A few minutes later, we set out on a tour of the house, down a corridor that smelled of fresh paint, past James’s study, where a giant fish tank, to be filled with rare puffer fish and angelfish, was being installed. The hallway was lined with portraits by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and Sir Peter Lely. “All my Lelys are important,” James told me later. “In Althorp, the Earl of Spencer has the Windsor Beauties, which is a very famous group of pictures by the artist. I’ve been trying to rival the Windsor Beauties. I have more, I think, than him, and I’m just five off the Royal Collection.”
“James’s Old Masters!” Petra said indulgently. “Very different than my taste.” We passed a sculpture by Marc Quinn of twin Pamela Andersons in bikinis: hers. “I’ve never met her; I just love the piece,” she said. “I think it’s so fun.” She showed me more living rooms, the solarium, and the swimming pool, which she had yet to use.
“I need space,” she said, as we headed downstairs. “I was living in an apartment before, in London, so it’s a change. That was 5,000 square feet. Then I moved into our other house in London, which was 20,000 square feet.”
In January, Petra bought a historic, grade II–listed house in the city’s posh Chelsea neighborhood, which is valued at $87 million. Her sister, Tamara, the 27-year-old subject of a British reality show called Billion $$ Girl, recently bought a house on Kensington Palace Gardens, the most expensive street in England. The sisters’ spending habits are apparently causing their father some concern. In December, The Guardian reported that he had established a £3 billion trust for them to build a real estate portfolio. “The idea was that they’d buy superquality property that would be long term—for their kids and everything else,” he said. “Didn’t happen. They haven’t done that. So they’ve had access to money, which they’ve spent.”
Petra is a modern-day princess, albeit one reared in the age of Paris Hilton. Her devotion to canines—she collects English bulldogs, Maltese, Maltese poodles, rottweilers, boxers, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels—rivals the Queen’s. Her wedding, at Odescalchi Castle (where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were married), was as luxurious as a coronation: Guests were served Château Pétrus ($6,000 a bottle) and entertained by the Black Eyed Peas. Until recently, the event was believed to have cost $7 million. Then Bernie Ecclestone testified in the corruption trial of a German banker, where it was revealed that the wedding had actually cost nearly $19 million, a level of spending encouraged by his ex-wife, Petra’s mother, a Croatian former model named Slavica. “ It was worth every penny because it made my daughter happy,” Slavica was quoted as saying in Grazia. “Who cares about money?”