To an outsider, London’s property industry consists of three things – boom, bust and bumper profits. Blockbuster headlines thrust Billionaire ‘Bling Brothers’ Christian and Nick Candy into the limelight, with other millionaire property developers snapping up supercars they can’t drive. But is there a darker side to the business?
I spoke to a senior property executive about the ongoing taboo of drug use in the industry.
Reports of drug use in property are few and far between.
Most stories revolve around a maverick independent property developer who is far removed from the professional nature of the business, usually an actual drug dealer who has bought and sold property and is then dubbed an ‘investor’ by the mainstream media. For a prime example, look no further than ‘Property developer faces jail over links to Breaking-Bad obsessed drugs network which dyed their crystal meth blue to mimic hit show’. This is not the kind of drug use I’m looking to identify. I’m interested in something deeper, less tabloid but potentially more serious; a concealed sub-culture.
Around 1 in 12 of adults in the UK aged 16 to 59 have taken an illegal drug in the past year, with cannabis coming out on top as the drug of choice, closely followed by cocaine and ecstasy. Most users tend to consume drugs in a social setting and it seems like the property industry is no exception.
I made contact with John (not his real name), a 20-year veteran of the property industry in an attempt to find out if drug taking exists, who is taking it and on what scale.
John started by asserting the social aspect of drug taking was a huge consideration in property circles, “At parties and social occasions its commonplace to see people taking drugs. It’s become a much bigger issue over the past few years – get together and work do’s are rife with it. If you look closely enough you can always find the person who has enough to supply and sell to everyone.”
John has experience in a number of large, well-known property corporations and said quite plainly that the problem of drug use is not just rampant in junior ranks of the trade, but reaches far above into the upper echelons of senior management.
“The large corporations are less concerned now than they used to be and for all intents and purposes it seems like they’ve given up trying to fight it. Shockingly, some members of senior management take just as much as their staff. The younger generation tend to be more commercialised about its use, whilst the older generation dabble here and there.”
“I know that Estate Agents typically use cocaine on week nights out, but if it’s a weekend and there’s no commitment the next day they tend to use MDMA (powdered form of ecstasy)”. John was clear that this wasn’t unique and is a regular practice occurring every weekend at some of the UK’s most noteworthy property companies.
He went on, “the younger generation will use anything, but the older generation seem to stick to cocaine”.
Anecdotal evidence such as this is only credible to a certain extent before it becomes, well, a little bit like hearsay.
John did point me to a real-life example, “a lot of people in the industry will know about a large property company in Southern England who were forced to email all their staff with a zero tolerance warning against drug use at their Christmas party”.
No doubt this would be labelled as standard HR procedure, but politely asking staff not to take drugs in a public place, in front of their colleagues and managers is slightly worrying and does point to a wide scale use, in that specific company at least.
The image of middle class property executives as relentless class A drug users will be viewed with a mixture of confusion and scepticism from the professional community, but maybe it shouldn’t be so shocking.
Tony Saggers, former head of drugs threat at the National Crime Agency, recently blasted heavy cocaine use by London’s city workers, “These are middle-aged, middle-class people at dinner parties…the consequences of buying cocaine are more abhorrent than most of what the people using it find abhorrent.” Richard Kingdon, who runs an addiction specialist based in the City, has also publically condemned large companies for a lack of responsibility linked to city roles, “as long as you are pulling the money in, they just turn a blind eye. These organisations do not want negative publicity.”
If an executive is fired due to drug use, an institution will do it’s upmost to ensure that the cause does not leak to anyone else in the team, firm and of course the press, so it’s very difficult to judge the scale of the problem without the luxury of hard statistics. The subject remains such a taboo that collecting trustworthy data upon which a conclusion can be drawn is nigh on impossible; in our attempt to understand the extent of drug use we reached out to multiple executives across the industry. Responses were subdued, non-committal or in many cases we received no reply at all.
One Manager at a reputable London developer had this to say, “I have been in the industry for almost 5 years now and have been surprised at how little I have heard them mentioned, and indeed surprised that I’ve never witnessed their use. The drinking culture remains very strong, but not drug use”. However, he did add, “recreational drug use in my generation (under 30s) is still very common”.
In the same way that high flying professions have grappled with drug addiction since the 1970’s, the London property industry is no exception.
In areas of the industry where salesmanship and socialising are brought together, mixed with the added pressure to entertain and to be entertaining, casual drug use is an obvious (and readily available) outlet. However, even drawing off the anecdotal evidence at hand, is this behaviour any worse than the ‘go big or go home’ mentality of investment bankers?
Anecdotal or not, the damning statements from John about London property companies issuing drug warnings and open drug use at company-wide events should not be ignored. As an industry we are constantly under the microscope of the mainstream media, with investigations and exposés occurring on a regular basis. It just takes one person to be filmed for an entire company, or industry, to be blacklisted.
If John’s testimonial is to be given even the slightest of credence, it could be a matter of time before London property returns to the limelight – for all the wrong reasons.
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