Super-Rich List: Britain’s newest billionaire Chris Dawson is a real-life Del Boy

A former market trader from Plymouth has joined the ranks of Britain’s billionaires after increasing his fortune by £695m over the last year.

Chris Dawson, 62, left school unable to read and write properly. But after setting up a market stall selling watches for £8.99 he has now built a retail empire worth £1.28bn through The Range chain of discount stores.

After a hugely successful year, Mr Dawson was yesterday named as one of the country’s newest billionaires, alongside theatre impresario Sir Cameron Macintosh, who saw his wealth rise by £175m to £1bn, and Jon Hunt, founder of estate agents Foxtons, who is now worth £1.07bn, up by £145m on last year.

There are now a record 104 billionaires living in the UK, according to the Sunday Times Super-Rich List. Britain now has more pound sterling billionaires per head of population than any other country and London has more than any other city in the world with 72.

Mr Dawson opened his first Range store in 1989 and expanded across the South-west. The firm now boasts  88 stores in south-west England and Scotland. Outlining the secrets behind his sudden increase in wealth, he said: “I own 100 per cent of the company, I have no debts, and that’s the way I like it.

“I’m always looking for a bargain, and that includes deals with what l call distressed retailers – firms which have gone into administration. When it happened to MFI, it was put up for £68m; I got it for less than £3m. And we shifted everything in four days.”

He told the Sunday Times: “I was put on this planet to make money and I start thinking about it the minute I wake up, I love a challenge.

“If the door’s shut, I’ll go round it, go underneath it or just knock it down.

“Business is like sport: nobody wants a bronze and it’s not the taking part – that’s a load of bollocks. You’re out to win, you’re out to break records, every time.

“Occasionally, I’ll take a break. I went to Barbados recently, but by day two I was like a bloodhound looking for someone to do a deal with. I find it hard to stop.”

Mr Dawson said he rarely attended school as a child, leaving with no qualifications and problems with reading and writing. He made sure he went on Thursday, however, because this was when when the metalwork class was held.

He set up a syndicate in which his classmates would make mistakes so their work had to be thrown out. He was in charge of the bins and would later sell the waste copper for scrap.

After discovering what had been happening, his teacher told him: “Wrong, but bloody genius. You’ll either end up rich or behind bars.”

Mr Dawson now drives a Rolls Royce with the registration DE11 BOY and lists Only Fools and Horses among his favourite programmes.

He runs The Range – which sells “everything from toilet seats to chandeliers – from its headquarters in Estover on the outskirts of Plymouth.

The Super-Rich List was topped by Indian-born brothers Sri and Gopi Hinduja, who are based in London, with a fortune of £11.9bn after their wealth rose by £1.3bn last year. Russian business magnate Alisher Usmanov, a major shareholder in Arsenal, was second on £10.65bn.

The UK’s richest billionaires: the top 20

1. Sri and Gopi Hinduja, £11.9bn, up £1.3bn

2. Alisher Usmanov, £10.65bn, down £2.65bn

3. Lakshmi Mittal and family, £10.25bn, up £250m

4. Len Blavatnik, £10bn,  down £1bn

5. Ernesto and Kirsty  Bertarelli, £9.75bn, up £2.35bn

6. John Fredriksen and family, £9.25bn, up £450n

7. David and Simon Reuben, £9bn, up £719m

8. Kirsten and Jorn Rausing, £8.8bn, up £3.691bn

9. Roman Abramovich, £8.52bn, down £780n

10. The Duke of Westminster, £8.5bn, up £700n

11. Galen, Hilary and George Weston and family, £7.3bn, up £650n

12. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken and Michel de Carvalho, £6.365bn, down £635m

13. Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber and family, £6.16bn, up £1.645bn 14. Carrie and Francois Perrodo and family, £6.14bn, new

15. German Khan, £6.08bn, new

16. Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, £6bn, up £3.65bn

17. Hans Rausing and family £5.9bn, up £1.18bn

18. Nicky Oppenheimer and family, £4.57bn, up £785m

19. Earl Cadogan and family, £4.2bn, up £525m

20. Joseph Lau and family, £4.03bn, down £570m

Source: Sunday Times 2014  Billionaire List

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