No caviar, no champagne, no girls dancing on tables. Bring your own bottle. What kind of Russian oligarch’s birthday is this?
Maybe, the reason behind the frugal birthday bash for the former KGB spy, turned billionaire Alexander Lebedev is the economic crisis, which drained the oligarchs’ wealth.
Not really. Lebedev – worth $3.1 billion before the economic crash – is a rare breed, whose modest lifestyle (in comparison to that of Roman Abramovich, among others) was not affected by the financial crash.
The Observer [UK]: In reality, Lebedev has little in common with his super-rich co-listees. Indeed, in an interview with the Guardian in October, he talked scathingly of Russia’s oligarch class, describing them as a bunch of greedy, uncultured, semi-literate oiks. They knew nothing of early Italian painting, he complained snidely. “They don’t read books. They don’t go to exhibitions. They think the only way to impress anyone is to buy a yacht,” he added.
Lebedev, by contrast, doesn’t own a yacht and lives comparatively modestly. He is sanguine about his recent heavy losses in the financial crash, which has seen his stocks fall in value to £300m [$435.3 million]. “It doesn’t make a difference to my life,” he says.
While different, Lebedev is all about joining a group of Anglophile Russian oligarchs. He’s been trying to purchase the English newspaper London Evening Standard since last year, but its publishers rejected his offers outright.
Lebedev – a (in)famous media mogul in Russia – has been using Novaya Gazeta, the liberal Moscow newspaper he part owns with Mikhail Gorbachev to focus on issues like corruption and human rights abuses.
According to journalists on Novaya Gazeta, Lebedev, “Lebedev is trying to do something so the country will be better. But he knows that if he does anything to offend people in power there will be punishment.” This appears to be true. Last year, Lebedev shut down another of his newspapers, the Moscow Korrespondent, after it published a story about Putin’s alleged affair with a lissom Olympic gymnast.
It is uncertain whether Lebedev wants to bring any of his righteousness to the English press, but he is already making his mark in on the UK through philanthropy, running a charity for cancer treatment.
He might not be a flashy billionaire but Lebedev doesn’t shy away from celebrities.
Over the past three summers, the foundation has held a series of ultra-glamorous fundraisers. The first was at Althorp House, Earl Spencer’s family pile; the last two have been at Hampton Court, where Elton John performed in 2007. Guests have included Madonna, Hugh Grant and JK Rowling.
His son Evgeny is following his father’s fascination with the famous. The young Lebedev is a regular on London’s social scene, dating singer Geri Halliwell and actress Joely Richardson. Maybe, he’ll buy that oligarch staple of a yacht some day?
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