Saviours of the Planet

Last week the hamburger chain was saved from bankruptcy by two investors with a glittering array of assets. Hilary Clarke and Dan Gledhill chart the careers of Ong Beng Seng and Prince Al Waleed

Al Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has more justification than a certain other Prince for shortening his name. As you would expect of someone with such a rambling title, Prince Al Waleed is as blue-blooded as they come. His grandfather was the founder of modern Saudi Arabia and his uncle, King Fahd, is the Gulf state's current ruler.

Al Waleed certainly has the wealth and lifestyle worthy of his pedigree. He is passing the week on Kingdom, the boat he bought from Donald Trump, which is moored off Cannes. Accommodation is never a problem for Al Waleed. As well as his 25 per cent stake in the Four Seasons hotel group, he owns the luxurious Hotel George V in Paris. His transport interests include 5 per cent of Trans World Airlines, a Norwegian cruise line company, and stakes in motor manufacturers Daewoo and Hyundai. For entertainment, see his 24 per cent holding in EuroDisney, for clothing, a chunk of Donna Karan. His 9.9 per cent of Citigroup ought to be enough to keep his bank manager quiet.

All pretty run-of-the-mill stuff for an Arab prince, you might say. But it would be wrong to stereotype the 42-year-old as the kind of flash Saudi aristocrat whose profligacy has helped squander the billion-dollar legacy bestowed on the Gulf state by its vast oil reserves. Born in Riyadh, where he still has a palatial home, he was raised in Beirut, home of his mother, who happened to be the daughter of Lebanon's first prime minister. Next came California, where he graduated magna cum laude from Menlo College with a degree in business administration. A dollar billionaire by the age of 31, he has continued to dedicate his time to an investment portfolio whose success has made him the world's eighth richest man with a fortune estimated at $15bn (pounds 9bn).

His regime is exacting. He survives on five hours' sleep a night, sustaining himself with a diet of vegetables and fish and an hour's daily exercise. Smoking and drinking are out and, unlike many of his peers, Al Waleed is a stranger to London's casino tables. Instead, he devotes at least four hours a day to devouring the world's media and always has his cell phone to hand even when allowing himself the luxury of a skiing holiday in St Moritz.

He is backed by an elaborate entourage. How else could he ensure that, wherever he may be, he has a private phone network to keep in touch with Riyadh and his more far-flung holdings? He has travelled and invested in the Far East, counting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as a friend. A recent fishing trip to Asia was interrupted by a confab with the Sultan of Brunei.

Africa was earmarked as a growth area, although the Middle East remains his priority - last year he pumped $80m into the Palestinian-ruled parts of Gaza and the West Bank.

If there is any pattern to Al Waleed's investment, it is his timing. The Prince likes to make his move when a venture is on its knees, hence last week's bail-out of Planet Hollywood. Robert Earl is understandably grateful. "He is very knowledgeable, a workaholic," says Earl. "He is loyal to companies he puts money into. He hasn't done well out of Planet but has remained very loyal."

His business acumen was recognised last month when Syracuse University, where he gained his Masters, awarded him an honorary degree. "We honour you for your contributions to global economic leadership," gushed the university's citation, which went on to laud him for having "carried forward Islam's revered tradition of charity and philanthropy".

Other awards include the Star Decoration of the First Order, given by the late King Hussein of Jordan, and the title "Man of the Year", bestowed in January by Arab Ad magazine.

Of course, it is not unreasonable to be suspicious of accolades showered on a man of such extravagant wealth. And it is hardly cynical to speculate whether Al Waleed's wealth owes as much to his background as his brains. There are those who dismiss him as nothing more than an accumulator of trophy assets. Maybe, but his eye for a bargain is undeniable. After all, this is the man who teamed up with Paul Reichmann, the Canadian entrepreneur, in an pounds 800m bail-out of a notorious white elephant. The half-empty skyscraper they acquired, Canary Wharf, is now worth pounds 2.9bn. Perhaps there is hope for Planet Hollywood yet.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The benefits of Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

Finance Assistant - Part time - 9 month FTC

£20000 - £23250 Per Annum pro rata: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pro rata ...

Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities