St Tropez? Nyet. I’m going deerstalking with my corgski
No vodka or caviar, and the salmon are running short. So what can a Russian oligarch expect on holiday on the Scottish islands, asks Sophia Money-Coutts
Where to holiday when one’s a billionaire oligarch with a 557ft superyacht? Such a tricky one. The south of France? Full of other noisy superyachts. The Greek islands? Surprisingly difficult to source caviar and fresh burrata there at the moment. The Amalfi coast? Best not; Mariah Carey was recently spotted there on a boat, her own music blaring from it. Well, there’s always the Scottish islands.
Roman Abramovich looked perky this week as he strolled on the Isle of Arran, followed by several tracksuited men who should immediately be given cameos as baddies in the forthcoming James Bond film. They weren’t actors, in fact; they were his pals — more oligarchs, along with the son of a Russian governor — plus Abramovich’s fluffy corgi.
Was the Chelsea owner in Scotland on the unlikely hunt for a brilliant new striker? No, he and his beardy friends have simply been floating about the Scottish islands on holiday, along with Abramovich’s wife, Dasha, and at least one of his sons.
There are many reasons for an oligarch to summer on the Scottish islands. The opportunity to kill things, for a start. Grouse season begins a month today, the Glorious Twelfth traditionally denoting the moment when British toffs pour northwards to their Scottish piles for a few weeks of larking about in tweed, strolling through the heather and shooting birds. Although Abramovich needs to get a better dog for this, a labrador, perhaps, or a spaniel. Frightfully infra dig to go shooting with corgis, for all their royal connections. Their legs are too short to retrieve birds.
Alternatively, an oligarch might enjoy a spot of salmon fishing. The fish supply in some parts of Scotland is now so dismal that rivers and lochs often operate a “catch and release” policy, but who’s to know if you snaffle the odd salmon back to your yacht for a quick pre-dinner blini?
There’s stalking, too, which means tracking deer up and down hills with a gun. No Kalashnikovs though, please. You will need to furnish yourself with a rifle.
Obviously you will wash your spoils down with a dram of whisky, not vodka. Abramovich and friends visited the Isle of Arran distillery last week, leaving with several bottles of the stuff. “I took him around and he was very humble and unassuming generally. He was very pleasant . . . We treat everyone the same here,” said Campbell Laing, a distillery guide. That was shortly after Roman had been seen, clad in Lycra, going for a bike ride on the island of Bute. He apparently told a local that he was “enjoying the holiday”, apart from the odd downpour.
The Scottish weather may, of course, be problematic for a holidaying oligarch but I promise that, in summer, Scotland still isn’t quite as chilly as a winter in the gulag and you can even swim in the clean, turquoise water, as I did recently off the coast of Mull, where I’ve been going for years to visit my cousins.
The water’s so cold it makes your lungs shrink to the size of peanuts, but it’s terrifically bracing. Alternatively, you could go kayaking wearing a fur coat, as Samantha Cameron’s mother, Annabel Astor, has been known to do while staying at the 20,000-acre family estate on the island of Jura. Terribly Russian wife, that.
I also went kayaking while in Scotland, and spotted the bobbing heads of several seals in one particular inlet. You mustn’t club these seals, though, Russian oligarchs; you must just look at them.
Another bonus for upwardly mobile Russian oligarchs is the posh sorts they may bump into. The Queen can’t drift around there during the summer any more because we took away her boat, but there are the Astors and Camerons, plus the Duke and Duchess of Argyll on the island of Tiree and Earl Granville on North Uist. “We don’t want people rushing here,” says a grandee with a house on the island of Colonsay when I ask about a potential Russian invasion. “There’s no Ralph Lauren or Prada, so maybe it’s not for oligarchs, although there are delicious lobsters and oysters.”
The grandee adds that a Ukrainian called Ivan — “a top man” — is currently running the Colonsay Hotel on the island, so he might be worth looking up. Another big landowner in the north growls: “I’m sure the dreaded Sturgeon would welcome the Russkis coming to spend their dirty roubles.”
The one real problem is the insects: the midges are a bore and the ticks are worse. I got one in my belly button after sitting on a mound of heather and had to pick it out with my fingernails. Oligarchs can buy a little fork-like device to do this for them, though, and what’s a tick compared with the joys of an early-morning loch swim on the Scottish riviera?
The author is features editor of Tatler