Billionaires have always travelled in a different orbit than the rest of us. Nicer things, more power, rocket-launching stations. But 2020 threw that gulf into stark relief. While much of the world grappled with soaring unemployment and plunging growth, the 0.001 per cent benefited from unprecedented wealth creation. The world’s 500 richest people added $1.8 trillion to their combined net worth this year and are now worth $7.6tn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Equivalent to a 31 per cent increase, it’s the biggest annual gain in the eight-year history of the index and a $3tn jump from the market’s nadir in March. The gains were disproportionately at the top, where five individuals now hold fortunes in excess of $100 billion and another 20 are worth at least $50bn. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos remains the world’s richest person thanks to surging enthusiasm for online retail during lockdown. Elon Musk gained the most on the list – in possibly the fastest bout of wealth creation in history – leaping to second spot after Tesla skyrocketed in value. Combined, the two gained about $217bn in 12 months, enough to send $2,000 checks to more than 100 million Americans. Covid-19’s shockwaves upended industries particularly the real estate sector, but boosted fortunes in unexpected niches, partly fuelled by retail investors using no-fee trading apps such as Robinhood. Chinese immigrant Eric Yuan shot to fame as his video-conferencing technology, Zoom Video Communications, became as ubiquitous as Kleenex. Gym closures sent exercisers flocking to home-based alternatives, igniting the Peloton Interactive craze and making its chief executive John Foley a billionaire. Zhong Shanshan, a low-profile water-bottle tycoon nicknamed the “Lone Wolf”, became Asia’s richest person after the initial offerings of two of his companies helped boost his net worth by $70.9bn. He supplanted Mukesh Ambani, who had shot up the ranks after he started to transform his conglomerate into an e-commerce and tech colossus. Not all of the region’s billionaires thrived. Jack Ma started the year as China’s wealthiest individual, a position he was poised to solidify with growing sales at his e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and the impending listing of Ant Group. But Ant’s IPO collapsed shortly after Mr Ma’s pointed critique of Chinese regulators, and his net worth slipped, along with some of the country’s other tech titans.