The Business On: Tony Pidgley, Chairman, Berkeley Homes

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The Independent Online

This is no time to be a builder – why does he look so cheerful?

It's true that Britain's housing market is going through a period that even optimists would describe as challenging, but Berkeley Homes is doing all right. Profits are up, Mr Pidgley revealed yesterday.

How has he managed that?

Well, all homebuilders are seeing some uplift from the absolute dog days of the recession. And Berkeley's focus on London and the South-east, where demand has held up well, has been a big benefit.

Is it a market he knows well?

It should be: Mr Pidgley is an East- End boy who will have been aware of the need for more housing in thecapital ever since his childhood days. He spent his early years housed in a disused railway carriage.

Is this a rags to riches story?

Sort of. The facts are that Mr Pidgley is a Barnardo's boy adopted at the age of four by an English gypsy family – he began working for the family business as a child and left school at age 15 barely able to read or write. But Mr Pidgley describes what sounds like a tough upbringing as very happy, and rejects all suggestions that he somehow missed out.

What happened next?

He started his own business doing gardening. Once he'd saved enough to buy a lorry he moved into the haulage business, built up a fleet, and eventually sold the business to housebuilder Crest Nicholson. He learnt the trade and then struck out on his own, launching Berkeley in 1976. It floated nine years later.

A tough cookie then?

Independent-minded, you might say. As private-equity mogul Guy Hands found out when he tried to buy Berkeley in 2004. Mr Pidgley saw him off.

And where does he live now?

In a 16th-century home in Windsor. It should be looking good: last year he paid Berkeley £1.3m for improvements to the property. He shares it with his second wife, Sarah, a dressage rider he met at a polo match.