UK

What WAS it like to live at Party Palace? As its owner sells up, he relives its raucous glory days 

Ever since he was 12 years old, James Perkins has been collecting — obsessively, passionately, unstintingly and, lately, increasingly secretively. Because his wife, Sophie, is fast losing her patience — particularly with the stuffed giraffes.

As a boy, he started on toy Smurfs, but finding them ‘rather limiting’ quickly graduated to Marvel comics, followed by leather suitcases and brass and iron beds — which he bought, restored and resold. Until, aged 15 and just as his pals were embracing cider and girls, he discovered rugby — he once played for England — along with a searing passion for intricate plasterwork. Busts, buttocks, cornicing and master samples from stately homes, museums and churches.

‘Some people say I’m obsessive but I prefer the word ‘passionate’,’ says James, a former rave promoter, record producer and, latterly, property developer.

He is equally passionate about taxidermy and boasts a vast collection that, as well as giraffes, includes zebras, penguins, flamingos, a polar bear, cheetah and a lion which prance, perch or snarl around the house.

Ever since he was 12 years old, James Perkins (far right) has been collecting — obsessively, passionately, unstintingly and, lately, increasingly secretively. Because his wife, Sophie, (far left) is fast losing her patience — particularly with the stuffed giraffes.

James is equally passionate about taxidermy and boasts a vast collection that, as well as giraffes, includes zebras, penguins, flamingos, a polar bear, cheetah and a lion which prance, perch or snarl around the house

James is equally passionate about taxidermy and boasts a vast collection that, as well as giraffes, includes zebras, penguins, flamingos, a polar bear, cheetah and a lion which prance, perch or snarl around the house

James is 51 now and still can't stop buying. On holidays, on business trips, online. Museums and collectors now call him when they have specialist pieces they want to shift.

James is 51 now and still can’t stop buying. On holidays, on business trips, online. Museums and collectors now call him when they have specialist pieces they want to shift.

So it's a very good thing he's got a socking great home — Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire, with 48,000 square feet, 41 en-suite bedrooms, along with endless acres, every inch of which he has renovated at vast expense — in which to stash his treasures

So it’s a very good thing he’s got a socking great home — Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire, with 48,000 square feet, 41 en-suite bedrooms, along with endless acres, every inch of which he has renovated at vast expense — in which to stash his treasures

He also loves 18th-century portraits, ostrich feather lights, fossils — he has an impressive collection that includes a 65-million-year-old triceratops skull — and, well, pretty much anything else you can think of.

He is 51 now and still can’t stop buying. On holidays, on business trips, online. Museums and collectors now call him when they have specialist pieces they want to shift.

So it’s a very good thing he’s got a socking great home — Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire, with 48,000 square feet, 41 en-suite bedrooms, along with endless acres, every inch of which he has renovated at vast expense — in which to stash his treasures. Oh yes, and a constant stream of celebrity guests to admire them.

Before lockdown, Aynhoe doubled as a top-end wedding and party venue for rich and famous revellers including Noel Gallagher, Kate Moss and Bono, who have danced till dawn to Duran Duran and Status Quo surrounded by the stuffed zebras and a giraffe suspended from balloons. And most recently, Cara Delevingne spent Christmas there with her family.

However, even Aynhoe’s vast, airy and exquisite interiors have begun to feel cluttered.

However, even Aynhoe's vast, airy and exquisite interiors have begun to feel cluttered. Pictured: The library is filled with a cheetah, a five foot scale model of Big Ben among other taxidermy

However, even Aynhoe’s vast, airy and exquisite interiors have begun to feel cluttered. Pictured: The library is filled with a cheetah, a five foot scale model of Big Ben among other taxidermy

Tomorrow, pretty much the entire contents of the house — nearly 700 items, including animals, fossils, sofas, pictures, skulls, glitter balls, canopied beds, chandeliers and rugs — will be up for private auction and expected to fetch more than £2 million.

Tomorrow, pretty much the entire contents of the house — nearly 700 items, including animals, fossils, sofas, pictures, skulls, glitter balls, canopied beds, chandeliers and rugs — will be up for private auction and expected to fetch more than £2 million.

A more than seven foot giraffe held up by five large glass balloons in the main hallway, which is worth around £15,000

A more than seven foot giraffe held up by five large glass balloons in the main hallway, which is worth around £15,000

Which is why, tomorrow, pretty much the entire contents of the house — nearly 700 items, including animals, fossils, sofas, pictures, skulls, glitter balls, canopied beds, chandeliers and rugs — will be up for private auction and expected to fetch more than £2 million.

The house has been sold, too, to a top secret buyer.

Meanwhile, James, Sophie and their three young kids are off to Grade I-listed Parnham House in Beaminster, Dorset — or what’s left of it — to start restoring and collecting all over again.

‘I’m always, ‘where’s the next project? The next thrill?’ I’m very, very driven. I get itchy feet,’ he explains. ‘I do love a challenge.’

He’s certainly lined one up this time.

Parnham burned down in a suspected arson attack in 2017.

Weeks later, the previous owner, Michael Treichl — who had spent years and over £10 million restoring it to untold levels of beauty and opulence — was found drowned in Lake Geneva.

James spent just 15 minutes viewing the charred rubble remains of Parnham before snapping it up (it was on the market for £2.5 million).

James also loves 18th-century portraits, ostrich feather lights, fossils — he has an impressive collection that includes a 65-million-year-old triceratops skull (pictured) — and, well, pretty much anything else you can think of.

