HomeWorld NewsHow brothers who built £3billion empire are embroiled in a bitter feud
How brothers who built £3billion empire are embroiled in a bitter feud
Rumpus at the Ritz: How close brothers who built a £3billion empire are embroiled in a bitter feud amid claims one has been spying on the other with bugs in their landmark hotel
Multi-billionaire Barclay twins Sir David and Sir Frederick are embroiled in feud
Brothers – born in Hammersmith – started as 16-year-old painters and decorators
They are now worth some £3 billion and their empire includes The Ritz in London
The heart of the family rift involves the disposal of key assets in their empire
With its elegant panoramic windows and potted palms, the conservatory in London’s iconic Ritz hotel has long been the place to be seen.
But recently it seems it has become a place to be heard.
Not the conversations of guests — perish the thought. But in a bizarre development in the lifelong partnership of The Ritz’s owners, the multi-billionaire Barclay twins, one brother’s family has apparently been bugging the other.
It is surely the most unexpected of all the twists and turns that have shaped the near 70-year collaboration of the knighted businessmen Sir David and Sir Frederick.
Born in Hammersmith to Scottish parents who had eight other children, they started out as 16-year-old painters and decorators. Today with a privately owned empire that encompasses shipping, retail and The Ritz, as well as the Telegraph media group, they are worth some £3 billion.
And as the High Court heard this week, Sir Frederick (left), the younger by ten minutes, has been secretly bugged by Sir David’s (right) sons and grandson for several months
Since both are well into their ninth decade, it seems no time for the brothers — indeed, twins so identical that people could mistake one for the other — to fall out. But as one family source puts it, ‘it’s a feud’.
And as the High Court heard this week, Sir Frederick, the younger by ten minutes, has been secretly bugged by his twin’s sons and grandson for several months. The bugs — described in court as ‘an elaborate system of covert recordings’ — were allegedly placed in the hotel conservatory, near one of Sir Frederick’s favourite spots where he enjoyed cigars and talking to his only daughter Amanda.
The heart of this gripping family rift involves the disposal of key assets in their empire. The private family company includes Very, the catalogue retailer formerly known as Shop Direct, Yodel the delivery company, the newspapers the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and, of course, The Ritz, which they bought 25 years ago for £75 million.
A deal is understood to be on the table in which a Saudi private investment company would buy the historic hotel on the edge of Green Park for £750 million. But family sources tell us that Sir David does not want to sell, even though its profits in 2018 fell from £13 million to £7 million.
Matters are also said to be complicated by Sir Frederick’s divorce from his Japanese-born wife Hiroko, 77.
The words inheritance as well as family trusts have certainly been heard a lot recently in family circles. This is hardly surprising as the twins will reach the age of 86 in October.
The Barclay twins’ company includes Very, Yodel the delivery company, the newspapers the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and, of course, The Ritz (pictured), which they bought 25 years ago for £75 million
For his part, Sir David, who divides his time between a mock Gothic castle on the tiny Channel Island of Brecqhou and Monaco, has never countenanced retirement — describing it to friends as ‘God’s waiting room’.
The reclusive Sir Frederick, on the other hand, has been, as he puts it, ‘mostly retired’ since his late 70s. He is said not to have been directly involved in the business for more than 20 years.
The next generation have, meanwhile, already become deeply embroiled in the network of family companies that extend to offshore bases in Jersey, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands.
Sir David has four sons and nine grandchildren. The eldest Aidan, 64, — ‘my Aidan’ as Sir David refers to him — has been managing the UK businesses. Then there are Howard, 60, Duncan, 59, and Alistair, 30.
It is Aidan, Howard and Alistair, together with Aidan’s son Andrew, 28, who are the alleged parties to the bugging. They eavesdropped on their uncle, it is said in the family, because they disagreed with the way Sir Frederick was going about holding talks with potential buyers.
And crucially, their side of the family claims, because of his habit of talking to strangers whom he meets in The Ritz, where he spends much of his time when he isn’t in Monaco.
The feud has pitted cousin against cousin as well as brother against brother. As Desmond Browne QC, representing Sir Frederick and his 41-year-old daughter Amanda, told the High Court: ‘We all remember Tolstoy saying “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.’
‘Here, children of Sir Frederick and Sir David have been at odds concerning the family trusts — and cousin, sadly, has been pitched against cousin.’
Indeed feud is hardly strong enough a word to describe the toxic atmosphere that separates the twins once seen as inseparable.
‘They look alike, talk alike but they are as different as chalk and cheese,’ says one family figure. ‘It’s really quite dreadful. Heaven knows how it will all end.’
The family spectacle unfolding in the High Court has all the bitterness and drama of the huge Amazon Prime hit Succession, in which members of a media empire battle over its control.
Desmond Browne told the court: ‘The matter came to light when the first defendant (Alistair Barclay) was filmed late on the night of January 13 handling the bug placed in the conservatory at The Ritz which was known to be often used by Sir Frederick.’
Frederick Barclay claims his three nephews and great nephew were parties to the recording of their private conversations over several months. He and his daughter are bringing a legal action alleging misuse of private information, breach of confidence and breach of data protection laws against their four relatives and Philip Peters, who holds a number of board positions in the Barclay group of businesses.
Recent corporate changes have fuelled fears on Frederick’s side of the family that they are being sidelined. In January, just a week after the bugging was discovered, Amanda and an associate were removed against their will as directors of six Ritz companies. They were replaced by Aidan, Howard and Mr Peters.
