He did it for Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea: can he do it for Blair?

Millionaire businessman revealed as driving force behind Labour's controversial 'blind' fundraising trust
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The Independent Online
Michael Levy is an almost legendary figure in the Jewish community with a reputation as a brilliant fundraiser and successful businessman. A millionaire, he made a fortune from the record business helping to launch the career of a string of artists from Alvin Stardust to Chris Rea, and now drives a Bentley and owns luxurious homes in north London and Israel.

He is also close to Tony Blair and his chief fundraiser, having persuaded the rich to part with hundreds of thousands of pounds in the cause of getting the Labour leader elected.

He was the force behind the "blind trust" set up to allow benefactors to make anonymous donations to Labour. The same trust is now the subject of an investigation by a powerful Commons committee of MPs.

Mr Levy sold his record business in the late 1980s, and devoted much of his time to a string of Jewish charities, particularly as chairman of Jewish Care which is Britain's largest private welfare organisation. It was a chance meeting with Mr Blair that led to his involvement in Labour fundraising. Mr Blair became a regular tennis partner last summer at Mr Levy's home in Totteridge, north London, and the two have become personal friends.

But inevitably, he has been drawn into controversy. Mr Levy's refuses to discuss anything about his Labour Party role. The blind fund was created when John Smith was leader, but its very secretiveness has rebounded on Labour which traditionally has been much more open in its fundraising efforts than the Tories who refuse to disclose details of any donations.

Its existence led to the departure from Labour's fundraising team last year of Henry Drucker, the US-born academic, who had been credited with raising pounds 340m for Oxford University. Mr Drucker wanted to close the blind fund - arguing that it was a Labour "own goal" and would prevent him reaching his own target of pounds 6m - but this view was dismissed by Mr Levy in a stand up row.

Mr Levy is one of Labour's four-strong committee of fundraisers named late last year as Bob Gavron, the millionaire publisher who donated pounds 500,000 to the party, Lord Attenborough and Tom Sawyer, the party's general secretary.

As well as raising money for the controversial blind fund, Mr Levy concentrates on raising big amounts for the party, involving cheques of pounds 20,000 or more. Smaller sums are dealt with by an assistant who works in Mr Blair's office. Mr Levy operates from his home in Totteridge.

In his mid fifties, he is widely described as personable, with immense charisma and charm, but he is also known to have a fierce and ready temper.

Whether raising money for Jewish charities, or the Labour Party, Mr Levy adopts the straightforward American method of getting people to give, rather than the normally more reserved British style. As one donor put it: "He has a very blunt approach. 'How much can I put you down for?' is his standard approach. And it is highly successful."

Indeed, the success of Mr Levy's approach was typified by the story of Leslie Silver, the former Leeds United chairman, who was persuaded to give pounds 25,000 to Labour late last year. Mr Silver was not a member of the Labour Party but had always been sympathetic and gave the money after Mr Levy approached him.

Friends say that Mr Levy, who was brought up in Hackney, east London - one of Britain's poorest boroughs - has always had left-wing sympathies. However, he only recently became a Labour Party member, having been attracted by its more conservative policies.

He sold his old company, Magnet Records, to Warner Brothers in 1988, and now has a new business, M&G (for Michael and Gilda, his wife).

He helped launch the careers of such artists as Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea, and Pete Waterman, the millionaire record producer who masterminded the singing career of the Australian soap star Kylie Minogue.

Mr Waterman is effusive about his mentor, despite the fact that the two had many blinding rows: "He saw me as a DJ in Coventry and brought me down to London and offered me pounds 100 per week which was more than double what I had been getting. Then a few weeks later, he said he felt guilty about paying me so badly and promptly doubled it to pounds 200.

"He is the greatest businessman I have ever worked for."

Mr Levy gave Mr Waterman money to buy a suit, but then made him get rid of it saying it made him "look like my bank manager". Mr Levy was always the "straight" money man, leaving the creative side to producers and recording artists.

Mr Waterman says that Mr Levy was a demanding but rewarding employer: "We had some fabulous rows, but if one stood one's ground, he would back you to the hilt afterwards. It was as if he was testing you.

"If Michael takes an interest in an issue, he will deliver. The Labour Party are lucky to have him."