News and Views

Super rich Arabs flock to London for an orgy of spending.

By  | 
  • ‘Ramadan Rush’ sees Middle Easterners fly in to end fasting with indulgence
  • They team Eid celebrations with spending outrageous amounts of cash
  • Last year credit card processor Worldpay handled £73m from the shoppers
  • Nightly supercar parades rev up outside Harrods and Harvey Nichols 

The Middle Eastern owner of the gleaming white Rolls-Royce doesn’t even glance at the double yellow lines as he parks over them outside the famous green-and-gold frontage of Harrods in London.

He is on his way to the store’s exclusive French cafe Ladurée, where outdoor tables are packed full of stylish men speaking Arabic and smoking, while glamorous women stand chatting in niqabs or brightly coloured scarves with jeans and stack-heeled designer trainers.

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And as a parking warden fixes a £60 ticket to the perfectly polished windscreen of his car — a Phantom Drophead Coupé with a Saudi Arabian number plate — he doesn’t even flinch, simply continuing the animated chatter with friends. 

After all, the car is worth £350,000, making the fine small change for a man of his means.

Besides, these wealthy men and women are here in the UK with one main objective — to spend outrageous amounts of cash.

It is late Thursday afternoon in the first week after Ramadan — the month-long Muslim fasting period that emphasises self-control and moderation.

When it ended last month, it heralded not just the traditional fast-breaking Eid celebrations, but also the now infamous ‘Ramadan Rush’, which sees thousands of super-rich Middle Easterners flying in from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

They have one intention: to see off their month of fasting with major indulgence.

That means retail therapy on an eye-watering scale — and experts expect the post‑Ramadan splurge to last throughout August, not just in London, but all over Britain. The French ban on burqas, worn by women from some of the Middle East’s richest families, means the number of post-Ramadan visitors to the UK is even higher.

Last August, credit card processing giant Worldpay dealt with more than £73.2 million from Middle Eastern shoppers — a figure estimated to rise by 25 per cent.

Exuberant spending was certainly on display when the Mail visited London’s most expensive shopping destinations.

In the jewellery and watch departments at Selfridges on Oxford Street, we watched as one Middle Eastern man tried on an £18,000 limited-edition Hublot watch, while others clustered around £23,000 diamond-studded Piaget timepieces.

In Chopard’s discreet private room, reserved for the wealthiest customers, a group of three burqa-wearing ladies — exquisite eye make-up and pristinely manicured nails peeping through the black fabric — examined necklaces that retail at upwards of £6,000.

Big spenders: These shoppers load up on designer labels while shopping in the capital today

By far the most coveted items are designer handbags and shoes, which are plucked from the shelves like pick-and-mix. Women shopping in groups of twos or threes, perhaps with children in tow, will snap up armfuls of luxury accessories worth anything from £1,000 to £87,000.

When we visited Harrods, a robed and veiled woman was handing over her credit card to pay for two classic Chanel 2.2 handbags, costing £3,090 each, while young girls wearing headscarves picked up £2,300 denim-studded shoulder bags and pink quilted clutch bags — a bargain at £1,690.

It was the same story at all the luxury accessories departments.

In Dolce & Gabbana, twenty-something Middle Eastern shoppers tried £1,050 limited-edition handbags against their robes, one smiling woman instantly snapping up two. There was also lots of interest in Yves St Laurent’s latest wheeze: tiny handbags in an array of bright candy colours that are just begging to be collected, at a comparatively modest £1,300.

‘Customers often buy more than one colour because they can’t choose,’ the assistant reveals, as one young shopper, with the blue version already hanging over her black abaya cloak, handed over her card to buy the same bag in pink.

Gucci, too, is in on the act, with a £510 evening bag in a choice of bronze, gold, black and red. ‘They’ll buy all four at once,’ the assistant shrugs. ‘It happens all the time.’

Another Harrods worker told us: ‘I’ve seen a 14-year-old buying a crocodile bag for her mother. She paid the £12,000 price tag in cash.’

‘Some of our customers came across literally the day after Ramadan ended,’ says Adhum Carter, a partner at Pocketlife, a concierge firm for high net-worth individuals, which has bases in Dubai, London and Switzerland.

‘They love to stay at top hotels like the Dorchester and Brown’s, and many keep family flats here. They do a lot of shopping themselves, but they also like to use the services of personal shoppers.

‘Sometimes they might ring up and just say: “I’ve got a budget of £20,000, you know my taste, just get some stuff.”’

Not surprisingly, retailers fall over themselves to accommodate these lucrative customers in exquisite comfort. At Bond Street jeweller Boodles, staff are given training in cultural nuances, and a private area allows women to try on jewels without their faces being seen.

Among the Middle Eastern customers’ favourite lines is the Wonderland collection, costing from £30,000 to £300,000, specifically designed with their market in mind. More elaborate than other ranges in the Boodles collection, it features brightly coloured precious stones.

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