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Riviera: inside the secret world of billionaires, assassins, super yachts and art theft

The Property Addict / Toys

Jun 13 2017

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The saying goes that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Last summer, as Paul McGuinness, U2's former manager of 35 years, was enjoying his 20th summer on the French Riviera, that saying got him thinking. "Anyone in the world who starts to make a large amount of money, be it legitimately or illegitimately, tends to come to the South of France to spend it. Russians, Kazakhs, Americans, Arabs, they all come here," he says. "It creates an incredibly fertile environment for a story." So McGuinness approached a number of writers and asked them to pitch him a story that would include what he calls "the basic ingredients of the Riviera". Which are? "Glamour, wealth, family and crime," says McGuinness, in his customary soft, Irish lilt. "Rich people doing terrible things." A few months later, McGuinness had the perfect pitch. It came from Oscar-winning writer Neil Jordan (Interview With The Vampire, The Crying Game). Sky Atlantic immediately came on board and bought the worldwide rights. A year on, and Riviera has just opened the prestigious MIPTV festival in Cannes; a huge honour for any new TV show. The first episode was watched by thousands. The show, which airs in June, is being sold by producer Kris Thykier as "a f***ed up emotional thriller". It charts the moral descent of the show's heroine, American art dealer Georgina Clios, played by Julia Stiles (best known for the Bourne series), following the inexplicable death of her husband, Constantine (Anthony LaPaglia). Upon probing the shady circumstances of his passing, Georgina opens one can of worms after another, beginning with the disappearance of the Clios family fortune. Everyone around her, it seems, has a hidden agenda - from Constantine's vengeful first wife, Irina (Lena Olin), and her drug-addict stepson, Christos (Dimitri Leonidas), to the embittered stepson, Adam (Iwan Rheon, Ramsay Bolton from Game Of Thrones), and Georgina's former flame, Robert Carver (Adrian Lester). However, it's Georgina's dead husband who conceals the most secrets of all, and the series picks apart the intricate web of corruption he left behind, with the disparate threads of depravity all leading back to one thing: art. Having a creative role has been a welcome change for McGuinness, who as U2's manager had more of an eye for commercial endeavours. "I made it possible for the band to do whatever they wanted," he says. Indeed, his legendary business acumen was the driving force behind the U2 360° Tour, which grossed $736 million: a world record. "With Riviera, it's quite different," he says. "I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted myself." McGuinness still had some adjusting to do. "The music industry is more top-down than filmmaking," he says. "The auteur frame of mind, which is absolutely normal and appropriate for rock'n'roll, doesn't really apply in television. There are multiple directors and writers." Strict deadlines also took some getting used to. "In U2's world, we were accustomed to improvisation - you spend months making an album and not releasing it till you get it right. But in TV, you stick to your schedule and you don't go beyond budget. I was surprised by how frugal the production environment was. It's a different world from U2 - no one is in a palatial suite, and instead of limousines, there are unit drivers." No doubt Riviera's on-screen luxury was more to McGuinness' taste. 'We've lived through a rich period of dark drama... this is the anti-Scandi noir' When Scottish billionaire Douglas Barrowman hosts a party aboard his £50m, 55-metre super yacht on the French Riviera, for instance, it's unusual for him to get any change out of £20,000. And when the guest list regularly includes one of the world's wealthiest royals, Prince Albert II of Monaco, and a crop of Hollywood A listers, he can't scrimp on Cristal champagne and caviar. Besides, £20,000 is loose change compared to what the other yacht owners in the marina invest. Recently, a neighbour spent several hours filling up a large swimming pool at the Monaco Yacht Club with champagne from 8,000 bottles of Cristal for guests to swim in, which is either a sticky dip or 120 schools in Africa, depending on your point of view. [caption id="attachment_6041" align="aligncenter" width="810"]Photo by Ollie Upton/GQ UK Photo by Ollie Upton/GQ UK[/caption] Excess is nothing new to Barrowman, who is founder of the Knox Group private equity firm and, with several properties around the world, two super yachts and a fleet of five Ferraris, worth over £1.25 billion. On the Riviera, which stretches from Cannes to St Tropez, the historic playground of the super-rich, he's seen or done it all. He's watched young entrepreneurs spend six-figure sums in nightclubs and private jets go transcontinental for caviar. He's seen guests rack up £15,000 bills for onboard live streams of their favourite comedy shows and hosts rent an entire cinema for a private film premiere (and then decide not to turn up). For the past 15 years, nothing Barrowman has witnessed