The prince, the trucker, and the Kwik-Fit fitter

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The Independent Online
PRINCE Edward has tapped a curious collection of millionaires - including a leading executive of the Australian trucking company TNT, part-owned by Rupert Murdoch, and a Yorkshire businessman who avoids National Insurance by paying himself in art and antiques - to finance his new television production company.

Alan Jones, UK managing director of TNT, has invested pounds 92,000 in the company, Ardent Productions. TNT helped to breach picket lines in the Wapping dispute.

Tom Farmer, chairman and chief executive of Kwik-Fit, the exhaust replacement chain, has invested a similar amount. A third named outside investor is Graham Kirkham, who has amassed more than pounds 200m through his northern-based DFS furniture stores. Describing himself as 'a tongue-tied Yorkshire pudding', Mr Kirkham took pounds 5.5m of his pounds 13.4m salary last year in the form of art and antiques.

Two Zurich-based investors, Rolph Luscher and Ulrich Kohli, and an anonymous backer cloaked behind a Hong Kong-based nominee company, are also substantial shareholders. A spokesman for the prince, Abel Hadden, categorically denied this investor was the Sultan of Brunei. The investments are revealed in documents filed at Companies House.

These describe TNT itself as the backer, but a spokeswoman for Mr Jones said this was a mistake. He had made the investment personally after getting to know the prince, who now calls himself Edward Windsor, through the Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme.

Mr Farmer, who also met the prince through the awards, said: 'I can honestly say to you Prince Edward has a very good business acumen. I'm investing in Ardent because I think it's a good commercial business. I'm not looking for a quick return. I'm taking a five-year view.'

The prince set up Ardent in November to make arts programmes, dramas and documentaries. He worked as an assistant for a theatrical production company Theatre Division until it folded in 1991. Earlier he helped out at Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Theatre Company.

The outside investors have taken packages of preference and ordinary shares. Prince Edward, joint managing director, is the biggest shareholder with two-thirds of the ordinary shares.

His fellow directors, Eben Foggitt, former head of business affairs at the BBC's drama unit, and Malcolm Cockren, an insurance broker, have small shareholdings.

Mr Hadden, asked how the investors were chosen, replied: 'Why does anyone invest in anything?'

(Photograph omitted)