From snipers on the roof of his mansion to A-list celebrities crashing cars outside his front door, Mr David paints a very different picture from that captured by Lord Julian Fellowes in Belgravia, his new TV drama. But, in essence, Belgravia, he says, is every bit as unique today as it is shown two centuries ago; from politicians to billionaires, council estates to mansions, it is “the beating heart of England”. The six-part series is tipped to be the new Downton Abbey as it follows the lives of nouveau riche businessman James Trenchard (Philip Glenister) and his wife Anne (Tamsin Greig), a tale full of action and intrigue.
Mr David, 52, whose family controls a Coca-Cola bottling giant and who personally runs a string of businesses from holographic theatres to the Swiss CBD firm, grew up in Belgravia.
He says: “Julian Fellowes is a genius and I can understand why he would understand Belgravia’s importance. He is a Conservative peer – slice Belgravia like a stick of rock and it would be true-blue Conservative. Actually, the party treasurer was my next-door neighbour for many years.
“Of course, Julian will know the area is a fantastic backdrop to film in. When I starred with Jason Statham in The Bank Job, a movie about a famous robbery, we shot many scenes in Belgravia. Directors love how it looks.
“Entertainment stars have always loved the area. Last summer, I walked out and bumped straight into my old pal Robbie Williams. He was sauntering along with David Walliams. I was with Chase Ergen, another billionaire…
“Anywhere else that would have been an odd foursome. In Belgravia, it was almost normal.”
Having grown up in the enclave, between Knightsbridge, Chelsea and Westminster, he says: “Belgravia is unparalleled. Nowhere can match the history, culture and power. Belgravia has always been the beating heart of England. It is the corridor into Westminster. True governing decisions are regularly made here, usually while the powerful are enjoying themselves.” And there is a rather more edgy side, too, says Mr David. “The secret underground massage spots around Eaton Square have many tales hidden in their walls.”
He adds: “I’ve lived in Wilton Place for two decades but this area has been in my blood since childhood. I’ve lived through five decades of Belgravian history but it has always defied change. Unlike every other area of London, the area has locked in its magic. It has altered far less than Knightsbridge or Westminster. There is something mystical in how it retained its flavour. Hyde Park is a great doorstep but the best view is from my kitchen window.
“My favourite hotel, the legendary Berkeley, is essentially in my front garden. My home feels like an extension of that magical place. The staff carry my meals over on silver trays.”
Belgravia has always been a magnet for the stars. “Over the years I have observed the great and the not-so-good cause mischief and mayhem,” he says. “The stars and power players all come to this spot to secretly play.
“I remember eating breakfast in my kitchen one morning at 6.30am and I look up to see a Hollywood actor crashing a black Porsche into the hotel before staggering out drunk.
“Once Yasser Arafat was waiting to get into his car. Suddenly the tiny man stepped away from the kerb, heading straight into moving traffic. Next I see Jim the doorman leaping over and grabbing him.
“I bring all my Hollywood friends to stay here, like Val Kilmer and Billy Zane.”
Describing growing up here, Mr David says: “When I was a kid I was aware that Sloane Street was the street that glued Belgravia and Knightsbridge together. “My first job as a young teen was on that road, handing flyers out for Scissors hairdressers.
“My very favourite place is Belgravia Square. Nearly every embassy is there, surrounded by police and high-tech security, but right in the middle is a secret garden, like a miniature Hyde Park. “I have a key, Belgravia residents are allowed. I love going along to that paradise – it’s at its finest in the winter snow.
Belgravia also has long had a council estate. It dates back to the 1930s, something people don’t realise. Part of what makes London great is that social housing is sprinkled everywhere.
“Forty years ago, Belgravia had a sleepiness. An essence of that remains but it is undoubtedly more cosmopolitan and alive. The pub culture has died and the Qataris have taken over an entire block at the end of my street.
“Like any great love, my relationship with Belgravia has had its rocky moments. The media loved it when the council tried to force me to pull down a new conservatory, because it was an inch too high!
“I won that battle but my home has seen some incredible action. During the Iranian embassy siege the whole area was affected and there were police gunmen.
“On another occasion a burglar burnt a hole through my roof and stole a load of stuff. We caught him by his DNA.
“I adore Belgravia and I hope viewers who watch Julian Fellowes’s TV series will fall as in love with the place as I am.”
Belgravia started tonight on ITV at 9pm