- London’s most notorious pocket of luxury real estate is a mile-long road of mansions known as “Billionaires Row.” It has a reputation for money, scandal, murder, and secrecy.
- At 9 The Bishops Avenue, author Salman Rushdie lived in secret for a decade, after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a call for him to be killed.
- Rushdie, under the protection of the UK government, lived in the mansion at the UK taxpayer’s expense for eight years.
- Insider spoke to the architect who built the fortress for Rushdie, about reinforcing the home with bullet-proof glass, enhanced outer walls, and accommodation for six live-in police officers.
- This post is part of an interactive Insider series profiling Billionaires Row.
On Valentine’s Day 1989 Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini told the world he had issued the death penalty for Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses.”
Khomeini said the book was “against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran,” and that the price of the offence was Rushdie’s life.
The British-Indian author was forced to go into hiding in the UK for a decade.
Under the assumed identity of “Joseph Anton” (derived from literary giants Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov) Rushdie moved between rural safe houses under the protection of the UK Home Office and British police.
After several temporary homes, Rushdie settled on The Bishops Avenue, a mile-long row of luxury mansions nicknamed “Billionaire’s Row.”
His life there was widely reported in the British press, but not his exact address.
Insider can report for the first time that Rushdie lived at Number 9 on the road, a three-story red-brick mansion.
It is one of the smaller houses on the road.
Representatives for Rushdie declined Insider’s request to interview him for this article.
While there, Rushdie counted among his neighbours arms dealers, newspaper barons, South Asian royalty, and members of the House of Saud.
David Ashton Hill, the architect who renovated the home for Rushdie, told Insider that it was a sensitive and fast-track job, completed in 9 months in 1991 and 1992.
He said the first priority was a strong security gate, and then a porch with a double door, to create a space where people could be searched before entry.
Then came triple-glazed, bulletproof glass, a network of security cameras, enhanced outer walls, and accommodation for six live-in police officers.
Even the curtains were part of the home’s defensive shell.
“We put in what they call bomb-proof net curtains,” Ashton Hill told Insider.
“The way to try and prevent people being lacerated if there is an explosion outside is to put net curtains up so when the glass breaks the glass gets trapped in something on the way.”
“It was previously owned by an international banker who had got himself into trouble, and disappeared off to Heathrow Airport and [went] home.”
London’s Metropolitan Police did not respond to Insider’s queries about its role defending Rushdie at the house. A spokesman told Insider: “we do not discuss matters of security.”
In the centre of the house, Ashton Hill said he created an octagonal reception hallway, with doors and corridors leading off it.
One of the exits was to a safe room. Ashton Hill said the shape of the room was deliberate, to increase the likelihood that attackers would fail to find the right door quickly enough to get through.
Ashton Hill would not comment on whether Mr Rushdie was ever forced to use the safe room.
According to Ashton Hill, Rushdie told him The Bishops Avenue was chosen not for its luxurious reputation, but its fast response time from the police: an average of three minutes.
He said: “I was advised by the powers that be that the maximum time before ‘exposure’ – or worse – for the client would be six months but it remained safe and a secret for nine years.”
Rushdie left the Avenue after Iran rescinded the fatwa in 1998, and returned to using his real name.
Number 9 has since had several additions, including a two-room extension to its second floor and the addition of a kidney-shaped swimming pool.
It is not clear who bought the house after Rushdie moved out. It is currently owned by Warid Company Limited, a company incorporated the British Virgin Islands.
Secrecy laws mean no further information is available on the ownership of the company, which bought Number 9 in 2014 for £10.75 million ($US13.43 million at the time).
Reflecting on his period in hiding in a later interview, Rushdie said in a later TV interview: “Frankly I wish I had written a more critical book.”
“A religion that claims it is able to behave like this, religious leaders who are able to behave like this, and then say this is a religion which must be above any kind of whisper of criticism, that doesn’t add up.”
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