I don’t get much mail from the antiques trade, so I opened the message from the provincial auction house announcing the sale of Sting and Trudie’s dining table.
“For fans of the gilded couple,” the message said, “this dining table would be a very interesting talking point.”
The table was made of a beech-planked top on six turned pine legs. There was a photo attached – it was very large and square, and quite low.
The message continued. “As the couple have many homes all over the world, it is not certain which home this table comes from. As it is being sold at ‘no reserve’ someone may just find they have a bargain with a fascinating provenance.”
The message concluded.
“If tables could speak, this one would doubtless have a tale or two to tell.”
I caught the 10am train from Euston to Stoke-on-Trent, a journey of 90 minutes, and changed there, crossing the platform for a one-coach service to Uttoxeter. At Uttoxeter, I took a cab ten minutes to Marchington – the land looked familiar, because you come this way for Alton Towers. The cab dropped me at an industrial estate, where I passed a security hut, and a series of large hangars where companies for crate hire and other businesses had taken offices. I found the auction house, and followed the signs for what was referred to as the “Luxury Room”.
I was met with a giant oil painting of Christ on a fiery backdrop. There was a sofa made of cow hide and bull horns, with hooves for feet; and there was a mock-Tudor panel depicting the Elizabethan statesman Robert Cecil, with hinges on the back. Beyond them – lowly and wooden and unassuming like the real Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – was the table that once belonged to the gilded couple.
You could comfortably fit 16 around it. That was no surprise: Sting and Trudie’s friends have ranged from Gil Evans to Shane Warne. They used to let journalists live with them for a week in the Nineties, challenging them, winkingly, to participate in a threesome after a few wines had been had.
I counted 33 round cup-stains on the beech wood, of various sizes, and six deep diagonal grooves almost parallel. There was the branded imprint of a square dish, possibly for casserole. In 2011, Trudie launched a range of ready meals for time-pressed Londoners called Lake House Table Suppers. She told the Evening Standard, “People are eating more on the fly, and I like the idea of us coming together to eat at the table.”
Next to the table stood a man in a hi-vis jacket, who told me that the size of the item was off-putting to potential buyers: you had to shift it on a large pallet, using six people.
“Psst –” he added, or something to that effect: “See that oil painting with hinges on the back? It was the door to a secret weed farm.”
The entire contents of the lot, I learned, were seized from the Derbyshire drug dealer Alan Yeomans in May this year. Yeomans had gone to declare bankruptcy, when the official receiver noticed his Rolex, worth around twenty grand. He had claimed to live in a shed in his mother’s garden: in fact, Shedley Manor (the name rather gave it away) was a six-bedroom, £1.2m mansion, which he’d clad in green corrugated iron – so that as long as you looked at it from the side, it did indeed look just like a shed, not unlike the one in which £80,000 worth of his luxury items were now up for sale with no reserve.
Yeomans was jailed for six and a half years. The Rolex that gave him away was up for auction with – sadly – four pairs of his wife’s Jimmy Choos with handbags in matching colours. John Pye Auctions does a lot of work for HMRC. When hauls like this emerge, it’s the auction house’s job to shift them to pay off the debts. If Yeomans fails to pay his £650,000 confiscation order, his sentence could be upped. I thought of him, handcuffed in the prison corridor, doing a rapid mental inventory and crying over his shoulder, “Tell them the table belonged to Sting and Trudie…”. Perhaps he’d had no time to say which of their many homes it came from.
The auction ended last Friday and the table went for £1,355.
This article appears in the 19 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next war