on the sparkling shoreline of the Cà ´te d'Azur has surprised him. So when Sky Atlantic let it be known among the Riviera's upper crust that a super yacht was needed for a scene in its new £30m TV series, Barrowman was more than happy to oblige. So long as he got some airtime. Barrowman's super yacht, one of the biggest in the world and previously featured on the 2015 Channel 4 documentary Million Pound Mega Yachts, appears in one of the first episode's early sequences, setting exactly the right tone for the series' portrayal of stupendous luxury. The scene shows hundreds of the Riviera's most sophisticated men and women (all local extras, responding to a call for beautiful people only) partaking in a (sophisticated) orgy aboard Barrowman's super yacht, before the boat is blown up by an assassin. Digitally, of course. "It was," says Barrowman of the latter, "part of the reason why I agreed to lend the yacht in the first place." riviera-5 To begin with, McGuinness' idea hinged on location. The Riviera, where the sun shines some 300 days a year, was to play the lead role. Everything is shot au naturel. Incredibly, the list of one-line addresses for the six-month shoot fills more than a hundred pages. "It's extraordinary," says McGuinness. "You can point a camera in any direction and you'll find something that looks fantastic." And it's true, Riviera is beautiful. The first episode is not something to watch while mindlessly scrolling Instagram. Buttery sunsets and cobalt waters alternate with exquisite art, private jets and fast cars. "We've lived through a rich period of dark drama over the past ten years and, although the emotions and themes of Riviera are dark, there's something refreshing about opening the screen up to colour and light," says Thykier. "This is the anti-Scandi noir. There haven't been shows ofsuch visual beauty for a while." For those who joyously soaked up the aesthetic splendour of last summer's The Night Manager, which McGuinness himself greatly enjoyed, Riviera won't disappoint. The destruction of Barrowman's boat, Turquoise, which boasts a top-deck Jacuzzi, silk carpets and an open-air cinema, is McGuinness' favourite sequence. "Because it comes as a complete surprise," he says. Plus, he enjoyed meeting Barrowman and agreed to let him feature in a few shots as one of the party's guests: "He loved being on the show." Barrowman plays a Russian oligarch named Rycov, who deals in heavy machinery across Syria and the Congo, even though Russians represent the Riviera visitors that Barrowman is least fond of. More specifically: "They're eyesores. I haven't had many Russians onboard my yacht. I don't want many Russians." Barrowman is dubbed with a Russian voice in the scene. "I didn't know that," he replied, shortly, when I mentioned it to him. Still, at least he had fun during the shoot. While the extras and cast drank coloured water made to look like champagne, Barrowman insisted his 13-strong crew kept him topped up with Dom Pà ©rignon at all times. "He didn't see why he had to drink coloured water and we certainly weren't going to tell him what he should drink," says McGuinness. Since filming lasted from dusk till dawn, Barrowman must have polished off a fair few glasses. "He was pissed!" hoots Liza Marshall, the show's second producer, as we watch the footage of Barrowman in the editing suite: a small, stout man with greying hair, skipping aboard the yacht with a beautiful woman on each arm, looking rather joyous. Surprisingly, there hasn't been much coverage of the Riviera in the digital era. "It's very difficult to shoot here from a financial point of view. The costs are very high," says McGuinness. "But our budget was at the top end of British TV." The last major films shot on Cannes' coastline - To Catch A Thief and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - date back to the Fifties and the Eighties. These classics were still influential and McGuinness had them in mind when thinking up the show. Riviera's cinematography, too, is a modern take on Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mà ©pris (Contempt), starring Brigitte Bardot, which awed viewers with its novel use of colour and light in 1967. "We've taken the classic framing of Le Mà ©pris, then f***ed it up a bit," says Thykier. So why now? "This is the golden age of TV," says McGuinness. "We've got premium cable to thank. Plus, the digital camera, which used to be looked down upon by filmmakers, is now extremely popular and, due to amazing screen quality, the viewer experience has hugely improved. Film writers don't look down at TV like they used to." The Cà ´te d'Azur has long been considered a rewarding subject. Since it was "re-discovered" in the Twenties, the Riviera has welcomed the world's elite. Everyone from Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to F Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene and Winston Churchill has spent time here, their fame and wealth leading to all kinds of excess and scandal. As a result, the Twenties became known as les annà ©es folles (the crazy years). The leaders of the pack were wealthy New Yorkers Gerald and Sara Murphy, who stayed at the Grand-Hà ´tel Du Cap-Ferrat, where several scenes in Riviera take place. [caption