do you care most passionately about in Hampstead and Highgate? Are there campaigns you want to get involved in?
None at the moment but I look forward to being involved with the community once we have settled in. I enjoyed meeting members of the Athlone House Working Group last week. I know the house is not listed but is important to the local community and lies within the Highgate Conservation Area.
What do you think is special about Hampstead and Highgate? Have you spent much time here before?
I have started to get to know the area. I like the area because of its views and its proximity to central London. It takes me less than 30 minutes to get to the office.
Will you be dividing your time between Highgate and Russia?
Athlone House will be my primary residence, but I travel a lot internationally on business the whole time and so spend about half my time in London at the moment. My family will be here longer of course – and my son already goes to school here in the UK. We all enjoy living in London. It’s a wonderful cultured capital city. I am good at making money but not at spending it so I don’t have cars, houses, boats and other things. We often rent a house in the summer in Tuscany. My perfect summer is spending time with my family. It’s a nice place; great food, and fascinating culturally. We love opera and history. We go to the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and to Verona. We also make a point of going to the Palio in Siena. We love all the pageant, ritual and rivalry of the race and medieval costumes and parades.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you plan to leave all your money to charity in your will. Is this true?
I have for some time been saying that I will leave my money to charity. I want my children to follow in my footsteps and create something on their own. I am one of the founders of the Russian Jewish Congress and contribute to the European Jewish Fund, a non-profit organisation promoting tolerance and reconciliation. I am the founder of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, which helps develop and enhance Jewish identity among the Diaspora worldwide.