Although he was to be killed by terrorists within the hour, the voice of Andreas Liveras was calm and collected as he spoke on the phone to the BBC in the midst of the Mumbai massacre. Trapped in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel along with hundreds of others, he could hear the sounds of explosions and machine-gun fire as battle raged. Yet although the ordeal was a terrifying one, he gave a clear description of his plight. Apart from one nervous laugh, he held his emotions in check as he outlined his nightmare situation.
"The bombs are next door," he said. "The hotel is shaking every time a bomb goes off."
The terrorists who killed him brought to a brutal end a life which was, in his own words, a rags-to-riches tale. He began life as the son of a shepherd in Cyprus; he ended it as one of Britain's 300 richest people. Andreas Liveras amassed several fortunes, shrewdly spotting commercial opportunities and building major businesses on them. "He was a man with a big idea," said one of his friends.
Born in Anayia near Nicosia, the eldest of eight children, Liveras made a modest living as a taxi driver and hiring out agricultural equipment. He once narrowly escaped with his life when a tractor's brakes failed, clutching at bushes as the vehicle toppled down a steep ravine. Business was slow in Cyprus and he moved to London at the age of 28 to make a fresh start.
He started as a van driver at a small Kensington bakery named Fleur de Lys, then was promoted into management. When the bakery owner decided to close the shop five years later, he stepped up to buy the business.
It prospered as he spotted the growing market for ready-made meals, developing lines such as that 1970s favourite, Black Forest gateau. By the time he sold the business to a major company in 1985 it was one of the largest independent manufacturers of frozen gateaux in Europe.
Its £12m price tag enabled him to move to Nottinghamshire and set up another business, Laurens Patisseries, in the town of Newark. The former local council leader Tony Roberts said of him: "I first met Andreas when he proposed to bring a cake factory into Newark. The town was going through the economic doldrums at the time and there was quite a lot of unemployment, so for somebody to come in and set up a factory offering about 150 jobs was big news. He was a great salesman. He came good on his word and effectively trebled the number of employment places he had offered to about 450. He was a big character – larger than life."
Laurens grew into a huge enterprise before Liveras sold it, in 2006, to the Icelandic food giant Bakkavor for £130m. At that point he went into retirement, indulging himself with luxury yachts and piloting his own plane. But bored with this, he identified another marketing opportunity in the luxury yachting world, zeroing in on those who liked sailing in splendour but lacked the big money or the inclination to buy their own vessel.
Starting with one 25-metre ship, Liveras Yachts quickly grew into a major business, owning and leasing out 13 luxury yachts over the years. Opulence and grandeur were its keynotes. One of its crafts, the 85-metre Alysia, can carry more than 30 guests. It features a helicopter landing pad, a health and beauty centre, a marble-faced Roman bath, saunas, steam rooms, a beauty salon and a fully-equipped gymnasium. All this comes at a cost of around 700,000 euros per week, a price which has not proved prohibitive to customers such as the Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney, the singer Robbie Williams and the King of Bahrain.
Liveras acquired and built ever-bigger crafts. "The bigger the boat – the more expensive, the more quality – the busier they are," he said a few years ago. "Our clients are kings, princesses, millionaires, film stars – they're not the everyday shopper. There's a lot of rich people out there, a lot of Americans, who at this moment are hesitating coming. But we have the Russians, we have the Arabs, and there's a lot of money in the pocket that people would like to spend."
The success of this business put him and his family into the super-rich bracket, with a rich-list ranking of 265th in Britain and an estimated worth of £315m. It was the Alysia which took Andreas Liveras to Mumbai. There, he related to the BBC, he went to the Taj Mahal Palace because he had been told it was the best restaurant in the city. "But as soon as we sat at the table," he said, "we heard the machine-gun fire outside in the corridor. We hid ourselves under the table and then they switched all the lights off. But the machine-guns kept going, and they took us into the kitchen, and from there into a basement, before we came up into a salon where we are now. The doors are locked and we are inside." His death took place soon afterwards.
His brother Theopanis, a publisher, said he travelled the world, adding, "He didn't imagine this would happen. He feels safe everywhere he travels."
Andreas Liveras once said that everybody told him he was a lucky man. "People say that I'm the king of yachting," he added. "I do make money from my boats. I never lost any money on my boats, and this is my hobby. I am the proudest and the happiest man in the world."
Andreas Liveras, businessman: born Anayia, Cyprus 1 April 1935; married (three daughters, one son); died Mumbai 26 November 2008.Reuse content