James also loves 18th-century portraits, ostrich feather lights, fossils — he has an impressive collection that includes a 65-million-year-old triceratops skull (pictured) — and, well, pretty much anything else you can think of.

‘There wasn’t much to see! The main bit was too dangerous to go in. It doesn’t really have anything — it’s just a frame.’

Even for him it is quite a leap, though he’s never been the sort to agonise over purchases.

‘And I’ve never bothered about budgets either,’ he says. ‘It just costs what it costs!’

He bought Aynhoe in 2006 — exchanging on it the day after first spotting it from a helicopter, having never even set foot in it. ‘It looked great from the outside, so I said to myself, ‘I’m sure its got lots of lovely rooms inside’ — and bought it,’ he says.

It was only after he’d exchanged that he discovered 17th century Aynhoe came with three sitting tenants and an awful lot of thick white and red gloss paint.

‘It was a bit of a shock when I got inside, but we’ve sorted it out now,’ he says cheerily.

They put the finishing touches to the 41st bedroom just last year.

James bought Aynhoe in 2006 — exchanging on it the day after first spotting it from a helicopter, having never even set foot in it. Pictured: The dining room

James bought Aynhoe in 2006 — exchanging on it the day after first spotting it from a helicopter, having never even set foot in it. Pictured: The dining room

And while it won’t be to everyone’s taste, it has already developed a dedicated and obsessive fan base among those who don’t blink at spending a minimum of £100,000 per party. Jade Jagger had her wedding here and James shows me where Mick slept — right at the top of the house ‘where he couldn’t be woken’. It will be a long time before they’re holding a party in their next home.

The scale of the project, designed by the world-renowned studio set up by Thomas Heatherwick in London, is extraordinary. Sophie insists firmly that it will be ‘more family and holistic’ than Aynhoe. Works are likely to stretch to a decade.

But first — and at Heatherwick’s request — there will be a spiritual cleansing ceremony to address the past sadness of the house.

‘He recommended a ceremony to ward off evil spirits,’ says Sophie.

James rolls his eyes, but it won’t be their first brush with exorcists.

They brought someone into Aynhoe a couple of years back after a guest claimed she had felt a child’s hand cupped in hers.

But after years of madness and revelry that's finally all over — and everything must go to help fund their latest project. Or nearly everything

But after years of madness and revelry that’s finally all over — and everything must go to help fund their latest project. Or nearly everything

A giant white plaster statue of Hercules wearing a gold watch and chain around his neck

A giant white plaster statue of Hercules wearing a gold watch and chain around his neck

The exorcist, meanwhile, saw ghosts of maids and children running and insisted that James was possessed by a man who used to live here.

Whatever, James is certainly possessed with startling reserves of energy and drive.

As a boy growing up in Cheltenham, he was determined to be a millionaire by the age of 24.

To subsidise his antique collecting, he ran parties. He organised his first — at £1 a ticket — when he was 15 and by the time he was 22 was masterminding raves at stately homes for more than 22,000 people.

From there he went into record producing — there are framed discs all over the walls of the endless loos — and then, with a partner, property developing, which presumably is where all the money came from. But he was always collecting.

He collected Sophie, 34, — who has a background in antiques and vintage clothes — after they met at a wine tasting at the local pub.

Now they have three children, were themselves married at Aynhoe in 2019 and seem to thrive on their differences.

He is great company — big, bouncy and very charismatic — but can’t be easy to live with.

‘I have to be on the go,’ he beams. ‘My mantra is: why do something later when you can do it now?’

Which means he’s constantly on his phone doing deals. He is in the process of buying another huge house while we chat — ‘oh, it’s so exciting’ — and never switches off, not even on holiday.

Meanwhile, deliveries still arrive daily from all around the world.

Recently, he started hiding his purchases in his office, much to Sophie's dismay

Recently, he started hiding his purchases in his office, much to Sophie’s dismay

Recently, he started hiding his purchases in his office, much to Sophie’s dismay.

‘I’ll walk in here and I’ll say, ‘James! That giraffe — standing 20ft tall in the corner and sporting a bowler hat — that’s new!’ And he’ll say, ‘No, no, no. It’s been here for months!’

‘And I’ll say, ‘No James, shut up! That’s definitely new.’

In a funny way, the parties sounded like a godsend to Sophie.

She could slide off to bed in their soundproofed wing, ready to get up with their young children in the morning, while he popped out to play host and have fun.

‘I am very, very, very, social,’ he says. ‘I really like it. So I’ll say, ‘I think I’ll just go and say hello and I’ll be back six hours later! It’s just such fun.’

The parties were mad. One had an Alice in Wonderland theme, with guests crawling through a rabbit hole to enter the house. At another, Bob Geldof was asleep under the table and Madonna tried to gatecrash.

To be fair, it would be impossible not to have fun here and hard to imagine any party falling flat surrounded by such weird and wonderful treasures.

But after years of madness and revelry that’s finally all over — and everything must go to help fund their latest project. Or nearly everything. Because towards the end of my tour and just out of Sophie’s earshot, James confesses there are ‘a few bits of bobs’ he just couldn’t quite part with, which he has stowed safely in storage.

A few?

‘Well . . . er . . . two airport hangars full of stuff. And at last 14 40-foot containers,’ he says sheepishly. ‘Maybe I should start collecting stamps next time.’

  • For a 360 degree tour of the house, video and the online catalogue ahead of the auction on January 20-22, visit: dreweatts.com/aynhoepark.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button