Overlooking Regent’s Park, a short walk from the London Central Mosque, is Cornwall Terrace, a grade-one listed, postcard-perfect example of the Regency-era, high Greco-Roman style. Laid out by John Nash and designed by Decimus Burton, the houses are so grand that they tend to be subdivided or occupied by corporations.
But last year Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, perhaps the most publicity-friendly member of the Qatar royal family, bought three of the buildings for a reported £120m. Last week it was announced that she was having them turned into one 33,000 sq ft mansion, with games rooms, twin lifts, gymnasium and a swimming pool set in Portland stone. The result is likely to be the UK’s most expensive private home.
An elegant woman with an eye-catching knack for combining modern western style with a traditional Arabic sensibility, Sheikha Mozah’s little venture into the London property market cannot really be described as home building. Because, in keeping with many of her new neighbours, her acquisition is fundamentally a corporate operation. The new palace will be the London headquarters of the al-Thani family, whose family business is to all intents and purposes Qatar.
The multi-billionaire rulers of Qatar are the owners of the Shard, Harrods, the Olympic village, the US embassy building in Grosvenor Square, a slice of Camden market, half of the world’s most expensive apartment block at One Hyde Park and the Chelsea barracks site, not to mention 8% of the London Stock Exchange, a similar cut of Barclays and a quarter of Sainsbury’s. In total, they own more of London, it is said, than the Crown Estate.