It’s been just over a month since the global elites left Davos, where they attended the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. One of the highlights, coming at the start of the Swiss gathering, was an address by the British naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough, talking about the need to take urgent action against global climate change before it is too late.
What was ironic, of course, was that as he was speaking, there were reports that as many as 1 500 private jets would be flying delegates in and out of the airfields servicing the ski-resort town.
I’m not in a position to offer first-hand experience. I was flying economy, and Davos — with its multitudes of security checks and different-coloured badges that determine where you can or can’t go — isn’t the kind of place you can wander off somewhere where you’re not supposed to be. Mostly, the packed programme and the hours running around setting up meetings, which would inevitably be cancelled at short notice, leave no time for such trivial activities as stalking billionaires and their jets.
It might have been a sight though. Back in 2010, I came a little closer to a collection of private jets.
It was at the British Open, held at the famous St Andrews Links Course. It was the week before the real thing, and one could casually walk around the course and see some of the world’s best golfers playing their practice rounds.
St Andrews — one of the most beautiful towns in Scotland, with one of the world’s oldest courses — is impressive enough, but driving out of town past the nearby airfield, I found the collection of private jets a sight to behold. It was probably just a dozen, so who knows what 1 500 parked together look like.
Mother Nature probably wasn’t enthralled with what was happening at Davos, even if she might have taken some consolation in the fact that the jets carried some of the world’s brightest, who had come to discuss smart ideas for saving her.
“There were reports that as many as 1 500 private jets would be flying delegates in and out of the airfields servicing the ski-resort town”Lukanyo Mnyanda
Well, if you can’t do jets, Davos makes up for it with the quality of people-spotting. I almost bumped into Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister of Nigeria and, as I was crossing a street, there was Peter Mandelson, one of the major architects of New Labour in the UK. And where else would you find yourself listening to an impromptu performance by will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas fame?
I was quietly impressed that I recognised him. Being a non-billionaire armed with a rand-based credit card in Davos, I was mindful to go only where things were free. Accidentally, I stumbled into a place that was no such thing, which I only discovered as I perused the menu to find a R500 sandwich.
A little glimpse across to the end of the room, and someone looked slightly familiar. Was it Steven Seagal, the star of terrible action movies of my childhood, who has more recently emerged as a Russian envoy? Just to make sure, I took out my iPhone and zoomed in, half expecting a whack from a Russian agent.
Well, I made it out of the room in one piece. With all the talk of the demise of the media industry, there might be a second career in store for me.
• Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day. Visiting Davos comes with the gig; a Gulfstream does not.
- From the March edition of Wanted 2019.