If only Marie Antoinette had taken her cues from today’s super rich. She would have lived to a glorious old age, and the French Revolution would have been averted.
First, the girl would have got herself a second passport, preferably from Panama, since if it were from England or America, it would leave her vulnerable to prosecution for human rights offences.
But long before it ever got to that point, her lawyers would have created an offshore vehicle through which she could secretly own apartments in London, Dubai and Singapore. There, she could spend the better part of the year eating cake, but well off the radar of the public watchdogs back home. Sure, she might appear in Hello! from time to time, giving the plebs a tantalizing hint of unimaginable luxuries, but she would have never needed to reveal the full extent of her cupidity.
Our super rich have had over a hundred years to perfect their exit strategies. Ever since the colonial age, in fact, when native robber barons teamed up with imperial enterprises to exploit resources in the colonies, while the shareholders and their beneficiaries lived it up in London and Paris.
Take the case of the celebrated socialite Oei Hui Lan, the Marie Antoinette of the early twentieth century, and daughter of the Javanese sugar king, Oei Tiong Ham.
Oei Tiong Ham was the son of an impoverished Chinese immigrant who made a tidy sum selling Javanese opium to addicts back in the motherland. He had little education and few options in the stifling, racist world of the Dutch colonies. Tiong Ham grew up an aimless lout with a passion for gambling and European fashion. Eventually, he channeled his formidable energies into building a business empire that spanned the globe.
His daughter Hui Lan became the locus of Tiong Ham’s thwarted social ambitions. This was the age when money could buy access, and no expense was spared in raising her.
Indeed, her memoirs read like an early edition of Crazy Rich Asians.
Hers was a childhood of private zoos, English governesses and the latest French fashions. Later, as a young adult on shopping sprees to London, she would buy Rolls Royces in threes: for her mother, sister and herself. Upon her marriage to the Chinese diplomat and politician Wellington Koo, her father presented the newlyweds with a palace in Peking. Her sons were playmates of young Phillip of Greece (yes, that Phillip).
One might think that since Hui Lan had married a rather serious person, some of his seriousness might have rubbed off on her. After all, these were some of the most turbulent years in modern Chinese history, and Hui Lan had a ringside seat. Instead, her concerns rarely extended beyond the seating arrangements at the next glittering dinner party.
Hui Lan had not been raised to be a good daughter of China, or even Java. Like any card-carrying member of the cosmopolitan jet set, her loyalties lay only with herself.
So when the chickens finally came home to roost, with the outbreak of World War II, she could have met a fate like Marie Antoinette’s, but she didn’t. With the diplomatic access available to her because of her husband’s position, Hui Lan, her sons, her staff and her Pekingese fled to safety in New York. Materially, her lifestyle was unaffected since her asset portfolio had been war-proofed through clever diversification.
And that is why every bad girl needs a good exit strategy.