BUNHILL : Strange tale of Kerry Packer and two London tapas bars Finca in a most

Nigel Cope
Saturday 08 April 1995 23:02

KERRY PACKER, the polo-loving Australian media tycoon, moves in mysterious ways but surely none stranger than this. The burly Antipodean has just signalled his new direction - an assault on the UK leisure market - by buying a minority stake in two London tapas bars. The restaurants, both called La Finca, are based in Islington and Kennington, an insalubrious south London suburb. True, buying a couple of Spanish eateries sits oddly with Mr Packer's image as a globetrotting corporate Mr Big. But from small acorns...

Architect of the restaurant purchases is Theo Paphitis, whose NAG Telecom operation recently bought the Ryman chain of stationers from the Pentos receivers. One of the entrepreurial Londoner's other vehicles is Oak Hill Enterprises, a consortium he has put together with "a few friends" including John Chesterman, the managing director of Planet Hollywood. It is Oak Hill that has bought the two La Fincas.

Mr Packer's involvement has come through Park Street Investments, which has taken 14.9 per cent of Oak Hill. Park Street is a subsidiary of Packer's Consolidated Press Holdings of Australia.

Mr Paphitis is coy as to how exactly he coaxed the great man on board or what his motives could be. It was through mutual connections, he says, fuelling the mystery. Perhaps Packer is a tapas freak? I think we should be told.

MICHAEL SPENCER, chairman of money broker Intercapital has never been one to scull away from an unusual idea. After all, here is a man who has such faith in his shapely legs that he donned green tights and a tunic last year to appear as Robin Hood for the company's 16-page Christmas card. Mr Spencer, who is just 39, also owns a majority stake at City Index, the spread betting agency. "I was spending so much money there I thought I might as well own it," he says.

The investment is beginning to yield its first diversifications. For a while now, Mr Spencer has wanted to open a sports bar where customers would be able to watch sports events and bet through City Index, using phones dotted around the bar. Now the plan is moving closer to fruition.

Jonathan Sparke, the giggly managing director of City Index, has been looking at two sites, one in Smithfield and another at Leadenhall Market. He is hopeful that one might be secured.

"We're definitely going to do it, but the problem is finding the right site," Mr Spencer says. "What I want is a civilised, upmarket bar to cater for a reasonably sophisticated crowd." What he doesn't want is yet another gloomy basement bar in the City. "I'm definitely going to insist on windows."

Supermarket follies

BUNHILL doesn't comprehend all this new-fangled marketing nonsense. There was a time when he would return from the supermarket with armfuls of groceries whose names made them sound more attractive. Fairy Snow, for example, and Kerrygold butter.

These days, however, the food industry seems intent on making a laughing stock of itself with a flurry of new products with names that he can scarcely credit.

Unilever, the food and detergents giant that used to be considered a marketing whizz before the Persil Power fiasco, has already given us "I Can't Believe it's not butter''. Now rival St Ivel is muscling in with a new dairy spread called Utterly Butterly. Is this a serious and sensible name for a product, I ask? "It's supposed to be warm and friendly and accessible," a St Ivel spokesman blusters. Fine, but is it supposed to sound stupid?

An advertising campaign is due to start later this month which shows fun-loving consumers larking around and saying they have "gone Utterly Butterly".

Where will it all end, I ponder? A sun-tan lotion called "Blimey It's Slimy", perhaps? Or a building society mortgage called "I Can't Believe I've Been Repossessed."

JON MOULTON, the venture capital man at Apax Partners, likes to minimise his risks.

True, he has just backed the £15m management buyout of Brands Hatch, the group that owns the Kent racetrack as well as others at Snetterton and Cadwell Park, but outside work he's more of a pipe and slippers man. He leaves the derring-do to Nicola Foulston, daughter of Atlantic Computers boss John Foulston, who now runs the company. Ms Foulston, who is just 27, is described as a formidable woman who has shown the stuffed blazers of the racing world a thing or two about being more commercial.

Mr Moulton prefers to put his feet up: "I'm not a big fan of motor racing to be honest. It's too noisy. I did a bit of rallying once but that was decades ago. And I think the last motor sport I went to see as a spectator had Sterling Moss competing in it." Nowadays his tastes in motor vehicles can scarcely be described as racy. He drives a Mini.

Humble holidays

DAVID JONES, the Brummie who sold ShareLink, the execution share-dealing company, to the Americans this week, is clearly not one to let money and status go to his head. Already wealthy from the flotation of ShareLink, which he founded with an investment of just £4,000, he has just made another £5.5m as a result of the sale of his stake to Charles Schwab, the American share-dealing king.

But Mr Jones, who was looking pale and in need of a trip when the deal was announced on Wednesday, has not let his expanding wallet affect his choice of holiday. He is currently enjoying a two-week break in Tenerife, the Costa del package destination chosen by many a Chingford twentysomething.

Still, even this is a step up from Mr Jones' normal choice. He usually goes on holiday in his caravan.

BUNHILL enjoys a tootle on the clarinet on occasion and so recognises a kindred spirit in Sir Trevor Holdsworth, the former GKN man who stepped down as chairman of National Power a week or so ago. Sir Trevor, who is 67, likes a tinkle on the ivories and is about to realise a long-held ambition: his first concert piano performance.

He is due to make his debut at Wigmore Hall next month and has been practising for several hours a day at the piano in his Chelsea home.

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