The feud between Britain’s billionaire Barclay twins has escalated with the announcement that one side of the family has unilaterally sold a key family asset; London’s famed Ritz Hotel.
Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who are 85 years old, have been at loggerheads for years over the fate of their business empire, which includes the 115-year-old Ritz, London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, as well as interests in retail and package delivery.
Sir David and his son, Aidan, have been pushing to sell the Ritz for months, hoping to raise some badly needed cash to help the other businesses. A deal with a Saudi group for £750-million ($1.3-billion) appeared to be close last month but Sir Frederick threatened to sue if the sale went ahead. He said the hotel was worth much more and that there had been offers for more than £1-billion.
On Friday, Sir David’s group announced a deal had been done with an unnamed group from Qatar. The price has not been disclosed but it is believed to be around £700-million.
“The buyer is committed to investing in The Ritz and its staff for the long term, ensuring a bright future for this unique asset,” said a statement from Ellerman Investments, a family holding company run by Aidan Barclay. “We also note that neither Sir Frederick nor [his only child] Amanda Barclay have any relevant legal interest that would allow them to disrupt the sale.”
A spokesman for the new owner said he promised to “build on [the hotel’s] innate style and grand traditions.” The spokesman added that once the pandemic is over, the owner looks forward to “reopening the hotel and to sharing our longer-term plans.”
In a statement, Sir Frederick said he was “surprised and perturbed” by the announcement and reiterated his threat to sue. “We have neither been consulted nor have we approved this sale,” he added. “Sadly, we cannot get away from the fact that this deal, if it has occurred, appears to have been pushed through in the middle of the coronavirus crisis in the hope that it will be uncontested.”
The feud between the brothers, who bought the Telegraph in 2004 from Conrad Black’s Hollinger newspaper group for US$1.3-billion, broke out in public last month during a brief court hearing in London. The court heard allegations that Sir David’s sons had secretly bugged a conservatory at the Ritz where Sir Frederick enjoyed smoking cigars and talking strategy with his daughter, Amanda. The sons made transcripts of the conversations and shared the information online, the court heard.
Sir Frederick sought an injunction preventing his nephews from disclosing the recordings. They agreed to keep the material confidential but everyone is expected back in court again in May.
The family spat ends what had once been a remarkably close relationship. The twins went into business together at a young age, flipping distressed buildings in London and owning a majority stake in some of the city’s finest hotels: Claridge’s, the Connaught and the Berkeley. From there, they branched out into newspapers, buying and selling the Scotsman and then snapping up the Telegraph as Mr. Black’s newspaper business became mired in controversy.
The brothers were once so close that they bought the tiny island of Brecqhou, one of the Channel Islands, for £3.5-million ($6.1-million) in 1993 and built a 92-room castle. They even drank from cups and glasses engraved with the initials D&F. But now, they rarely speak and spend their time separately in mansions in London and Monaco.