Breakfast with a Billionaire: Judith Neilson

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Judith Neilson sits down with Sarah O’Carroll to share life’s simple pleasures.

Judith Neilson wears a blue blouse. She is pictured sitting at a table with one hand resting on it and the other on her hip. She is looking at the camera and her hair is down.
Judith Neilson. | Image source: Felix ForestJudithneilson_breakfast_billionaire_190922

When Judith Neilson was 18-months old, travelling with her grandmother in a horse-pulled wagon in the Kalahari, a small bell fell off the horse’s bridle. That bell was the beginning of an extensive art collection. Now, the 76-year old is dedicating her life to the arts, journalism and philanthropy. She sat down with Sarah O’Carroll at her 60-seater dining room table in her home, Indigo Slam, in Chippendale, for the first issue of Breakfast with a Billionaire.

Our breakfast today:

Cheese and tomato toastie.

The perfect toastie:

A sprinkle of pepper. No salt.

Kitchen accessory:

My trusty German sandwich maker.

Dinner guests:

I’d like to have a dinner with Gaddafi, Imran Khan, Peter Ustinov and Bruce Springsteen.

Go-to weekday dinner:

I do something every night. But it might be scrambled egg. Or something I bring out of the deep freeze.

Favourite room in Indigo Slam:

The sitting room upstairs. And the TV room because the dogs love TV. They attack any dog that comes on.

Drink:

Whiskey. We take Jameson to China because they love it.

Sarah O'Carroll (left) sits down with Judith Neilson (right) at he 60-person table. Sarah is wearing a white shirt, Judith is wearing a blue blouse. They are eating toasties,
Sarah O’Carroll (left) sits down with Judith Neilson (right) to talk about life’s simple pleasures. | Image source: Forbes Australia

Most recent holiday:

Exploring distilleries of the world. We started in New York. Then Kentucky, Mexico, Peru, the Azores, the Caribbean, Poland, Scotland and London.

Last trip to Africa:

A three-month train trip. Namibia to Pretoria. Then Pretoria to Cape Town. Then Capetown to Dar es Salaam.

What you miss about Africa:

As soon as you set foot in Africa, there’s a smell or an atmosphere that gets to you, that you don’t get anywhere else. Anybody that goes there, they just want to get back. It’s the air, and it’s got wild animals, wild politicians.

Weekend away in Australia:

I have a little house at the beach at Freshwater. I go quite often.

Pet:

Chihuahuas: Wasabi and Cumin.

Restaurant:

Chippendale seems to have a lot of good restaurants within a block. When I take all of the staff to dinner, they all like Holy Duck.


Favourite city:

No, not really. I love China. Just because people there are kind and they’ve treated me well. I had to prove my worth.

Video source: Simon Hodge, Forbes Australia

Best friend:

These two little girls. [Chihuahuas]. I can tell them anything. They never judge me.

Music:

I like country music and rock music and goodness knows what. My dad was mad about classical music … and Irish music. Country music of course is very influenced by the Irish. I love bits of classical too.

Music artist:

I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen a lot. When my daughter, Paris, was 6-weeks old, I joined the queue for six hours to get a ticket. We got tickets right towards the back. I’ve seen Bruce five times since then.

Perfume:

There are a couple that I use. Penhaligon is one anyway.

Beauty product:

There’s one thing I’ve been using for more than 50 years – Badedas. It’s a German bath product made of horse chestnuts. I use it every night of my life, I have a bubble bath. It’s delicious.

How to unwind:

I write. If there is ever any anger. I start off and by the time I’ve written it about 20 times and given the dogs hell … the end result doesn’t relate to the start. But if you write it down, it does help.

Hobbies:

I’ve done all sorts of things in my life. I think that’s why I’m good at judging art. In lockdown, I did
a series of paintings called One Line. One for every week of the year. So there are 52. Then I did 53 because my mum [Irish heritage], one for the pot. There are 53. In November, I’m having a show at Alexandria art storage facility, Dangrove.

Your legacy:

I want to leave decent buildings. I never want to leave a renovator’s dream. Every building of mine is planned for a hundred years. I would like to do a lot in stopping things like domestic violence and slavery. Also, the Journalism Institute was supposed to be, and will be, a place where accurate, sourced information is for available for anybody.

Movie:

The first movie I saw was Annie Get Your Gun on a trip to the Kalahari. Forrest Gump I could also watch over and over.

Flaw:

I talk too much. It drives people mad, particularly men.

Book:

My sister and I were talking about books that stuck in our minds and one is, The Day of the Jackal.

Interests in NFT art?

No. I don’t believe you can share them. If I have a piece of art … I have to share it. That all started when I was given that first bell.

Do you still have the bell?

I’ve got it upstairs. I’ll show you.

This is an edited extract of the conversation. The full feature, Inside the mind of Judith Neilson, appears in the first issue of Forbes Australia magazine