Joe Lewis, owner of football club Tottenham Hotspur, keeps Francis Bacon’s Triptych on the lower deck of his yacht Aviva.
Joe Lewis, owner of football club Tottenham Hotspur, keeps Francis Bacon’s Triptych on the lower deck of his yacht Aviva.
Image: Getty Images / Ali Balli/Anadolu Agency

A recent Oxfam study revealed the 26 richest people on Earth have as much money between them as the poorest 50% of people in the world. That means that those 26 people are worth more than 3.6 billion people. We all know the problems that confront the 3.6 billion but what might be some of the problems the 26 most privileged face that we might never have envisaged? Well, as a recent article in The Observer shows, there’s always the problem of what to do about protecting your priceless art collection from accidents when it’s housed on your multibillion superyacht.

Take British billionaire Joe Lewis, owner of football club Tottenham Hotspur, resident of the tax haven that is the Bahamas and owner of a R3.5-billion yacht named Aviva, which has a priceless work by British painter Francis Bacon on a wall on its lower deck. The Bacon is just one of the works in Lewis’s fabled and priceless art collection, “one of the largest private collections in the world”, which includes works by Degas, Lucian Freud, Klimt, Modigliani, Matisse and Picasso, to name a few. It’s not known how many pieces in Lewis’ collection occupy space on Aviva but there’s always a chance that, thanks to a lack of knowledge on the part of his crew, his children or visitors, things could go horribly wrong.

That’s where the cunning entrepreneurship of Pandora Mather-Lees, an Oxford-educated art historian and conservator, comes to the rescue. At a “superyacht conference” in London last week, Mather-Lees told The Observer she started giving lessons to the crew and staff of superyachts after she was called in to help a client restore a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that had been ruined when the owner’s children threw cornflakes at it. They thought the Basquiat “scary”. The crew had “made the damage worse by wiping the cornflakes off the painting”.

In keeping with the discretion appropriate to people who do what only people with lots of money need done, Mather-Lees declined to reveal the value of the Basquiat in question but if you take into account that a painting by the artist sold for $110.5-million at auction in 2017, you can get an idea of how much that childish cornflake chuck might have cost.  

Addressing an audience at the Superyacht Investor Conference in London, Mather-Lees said there are some collections worth more than the vessels they live on.  She added, “Obviously, [the owners] want to show off their art collection when guests come on board … It acts as an icebreaker and says volumes about their taste.”

But, as she pointed out, “Yachts are not art galleries and when something goes wrong it’s obviously very unfortunate, and a big burden on the crew, and the owners become very unhappy.”

That’s why Mather-Lees offers courses to superyacht crews and staff members to educate them about the value of their precious cargo. Her course, which costs approximately R4 500 a day, “aims to give crew an understanding of the art collector and the intrinsic value of the objects on board”, as well as knowledge of “where to go for specialist help in an emergency”.

So, if you’re looking for someone to help with those first-class, first-world, superyacht problems, fear not. For the 3.6 billion, it’s back to underpaid business as usual.

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