David Barclay: Billionaire who built a business empire with his brother

The twins went from running a small shop to owning hotels and newspapers

Marcus Williamson
Thursday 21 January 2021 16:22
<p>After receiving his knighthood at Buckingham Palace in 2000</p>

After receiving his knighthood at Buckingham Palace in 2000

David Barclay was the shrewd and reclusive businessman who, with his brother Frederick, had amassed an estimated fortune of £7bn, through interests in property, retail and the media.

Barclay, who has died aged 86, shared a home with his twin on an island just off Sark in the Channel and had created a business empire that flourished through well-timed acquisitions and disposals of assets. Notoriously shy of publicity, the Barclays ensured that their private deals remained private and that their friendships did so too.

David Barclay was the eldest of the two twins, born 10 minutes ahead of Frederick, on 27 October 1934, to Beatrice and Frederick Barclay, a travelling salesman. Their father died when they were 13, leaving 10 children. The twins left school the following year.

David Barclay initially found work at General Electric in the accounts department and then as an odd-job man and decorator before going into business with his brother. They would go on to run Candy Corner, a tobacco and sweet shop in Kensington. By the early 1960s, David had established an estate agency business and expanded into buying up old boarding houses in London to convert them into hotels.

One of their most ambitious acquisitions at the time was made in 1970, purchasing the 170-room Londonderry House Hotel in Park Lane. The pair had previously acquired the Cadogan Hotel and two Hyde Park hotels.

In 1975 the Barclay twins bought the Howard Hotel at Temple Place and followed up in 1983 with the purchase of Ellerman, a brewing and shipping group, for £47m. After Ellerman’s brewing division was later sold for £240m, the Barclays used the proceeds to buy the Ritz.

However, last year’s surprise sale of the Ritz to a Qatari investor exposed a family feud over the price being demanded. Sir Frederick alleged that one of Sir David’s sons had bugged meetings at the Ritz during negotiations about its eventual sale. This bitter dispute seems set to continue in the courts.

The Barclay twins’ media outlets, the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, took a strongly pro-Brexit position. Boris Johnson, who in a previous role as a journalist wrote for the Daily Telegraph, said: “Farewell with respect and admiration to Sir David Barclay who rescued a great newspaper, created many thousands of jobs across the UK and who believed passionately in the independence of this country and what it could achieve.”

Aside from their media and property interests, the Barclays had also ventured into retail with a £750m acquisition of Littlewoods (now an online store and part of the Very Group) in 2002. Today, their UK-based businesses are managed by David’s sons, Aidan and Howard.

David (left) and Frederick Barclay in 1999

In 1993, the Barclays bought the lease for the island of Brecqhou in the Channel for £2.3m. They later sought to achieve political independence for the island.

The Barclay twins were knighted in 2000 for services to charity and unprecedentedly were permitted to kneel side-by-side during the dubbing ceremony. In a rare public statement, David said at the time: “For us, it’s a wonderful day. It’s a great example of what can be achieved in this country from whatever background or education or humble beginnings.”

David died after a short illness. His brother, Frederick, said in tribute: “It was a great journey in everything that we did, the good, the bad, the ugly... We experienced it from being bombed out of our beds in Coventry to the deals that we made and the ones that got away. We were twins from the beginning until the end. He was the right hand to my left and I was his left hand to his right. We’ll meet again.”

He is survived by his brother, three sons – Aidan, Howard and Duncan from his first marriage to the model Zoe Newton – and by his second wife, Reyna Oropeza, and their son Alistair.

David Barclay, businessman, born 27 October 1934, died 10 January 2021

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