`Ginger Whinger' buys Virgin Radio from Branson

Chris Evans, the maverick DJ, yesterday snapped up Richard Branson's Virgin Radio, thwarting a rival offer from Capital Radio. Cathy Newman says the media industry was stunned that Mr Evans had finally put his money where his mouth is.

News emerged last night that Virgin had written to Capital, notifying the radio group that it had accepted an pounds 85m offer from Mr Evans' Ginger Productions.

The DJ, who hosts Virgin's breakfast show and is known as the "Ginger whinger", has secured backing from Apax Partners, a venture capital firm, but is stumping up pounds 2m less than Capital.

The deal will see the formation of the Ginger Media Group, an umbrella company overseeing Virgin Radio and producing programmes such as Mr Evans' Channel 4 show, TFI Friday.

Richard Branson said last night: "When we put this bold suggestion forward, the maverick in me was attracted to it. In talking with our staff and the public, it soon became obvious that the vast majority of people favoured this option - and so, although the total consideration was less than that offered by Capital Radio, I believed that Virgin Radio would have a more sympathetic partner in Chris."

News of Mr Evans' designs on Virgin first became public last month, after the DJ appealed on air for listeners to back his attempt to buy the station. Once Apax revealed it was backing the bid, Virgin said it was giving it serious consideration. Apax was a founding shareholder of Virgin Radio when it launched in 1993.

Mr Evans and Ginger's senior associates will own a 55 per cent share of the company. Apax will take a 20 per cent stake, and the remainder will be owned by Mr Branson and family interests.

Mr Evans said last night: "The Virgin brand has become one of the most powerful global symbols of energy, excitement and integrity. I am consumed by the challenges of developing Virgin Radio as a beacon for the British public's passion for music and appreciation of quality broadcasting."

Virgin's acceptance of Mr Evans' offer will stun Capital, though, which claimed last month it was "not concerned" by the turn of events.

Capital refused to comment yesterday. However, the news will come as a bitter blow to the company's new chief executive, David Mansfield, who had been trying to rebuild City confidence in the company. The market had responded negatively to the purchase of the restaurant chain, My Kinda Town, and the share price has dwindled from a high of 733p last year to 500p last night.

Capital has already come under serious pressure earlier this year when its purchase of Virgin was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The MMC report, which had been due for release early next year, now looks certain to remain unpublished. It is thought the radio group will now focus on expanding into the regions.

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