Precious little is known of Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, despite being renowned for seizing business opportunities in media, retail and property.
Dan Drage digs deep to find 10 signals of their true identity.
In 1993, the Barclay brothers purchased the island of Brecqhou, situated just west of Sark in the Channel Islands. Upon completion of the deal, the Barclays immediately set about commissioning the design and build of a £60m gothic-style mansion, an imposing walled building that now dominates the island’s north face.
However, the brothers’ quest for idyllic seclusion has met with a number of obstacles – primarily in the shape of the government of Sark. The Barclays drive cars on the island and frequently land their helicopter within the mansion’s grounds despite both activities being deemed illegal by Sark’s age-old feudal laws.
Demonstrating a rebellious streak bordering on churlishness, but additionally attracting the headlines they tried so hard to avoid, the Barclays shut down their entire Sark operation in 2008, invoking a game of political poker designed to pressure the government of Sark into overturning the preventative feudal laws. One hundred jobs were lost on Sark, which represents around a sixth of the population. “Sark doesn't appear to want or appreciate the Barclays' investment and so it doesn't have it," advocate Gordon Dawes, who represents the Barclays, told BBC News.
Their acquisition of Littlewoods in 2002 courted controversy though when the penny-pinching duo scrapped the firm’s tradition of donating 1% of its annual profits to a range of charities
Unfortunately for the Barclays, in a gesture of defiance not seen since Passport to Pimlico, Sark’s electorate voted unanimously against the twins, which was compounded by the five Supreme Court judges who also dismissed their case. The helicopter has not been sighted since.
The Barclay brothers made a rare public appearance to receive dual knighthoods from the Queen in 2000 for their services to charitable causes. Their charitable foundation is thought to have donated many millions to worthy causes over the past 15 years.
Their acquisition of Littlewoods in 2002 courted controversy though when the penny-pinching duo scrapped the firm’s tradition of donating 1% of its annual profits to a range of charities, although any astute businessperson would interpret this action as the work of two individuals determined to overturn the fortunes of an ailing high street mainstay.
3. The Ritz
Although Sir David and Sir Frederick are famed most for their ownership of The Daily Telegraph and The Scotsman, the Ritz Hotel is arguably the polished diamond in their portfolio.
The Ritz, which overlooks Green Park at 150 Piccadilly, was purchased by the Barclays in 1995 for £80m. The hotel’s original blueprint, drawn up by Frenchman Charles Mewés and the London-born architect Arthur Davis in 1905, depicted a building based on a grand Loire Valley chateau, replete with dormer windows, tall chimneys and Louis XVI themed interiors.
However, on taking ownership of the Ritz, the Barclays discovered opulence had given way to decay. Vowing to restore the ailing institution to its former splendour, the twin brothers spent £40m on an eight-year refit project.
The hotel’s famous Palm Court, where one takes high tea, has been fully rebuilt, along with the famous Rivoli Bar. Designed in art-deco style by Tessa Kennedy, the bar is quasi-representative of the bar on the Orient Express.
4. Aiden Barclay
Despite the twins’ impressive combined clout, Aiden Barclay, son of Sir David, is arguably the family’s modern lynchpin. As overseer of The Telegraph’s MP’s expenses scoop, not to mention the installer of some much needed stability on the Telegraph Media Group’s editorial hierarchy, Aiden is quietly achieving the consistency his reclusive father and uncle would no doubt be proud of.
In the five years since the Barclay Brothers acquired the Telegraph Media Group, the editor’s desk has been something of a revolving door, with seven different editors being employed across the two flagship titles. To a certain degree, Aiden Barclay seems to have stemmed the flow while also managing to drag The Telegraph kicking and screaming into the digital age.
True to form though, Aiden also harbours an aversion to the spotlight, declining as he did four invitations to appear before a House of Lords communications committee investigating media ownership. Its chairman, Lord Fowler, said his non-appearance was "objectionable" – a further example of how the Barclay family trait for aloofness can rub people up the wrong way.
Sir David and Sir Frederick are identical twins, born 10 minutes apart, and a US/UK twins study carried out by St Thomas’ Hospital, Imperial College and the US Case Western Reserve University helped to determine a genetic underpinning to entrepreneurial success.
The researchers examined self-employment in 609 pairs of identical twins and 657 pairs of same-sex non-identical twins in the UK. Identical twins share all their genes while non-identical twins share, on average, about half. The rate of entrepreneurship among twins was the same as across the general population, but researchers looked at whether one twin being an entrepreneur increased the chance of their co-twin becoming an entrepreneur.
The similarity rate within the identical twins group was greater than for the non-identical twin group, which suggests that genetic information is vital driver of entrepreneurial tendencies. The other factors that played a significant role were random life events, such as being made redundant, winning a large sum of money or a chance meeting.