Author, journalist, and entrepreneur Richard Kirshenbaum has landed a front row seat for the eye-popping, day-to-day extravagances of America’s top 1% of earners.
He offers a glimpse into the wildly lavish lifestyle of the posh, concentrating his research in the Upper East Side of New York City, in his New York Observer column and book, “Isn’t That Rich? Life Among the 1%.”
One finding was particularly intriguing: paid friends, a concept Business Insider’s Linette Lopez explored when Kirshenbaum wrote about it in a 2013 column.
“Friend is a flimsy moniker in New York,” Kirshenbaum writes.
It could mean the person you recently met at a cocktail party, whom you bonded with over real estate in the Hamptons, or the childhood bestie who was in your private school class.
“Then there are the friends for hire,” Kirshenbaum explains in “Isn’t That Rich.” “The innately personable service providers who are sought out to fulfil social obligations, provide companionship, and offer courtlike flattery masquerading as friendship to those who can afford it.”
These are the people who make up the entourage — the stylists, trainers, personal shoppers, and decorators. They also could just be “paid extras,” people who liven up a social event and are simply fun to hang out with. They might not always be on the payroll, but their compensation comes in the form of exclusive invites, comped dinners, and seats in the private jet.
Uncovering this phenomenon was not easy. Kirshenbaum found that paid friends are “more taboo than sex.”
He did find a source — a “paid extra” based out of Los Angeles — willing to divulge details, including how the billionaires go about finding the best of the best paid friends and what it’s really like being one of these ‘friends.’
Stars find the the right people for the job by poaching, Kirshenbaum’s source said (who remains anonymous, like the rest of his insider sources): “LA is big on poaching. Once I started working with [one of the great female stars], everyone assumes if you’re good enough for her, you must be good, so they try and poach you.”
While being a paid friend can be frustrating in that you’re “always on someone else’s schedule,” and “it can be emasculating,” the Los Angeles-extra explained, he had a surprising answer about the benefits, which extend beyond the perks of having access to fabulous parties, private jets, five-star villas, and presidential suites.
Being a ‘paid friend’ can be reassuring, he told Kirshenbaum.
“Think about it. You have these incredibly successful and wealthy people who are at the top of their game and should be so happy,” he explained. “And if they were so incredibly happy and satisfied, why would they need me to go to Hawaii to entertain them?”
It’s a valid question — and one that 99% of us will never be able to answer.