The affluent centers of the capital cities of Western Europe always used to be considered among the safest places in the world. There used to be a quiet confidence among the 1% that they could walk down a street in Mayfair or the Boulevard Saint-Germain reasonably safe in the knowledge that they weren’t going to get mugged, gassed, beaten or robbed in broad daylight.
It’s an attitude that still persists in London, as the solo outing by Meghan Markle to her new boyfriend Prince Harry’s Kensington branch of Wholefoods last week showed.
The little shopping trip, made just days after Harry issued an unprecedented statement condemning media intrusion into her life, was a clear sign that despite Harry’s concerns for her safety, Markle ultimately found enough comfort in the old ideas of London’s innate safety to venture out alone.
Harry, unsurprisingly given his life experiences, is less complacent; he is said to have offered to pay for 24hr close protection for Markle out of his own pocket. Markle reportedly found the offer ‘charming’ but has declined to accept.
Markle’s easy attitude to security is still widely reflected across London; stroll around London’s premier roads such as Mount Street or South Molton Street any fine afternoon, and the wearable wealth alone on display in the form of furs and jewels is quite simply staggering.
In Paris, however, attitudes to personal safety among the super-rich are changing quickly in the wake of a series of vicious and highly publicized attacks.
And, in what many will see as a worrying omen when it comes to next year’s Presidential election in which Marine Le Pen is tipped to do extremely well for the National Front, due in part to the horrific terror attacks the country has endured in recent years, many are proving quick to scapegoat refugees and illegal immigrants.
The most recent high-profile attack to grab headlines in Paris was on a female Bollywood star. Last week, the Indian actress Mallika Sherawat was attacked by three masked men who sprayed her and her partner with tear gas.
The men ran off before stealing anything for reasons unknown, but there is little doubt that the attack was an attempted robbery.
The street robbery took place just weeks after raiders broke into Kim Kardashian’s luxury holiday residence, tied her up, and stole millions of dollars-worth of jewels last month, and has served to focus minds on the issue of personal security in the French capital.
One security consultant told the Daily Beast that mega-rich tourists were now choosing to avoid Paris as a holiday destination, and that wealthy business travelers who have to come to the city are asking for extra levels of protection.
It’s a particular problem for Paris, which has fiercely guarded its reputation as the ultimate retreat for the person who has everything. Indeed, news magazine Le Point recently asked its readers, “Is Paris the new ‘no-go zone’ for the world’s most fortunate tourists?”
As The Daily Beast’s Erin Zaleski has written, high-value street crime is swiftly becoming a part of everyday Parisian life.
On the Sunday night prior to the Kim Kardashian raid, for example, thieves snatched a Richard Mille watch valued at about $112,000 from a Qatari man on a bustling, upscale street just a short walk from the Champs-Élysées. Saudi princesses, Emirati singers and wealthy Chinese tourists have all also been targeted while visiting the French capital.
As a result business is booming for French security firms offering bodyguards, or ‘close personal protection’, as the industry terms it.
Laurent Dequatremard, director of the French security company International Protection Services Bodyguard, which provides bodyguards to visiting celebrities, tycoons and CEO’s at a rate of €800 per day, says that Paris is “less safe than big cities like London, Manhattan, Hong Kong or Dubai.”
He attributes this to three main factors; weak law and enforcement thereof, widespread unemployment and, controversially, the rise of illegal immigration.
Dequatremard cited “a lot of undocumented people on the Champs-Elysées” in an email conversation with the Daily Beast as a major cause of the present trouble.
“We have a lot of clients in Paris asking for security services as they don’t feel safe,” he said, “We recommend to have protection with you during the day and guards at night if your building/residence is not secure.”
Another private bodyguard working in Paris, Fidel Matola, was also quick to blame the rise in crime on undocumented immigrants.
He told the Daily Beast: “At the moment it is very dangerous not just in Paris but in other big cities such as St Tropez. There are many refugees, come from Africa and they rob people and houses and do bad things to French people.”
Challenged by the Daily Beast on whether it was overly simplistic to blame the apparent high-end crime wave on refugees, Matola was unapologetic, saying, “Refugees increase the danger. This is what I see.”