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London: Billionaire capital

The Sunday Times Rich List's Philip Beresford on why London attracts more billionaires per capita than any city in the world

While America, China and India mint their own billionaires, we import 'ours.' Fewer than one third of London's billionaires were born here. Only five of the wealthiest twenty are Brits and just two of those are self-made – TopShop boss Sir Philip and his wife Lady Tina Green (£4.3bn) and publishers and property investors Sir David & Sir Frederick Barclay (£8bn). The others owe their good fortune to accidents of birth.

Before the financial crisis, bankers were at the top of Britain's wealth pile. Not any more. Today, another class sits far above: the global commodity plutocrats, owners of mineral rights or dominant players in mineral-rich countries. Why is London so much more magnetic to new magnates than, say, Monaco, Shanghai, New York or Dubai?

    Royal Albert Dock Riverfront

London rolls out the red carpet for billionaires. The U.K.'s tax and investment advantages – its financial hardware – matter most to billionaires but the capital also beats its rivals on software. It is politically stable, remarkably uncorrupt, the rule of law is respected, the language easy and the time zone convenient. London is one of the few capitals where entrepreneurs can trade in all the major financial markets in a single day – Asia in the early morning, Europe during the day, and the U.S. in the evening.

The schools are good, the restaurants world class, the arts the envy of the world and community relations healthy, especially for plutocrats. "I'm amazed at how easy it is to be rich in London amid so much inequality. It's rather disturbing," says John Caudwell (worth £1.5 billion) who grew up in poverty in Stoke-on-Trent. Additionally, of course, there are all the butlers, maids, private chefs and members' only clubs a plutocrat could wish for.

      The Hurlingham Club

What's more, the arrival of so many foreign billionaires has helped spur development of vast swathes of the capital that have lain dormant for a generation. Asian and Middle Eastern billionaires are bankrolling the re-development of Stratford, the Olympic Village, London's ports and the Royal Albert Dock to the east; London Bridge and the new Shard district; Crystal Palace in investment exceeds £50bn and the number of new homes they are building tops twenty thousand.


"Wealthy private individuals are rebuilding and rejuvenating the city just as Dukes and Earls did in the Georgian era," says Ben Rogers, director of the Centre for London, whose office sits at the foot of The Shard, the development of which was driven by Sheikh Hamed bin Jassim al-Thani, the billionaire former prime minister of gas-rich Qatar.

The service economy that looks after the 72 London billionaires (Moscow has 48, while the city in third place, New York, is home to just 43) – ranging from ex-SAS men to domestic staff by way of bankers, lawyers and accountants – is estimated to employ at least 50,000 people.

The only thing the super rich can't buy is decent weather, but Sheikh Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber, (£6.1bn), who runs one of the Middle East's largest food, hotel and trading companies (assets include The Scotsman hotel in Edinburgh and 42 The Calls in Leeds) has a private jet to whisk him to the sun at a moment's notice.

 He moved to London from Jeddah 23 years ago and has never looked back. "I've travelled all over the world and London feels like home. It's the centre of my world. It has everything – enterprise, creativity, tolerance," he says. The longer you spend talking to Britain's billionaires, the clearer it becomes why they love London.

The Sunday Times Rich List is a guide listing the 1,000 wealthiest people in Britain, the richest 50 under 30, the music millionaires, the biggest charitable donations, and the wealthiest 250 people in Ireland. See for further details