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The quiet American making a big noise at Soho House

A billionaire pal of the Clintons has bought the elite chain of private members clubs

Soho House, the international chain of private members' clubs adored by the liberal elites of London and New York, has been bought by a billionaire friend of the Clintons, it emerged yesterday.

Ron Burkle, a notoriously publicity-shy billionaire investor, is thought to have paid £250m for a 60 per cent stake in the clubs, making them the most valuable such chain in the world.

The sale represents a personal and financial coup for Nick Jones, the British founder of Soho House. Mr Jones, who is married to the Desert Island Discs presenter, Kirsty Young, opened his first club on Greek Street in the early 1990s. It attracted artists and media executives with its highly selective membership process, and the chain has since expanded to a further eight "houses" across London, New York, Berlin and Miami. The sale will net him £20m; his fellow investor Richard Caring will make £125m for his 50 per cent share.

Mr Burkle's investment will allow the chain to open new houses in Toronto, Chicago, Mumbai and Istanbul. In an e-mail to Soho House members, Mr Jones said: "I believe Ron shares our vision and provides us with the backing to expand and improve our clubs while remaining true to our ethos."

Mr Burkle, 58, made his fortune buying and selling grocery store chains. He divides his time between the United States and London and is estimated by Forbes to be worth at least £2bn. He began his career aged 13 as a bag boy in his father's grocery store. After dropping out of college he returned to another store, working his way up to middle management before being fired for trying to buy the company.

By the age of 34 he had formed Yucaipa Companies, an investment firm named after his home town that claims on its website to have been involved in mergers and acquisitions worth more than $30bn (£20bn). He tends to avoid the limelight, but his close links with American politics and Hollywood make Soho House a natural acquisition.

He parties with A-listers such as and Leonardo di Caprio and P Diddy and counts Hilary and Bill Clinton as close friends. A political liberal and fiscal conservative he is thought to have raised more than $1m for Hilary Clinton's 2008 presidential election bid; Bill Clinton was employed by Yucaipa to look after investment opportunities.

He rarely gives interviews to the press and a decision to speak to Businessweek in 2010 made headlines among financial writers. Explaining his investment philosophy he said: "We always try to buy companies that are doing OK but that have some issues. We buy at a price that if they just muddle through, we don't go broke. And if they do better, we make a lot...I tell my people, 'Don't explain what we're doing. They'll think we're geniuses if they don't know.'"