De Savary after St James clubs: Property tycoon talks to Queens Moat about buying back hotels

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PETER DE SAVARY, the flamboyant property tycoon, is hoping to buy back the St James luxury clubs operation he founded 10 years ago from Queens Moat Houses, the financially troubled hotels group.

Ever the entrepreneur, Mr de Savary's past interests include Land's End and John O'Groats, a London casino, Southampton airport, housing and shipping and much more besides. His controversial interest-free loan from Blue Arrow, the employment services group, also became the subject of a report by the Department of Trade and Industry.

Now he has made preliminary approaches to buy the St James operations in London and Los Angeles, two of the four luxury club-hotels he developed in the early 1980s.

Queens Moat bought the two clubs as part of its purchase of the Norfolk Capital hotel group in 1990. Norfolk had previously paid Mr de Savary pounds 22m for the properties in July 1987 - only two months before the Black Monday stock market crash.

Queens Moat shocked the City last month when it revealed that expected profits of pounds 80m had been swept away by as yet unspecified losses. Two directors have been suspended and the hotels group is in urgent talks with more than 60 banks over pounds 1bn of debts. Grant Thornton, the accountancy firm, has been brought in to examine its financial affairs while the shares remain suspended at a highly optimistic 47 1/2 p.

Cast in the role of middle man in the talks about St James is merchant bank Charterhouse, which is advising Queens Moat and is also close to Mr de Savary, who shot to fame in 1983 with his bid to win the Americas Cup yachting challenge for Britain. 'There have been very preliminary discussions, though it is far too early to talk of any definite disposals by Queens Moat,' a Charterhouse executive confirmed.

Mr de Savary is currently abroad but one of his closest associates said: 'Peter is always interested in recycling his old projects, and I have no doubt that if the St James clubs were on the market, he would consider buying them.'

The recession has had a severe impact on the varied business interests of Mr de Savary, but the associate said: 'Peter can always raise money for a good project.'

However, he is thought unlikely to offer the pounds 10m book value placed by Queens Moat on the two clubs, which were originally designed, according to Mr de Savary, for a rich clientele wanting 'a place to keep their golf clubs, guns and a picture of the wife'.

Mr de Savary's love affair with Land's End and John O'Groats ended last year, when he sold out to Graham Ferguson Lacey, the speculator and born-again Christian. Mr de Savary also put a 'For Sale' sign over Littlecote, the listed Elizabethan mansion in Berkshire that is one of several country estates he has owned.

Littlecote was not sold and last month was reopened to the public to raise cash. A year ago, Mr de Savary, who spent his time (in his own words) 'dressing up in costume and generally behaving like an arsehole' at Littlecote, said he was fed up with 300,000 day-trippers gawping at him. None of them would be able to afford a night's lodging at the St James club.

(Photograph omitted)