Bids bring Evans to the brink of pounds 125m fortune

CHRIS EVANS, the broadcaster, presenter and media magnate, could soon be as much as pounds 125m richer if a new attempt to buy his Ginger Media group is successful.

But fans need not go into mourning just yet, and, likewise, those who have had more than their fill of Mr Evans should certainly hold back on celebrations, because he has made clear he intends to continue filling the airwaves with his Virgin Radio show and his TFI Friday television series whatever the outcome of the proposed deal.

The latest bid has come from Scottish Media Group (SMG), the ITV company and owner of The Herald newspaper in Scotland, which is understood to have offered to buy Ginger for pounds 225m. Mr Evans owns a 55 per cent stake in the company.

Three other media companies are believed to be hovering around Ginger Media, which also produces Red Alert With The National Lottery. The US media group Clear Channel, the French radio group NRJ and the satellite broadcaster BSkyB are all thought to be still in the running for the company. Most of the written bids received so far are said to be of more than pounds 200m.

Speculation about a sale began in the summer when the entrepreneur Richard Branson, who owns 20 per cent of Ginger, and Apax Partners, the venture capitalists who also own a 20 per cent stake, both indicated that they wanted to cash in their shares. Initially analysts believed the company would float on the stock market, but this option seems to have been shelved.

David Campbell, chief executive of Ginger, refused to be drawn on talks over the sale, but he said that the group was not yet committed to selling out to another media company. "We have not dismissed the option of floating the company on the stock market in the spring next year," Mr Campbell said.

Regardless of the outcome of the speculation Mr Evans would still work as a presenter at Ginger, Mr Campbell added. "Chris has been determined throughout the process that he will remain as a radio and TV presenter," he said.

Scottish Media Group also declined to comment on reports of a deal.

Mr Evans is believed to be reluctant to cash in all of his pounds 125m stake, preferring instead to keep a minority shareholding in the business.

Some reports have suggested that Scottish Media Group is interested in buying Ginger to help shore up its defences against a possible takeover by one of its rivals, Granada Group. Granada already owns 20 per cent of SMG and is expected to launch a takeover bid within the next year.

But if SMG takes over the Virgin Radio business it would make the company less digestible for Granada, which owns the London ITV company LWT. Under media ownership rules Granada could not also own a London-wide radio station such as Virgin.