id="attachment_6043" align="aligncenter" width="810"]Photo by Des Willie/GQ UK Photo by Ollie Upton/GQ UK[/caption] The couple inspired Fitzgerald's last finished book, Tender Is The Night, which is set on the Riviera and explores the shady secrets buried beneath great wealth and the ruinous effect of money. The whole cast read it as homework, with McGuinness' encouragement. Fitzgerald was not alone in probing the dark underbelly of the Riviera. Somerset Maugham called it "a sunny place for shady people" and Edith Wharton wrote in The House Of Mirth, "It is an idyllic setting, but treachery lurks, like the gleam of a knife in the dusk." When McGuinness told locals the show's ugly plot, spanning everything from art crime to murder, they asked, genuinely, "Is it a documentary?" On a sunny October morning, I visit Chà ¢teau Diter, a location chosen by McGuinness. This gargantuan renaissance-style pallazo sprawled on the hills between Monaco and St Tropez is Riviera's "base", the home of the Clios family, where much of the show is filmed. Flanked by olive groves and vineyards, this £10m, 4,500 sq m property used to be a humble 250 sq m fortified farm, but thanks to French businessman Patrick Diter it is now a fantastically ornate castle, featuring Roman colonnades, beautifully sculpted gardens, two helipads and three swimming pools. With the capacity to welcome up to 2,000 guests, the chà ¢teau regularly hosts spectacular parties for the world's super-rich. "I wanted it to feel like a character in itself," explains McGuinness. Sat in the grounds, shaded by a huge Lorenzo Quinn replica - two of the real deal were found by an incredulous film crew aboard Barrowman's boat - the cast take it in turns to tell me their personal views on how representative the show is of the real Riviera and its corrupt art trade. "From what I've heard, there are creepy things going on here," says Lena Olin, who plays Irina, the show's second lead actress. "I've heard talk of a lot of money laundering." Fairly accurate then. Olin spent the whole filming period living in Nice. Every weekend, she'd go to Peace Yoga, where she would observe real-life versions of her character in action. "Elegant, wealthy, complicated, spoilt and privileged, the people who go to yoga here are very much like Irina," says Olin. "They're all trying to reach a higher ground; they're all looking for something." Stiles, too, spent the summer living in Nice. I ask her whether the show's story of serious art crime within billionaire circles seems far-fetched. "No. I've heard the stories," she replies, looking uncomfortable. "Whenever we went to Monaco to shoot I heard lots of stories - like the one about a Russian oil mogul who has to keep bodyguards below decks on his yacht because he's ripped off so many people." Everyone I speak to quotes rumours rather than facts, but this is what fuels the Riviera's titillating mythology. Roxane Duran, who plays the self-harming stepdaughter, Adriana, even goes as far to say the show's pile-up of murders isn't just pure fiction. "If you've got the money, you've got the power," she says flippantly, tossing her sunset-red hair. "I've seen glimpses of this world. There are no limits." Still, it's rare for art crime to involve murder. According to Dr Noah Charney, one of the world's leading art criminologists, criminal organisations often use art as collateral to buy arms or drugs, or as a bargaining chip to negotiate immunity for another crime. Unless a big deal goes terribly wrong, it's unlikely for death to come into play. Nevertheless, Riviera's focus on the art world's sinister side is more than just a sub-plot. It is also, in part, social commentary. The stolen-art trade is valued at $6bn a year, the third largest black market, behind drugs and arms trafficking. Recently, due to the high-profile activities of IS, for whom stolen art is a known source of funding, this secretive industry is getting more attention. "It tended to be dismissed as unimportant, involving the trifles of the elite," says Charney. "And it's not in the financial interests of the art trade to police itself; it's not in the interests of the trade to look too hard." For that reason, as few as ten per cent of art crime is ever solved. [caption id="attachment_6042" align="aligncenter" width="810"]Photo by Rebecca Marshall/GQ UK Photo by Rebecca Marshall/GQ UK[/caption] In the first episode, Christos Clios proudly tells his future clients, "We must work hard to prevent the taming of the world's last unregulated market." This unscrupulous zeal is what eventually triggers his demise. Barrowman, a keen collector with a multimillion-pound portfolio of modern and impressionist pieces, says the problem with forgeries is widespread among his acquaintances. Dr Charney, too, speaks of the increase in high-quality fakes. "We're seeing a spate of extremely good old master forgeries right now, suggesting there is a single old master forger at work who has not been discovered yet." No TV show has tackled the theme of art crime in depth. So McGuinness, who consulted French crime journalists and the former head of Scotland Yard art squad for information, was determined to claim the subject for himself. On 14 July 2016, two weeks before Riviera's six-month shoot was