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It’s raining billionaires in the UK

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on May 25, 2021

New online opportunities showed there were fresh worlds waiting to be conquered   -  iStock

The pandemic has turned out to be a boom year for the super-rich. The UK has 24 more billionaires than a year ago

It may seem like a terrible injustice but even under the long shadow of the pandemic, the rich have been getting richer just when most of the world has been getting poorer. Proof of that biblical adage is on display yet again in the latest Sunday Times’ Rich List of the UK’s wealthiest people. Sure enough, airline owners, star travel agents, restaurateurs and mall-owners suffered as customers were forced to stay home-bound. But new online opportunities emerged and showed there were fresh worlds waiting to be conquered.

Ageing rock star Mick Jagger raked in $35 million last year and he didn’t have to leave his mansion once to become substantially wealthier. The money came rolling in via booming music-streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. People at home under lockdown had music constantly playing in the background. And Jagger is one mega-star who’s still listened to six decades after the Rolling Stones belted out their first numbers. Jagger’s now worth — $438 million.

It’s been a good year for British e-commerce entrepreneurs Dan and Mel Marsden whose booming lingerie business soared stratospherically during lockdown — from £13.8 billion to £55 billion. Once again, it was people stuck at home with their credit cards at hand who set cash registers ringing at their company Lounge. Apparently, there’s nothing like buying frilly lingerie to alleviate boredom and the Marsdens had to search for a new mega-sized warehouse at the peak of the British lockdown.

The UK rich list makes it clear just how much wealth the super-rich accumulated during what turned out to be a pandemic boom year. The UK now has 171 billionaires — 24 more than a year ago. That’s the most billionaires added since the newspaper began publishing its list 33 years ago. What’s more, the combined fortunes of these billionaires soared to £597 billion, 24 per cent up on the previous year, the biggest leap in a decade.

Across the globe

Obviously, the rich getting vastly richer isn’t solely a UK phenomenon. The Hurun Rich List, usually more generous in its net-worth calculations than Forbes Magazine, the veteran of wealth-spotting, reckons there are now 3,228 billionaires in 68 countries. Hurun’s a newbie in a business dominated globally by Forbes and by The Sunday Times. All three concur it was a great year for wealth accretion.

Closer home also, billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani added hugely to their wealth. According to the 2020 Forbes Rich List, Ambani became $37 billion wealthier and at $88 billion was Asia’s richest man. Amazingly, Forbes last year put Adani’s wealth at $25 billion. But rising stock markets now have lifted him to $67 billion, making him Asia’s second richest.

The billionaire who got richer at an unmatched pace globally was, of course, wunderkind Elon Musk who in early 2020 was worth a relatively modest $24 billion. By this January, he was the world’s richest man, worth $189 billion, up a staggering $165 billion since March 2020. Since then, Musk has fallen to third spot and he’s now behind Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and luxury-products czar Bernard Arnault of LVMH. Bezos and Arnault are neck-and-neck. Many business analysts predicted a pandemic-hit world would not be in the mood to splurge on luxury products but they were wrong.

The Elon Musk effect rubbed off on many electric vehicle manufacturers. The prime example is The Sunday Times’ new star mover, Russian-born Denis Sverdlov, based in Banbury, who is worth an eye-watering £6.1 billion even though his company Arrival’s first vehicle won’t hit the road till next year. Sverdlov’s unique proposition that would upend the auto industry is to eliminate mega-factories surrounded by components manufacturers. Instead, electric vehicles, which have fewer parts, would be assembled in micro-factories around the world. Yes, India is very much in Sverdlov’s sights.

The Sunday Times Rich List gives a snapshot of the new world of wealth. Property giants, of whom there are 39, still account for the most billionaires. But as the pandemic made it impossible to go out, online retailers boomed while the high-street stars stayed shut. So, e-retailers like Asos and Boohoo thrived and even bought up stricken one-time high-street stars.

Another online retailer on a winning streak is Ocado which now calls itself an online supermarket and has a tie-up with Marks & Spencer.

Then, there’s upmarket clothing platform Farfetch which sells clothes from 700 luxury boutiques. Its Portuguese-British owner Jose Neves is now worth £2 billion. Britain is also riding high in the unicorn stakes. Neves of Farfetch, and second-hand car-site boss Cazoo Alex Chesterman made a splashy debut in the Rich List. Cazoo, looking to list in the US this year, could be valued at $7 billion. Another newcomer is Ben Francis whose firm Gymshark makes gym clothes that have grown even more popular due to the lockdown with stylish “athleisure” becoming a wardrobe staple.

The UK is believed to have 27 unicorns, putting it just behind India which had 32 at last count. The US has 288. Online games also prospered, including gaming millionaire Debbie Bushwick founder of Teams17 which makes Worms, turn-based artillery games with each player controlling a team of worms. Bushwick is worth £196 million.

The Sunday Times Rich List also highlights still-strong links between India and Britain, starting right from the top. In second spot are brothers Simon and David Reuben. Both India-born, they moved to the UK and their interests include real estate, technology and financial investments. In third place are the Hinduja brothers and in the fifth position, there’s steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.

Happiness quotient

Anyone who believes vast riches make for an outsized amount of happiness, though, should look at Danish billionaire Anders Povlsen, who has suffered an outsized amount of tragedy. Povlsen, worth £4.73 billion, owns 25 per cent of online retailer Asos, which has boomed in the last year and he also snapped up high-street retailers Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge.

Povlsen, an ardent environmentalist, is Scotland’s largest landowner and wants to re-wild some of the land. In April 2019, three of Povlsen’s children were killed in the Sri Lanka bomb blast that claimed 290 lives. In March 2020, Povlsen and his wife became parents of twin girls they called “two little miracles.” It was a cause for celebration but also a reminder all the wealth in the world doesn’t always guarantee happiness.

Published on May 25, 2021

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