Together the brothers rode out the Seventies property crash to emerge in the Eighties stronger than ever, acquiring a retail chain, newspapers and ultimately The Ritz (pictured)
Court documents revealed that transcripts had been made of the recordings and the family members then used the encrypted WhatsApp messaging service to discuss what was said between Sir Frederick and his daughter.
As the judge Mr Justice Warby noted: ‘There is ample evidence at this stage to suggest that the bugging of conversations at The Ritz yielded a wealth of confidential business information, and personal information of a confidential and private nature which, on the face of it, the claimants (Sir Frederick and Amanda) are entitled to protect from unauthorised use or disclosure.’
He said the secret recordings included ‘discussions about potential acquisitions and disposals of business assets’, as well as ‘personal financial matters … relating to the family trusts’.
The mud-slinging has been intense. Unkind words such as ‘wicked’, ‘jealous’ and ‘monster’ have been freely bandied about in family circles.
Nobody would have forecast such a finale to the mercurial rise of the working-class West London twins whose father, a travelling salesman in bakers’ sundries, died when they were 12, and who at 16 set out to make their fortunes.
It is a colourful story of ambition and success.
From painting and decorating, the pair gravitated to running Candy Corner, a tobacconist and sweet shop near their Hammersmith roots. But their lift-off to riches is said to have owed much to the 4ft 11in girl David married in 1955.
She was Zoe Newton, who had trained as a ballet dancer after grammar school and then suddenly found fame and fortune as a model. She rapidly became the most photographed and highly paid model in the country. She was a favourite of colour magazines and appeared on early television commercials as the National Dairy Council’s ‘drinka-pinta-milka-day’ girl.
It wasn’t long before David established the Hillgate estate agents in 1962 with Zoe — by now his wife and mother of his three eldest sons — as co-director. She had given up modelling to bring up their family, as her husband began buying and developing properties across London. And in 1968 brother Frederick replaced Zoe on the Hillgate board.
By 1970 their property portfolio had grown to include the 170-room Londonderry House hotel on Park Lane, the Cadogan hotel in Sloane Street and two other hotels in Bayswater, near Hyde Park.
This climb to riches was conducted with a marked aversion to publicity. They had no interest in trumpeting their successes to the world. Rather the reverse. They had watched other accomplished men fall foul of fame. ‘They liked to enjoy what they had in private,’ an acquaintance of their early years says. Together the brothers rode out the Seventies property crash to emerge in the Eighties stronger than ever, acquiring a retail chain, newspapers and ultimately The Ritz.
Through all this most people barely knew what they looked like. Meanwhile they had acquired the island of Brecqhou, the sister-island of Sark in the Channel Islands and a mere 160 acres in size — just the kind of place where a billionaire, or indeed two, can disappear at will.
These were times when the twins could not have been closer.
First they set about building homes on the island for the family and then the creation of something much larger, their private paradise, began.
From scratch they built a turreted castle with walls four-and-a-half feet thick rising up the island’s cliffs to castellated battlements, as well as a helipad. They particularly enjoyed the huge open-air courtyard. The library ceiling they had hand-painted in a style reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel.
In the palatial living room were pictures of the Barclay twins with Nelson Mandela, French president Charles de Gaulle and, prominently, Margaret Thatcher. In business the Barclays earned a reputation for uncompromising toughness and yet, it must be said, that after Mrs Thatcher’s fall from power in 1990 no one could have been kinder to the Iron Lady.
They are understood to have provided the multi-million-pound Belgravia townhouse where she lived, giving her a lease on the property which reverted to them on her death.
In the end, after a series of strokes, Lady Thatcher was forced to give up the house because she could no longer manage the stairs.
The devoted Barclays then provided her with a suite at The Ritz for the last six months of her life. She made occasional appearances in the hotel dining room. The pianist always played the wartime classic A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square when she left the restaurant — it was a favourite of her late husband Sir Denis.
Today there is a very different tune being played in the carpeted corridors — the sound of rancour. Family fall-outs are hardly new, but the Barclays had always presented a facade of family unity. Yet now an ugly story of bitterness is unravelling.
Family sources on Sir David’s side claim that great age has robbed Sir Frederick of his sense of discretion. They cite his fondness for chatting to hotel guests about his life story, and — they claim — confidential matters.
The brothers built a turreted castle with walls four-and-a-half feet thick rising up the island of Brecqhou’s cliffs to castellated battlements, as well as a helipad
‘I am sorry it has to come to this but this goes against everything the family has held in high value,’ says one. ‘We are not boastful, we are discreet and we want to keep it that way.’
For their part, Sir Frederick’s side of the family refused to comment on these allegations.
The twins are said to communicate largely by text — if they communicate at all. At one business meeting at The Ritz the brothers were sitting at opposite ends of a long table. They reportedly never spoke to each other and communicated by writing notes. Their advisers passed them along. They were discussing the possible sale of the Daily Telegraph.
Asked when the last time was that Sir Frederick spoke to his elder brother, a source close to him said: ‘You could just say that this rift has been there for several years.’
More shocking perhaps than the hurling of insults concerns the issue of a newly installed headstone at Mortlake cemetery in South-West London.
It marks the death in 1947 of the twins’ father, who never fully recovered after being gassed in the World War I.
Inscribed with the words ‘in loving memory of our father’, the black granite stone carries the name of Sir David and his brother Andrew — but not Sir Frederick.
More lurid details of the feud are expected to emerge as the case continues. For a family which has prided itself on its discretion, the unseemly revelations will bring with them considerable pain. Above all the image created by the Barclay brothers was one of always being in control. Neither twin can lay claim to that now.