set to begin, suspected terrorist Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ploughed his truck through the crowded Promenade Des Anglais in Nice, killing 84 people. When the truck finally came to a halt, it was directly opposite Le Mà ©ridien hotel, where the cast and crew were staying. Foz Allen, one of the show's producers, was having dinner with his son nearby. "When we saw loads of people running past the restaurant, we just thought it was odd," he says. It wasn't until a while later he realised what they'd been running from. Similarly, Arnaud Duterque, the show's locations manager, was shaken by the fact his son was metres from the truck's path. The sense of fear in the city following the attack led to serious talk of halting filming and, had it not been for the nature of their contracts, several actors might have pulled out. The aftershocks of the tragedy were felt throughout the following six months. McGuinness remembers the sadness he felt upon learning the graveyard they had organised to film in could no longer be used due to the sharp rise in funerals. Similarly, when Duterque was met by sudden radio silence from Nice airport's head of security, with whom he'd been talking about shooting on the premises, he didn't imagine it was because the man had been one of the 84 fatalities. As a result of the attack, the atmosphere in the city became increasingly tense and paranoid. The crew were worried that, since filming explosions and street shootings were key to the show, authorities would not be tolerant. Thankfully, McGuinness had built strong relationships with local administrators during his many summers living in Nice. "I understood the enormous power the mayors have here," he says. When I was managing U2 and we played a show in Nice we would make very careful arrangements to invite those mayors to the show, look after them and treat them with respect," says McGuinness. "Maybe because I knew that, we've had extraordinary cooperation from the municipal authorities here. The mayor at the time, Christian Estrosi, declared we were to be made welcome." Nevertheless, precautions had to be taken. None of the cast or crew was allowed to give any information to local newspapers, in case their convoy became a target for terrorists. But they also had to make sure they didn't arouse suspicion either. Since the weapon of destruction had been a truck, huge "Riviera" stickers were put on all four sides of each of their production vehicles, with a number to call if anyone was worried. Every member of the crew and cast had to wear a badge at all times. Well, almost every member. Duterque, who has lived in Nice all his life, was a little more rebellious. "When I was doing recces around hotels, alone with my camera, I would make people very nervous," he says. "They think I'm doing a recce to organise a bomb attack." It wasn't the first time Duterque had got into trouble when scoping locations for the series. When he was scouting out the Chà ¢teau Diter, a man suddenly appeared in front of him, shouting, "Stop! Don't move!" The man then took a photograph of Duterque and his car. He turned out to be the chà ¢teau's owner, Patrick Diter, who thought Duterque was spying on him. The two men are now friends. Duterque's fond recollection of this particular anecdote opens a flood gate of slightly more sinister tales. At one point, Duterque visited a £400m seaside villa, but once inside felt unnerved by the oppressive atmosphere. "I found out that the owner had committed suicide in the villa only a few days before," he says. Duterque continues to reel off his intriguing experiences on the Riviera, each one beginning with, "This one time, I was on a recce..." They range from being warned off filming a Russian cathedral ("Everyone told me the priest is a spy for Putin. I don't want Putin to come after me - he has a house here!") to glimpsing billion-pound art collections, and finding himself privy to the most salacious rumours of the area's guarded glitterati. [caption id="attachment_6044" align="aligncenter" width="810"]Photo by Des Willie/GQ UK Photo by Des Willie/GQ UK[/caption] Finally, Duterque comes to his most unforgettable anecdote. In his thick French accent, he recounts how he had trespassed onto the grounds of a multimillion-pound property and was nosing around with his camera. Suddenly, he was faced with a man wielding a Kalashnikov. Calmly, Duterque explained his agenda: they were filming a TV show. "It is not possible," the armed stranger replied. "And I said, 'OK!'" laughs Duterque, unfazed by the memory. "Because I had no gun!" For Duterque, it was just another day on the Riviera. "The show," he concludes, thoughtfully, "is a good portrait of the people here." McGuinness' switch from music manager to TV creative is an unusual one, and it didn't come without caution. "I can't understand why you'd want to leave a wonderful business like rock'n'roll for a horrible business like TV," warned David Chase, creator of The Sopranos and a friend of McGuinness. "But I've enjoyed this project enormously," says McGuinness, proudly. So much, in fact, that he's now planning Riviera's second series: "So he was wrong about that."   Eleanor Hall, GQ UK



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