Businessman David Gold on Caterham life, football and Alan Sugar
He's one of the country's most successful businessmen, is a regular on our TV screens and is passionate about football - but Sir Alan Sugar he is most definitely not. Surrey Life editor Caroline Harrap met the legend that is David Gold, chairman of newly promoted Birmingham City FC, at his spectacular Caterham home
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2007
With a look of scathing disapproval, the man in front of me slowly points his finger and utters those immortal words: "You're fired!" Contrary to appearances, however, I haven't inadvertently wandered into an episode of The Apprentice. Instead, Surrey's most famous business tycoon, David Gold, is merely showing me his best impression of Sir Alan Sugar - and jolly good it is too. You see, in one of those strange quirks of fate, not only do they share more than a passing resemblance to each other, they also have a remarkable amount in common. For instance, they are both self-made men who came from humble East End backgrounds before making their millions and they have each been in charge of major football clubs. While Sir Alan headed up Tottenham Hotspur for many years, Gold is chairman of the newly promoted Birmingham City FC. But that, as he is at pains to point out, is precisely where the similarity ends. "Don't get me wrong, I do admire Sir Alan Sugar for all that he's achieved, but we operate in very, very different ways," says Gold, as we sit in the drawing room of his Caterham mansion. "It's just not my style to bring people to tears - to terrorise them into doing what you want - my way is to motivate and encourage them. "I do think The Apprentice is a fantastic programme though." It doesn't take long to work out that Gold is in fact a genuinely nice bloke with a brilliant sense of humour. I mean, sure, put him in a tough business meeting and I bet he'd be ruthless, but today, showing me around his elegant home, is charm personified. I like him. He is both funny and witty, and endearingly proud of his family. His impressive house, which was built in 1850, is brimming with paintings and photographs of his fianc�e, Lesley, who he met on a blind date at a Spanish tapas bar in Purley, and his two stunning daughters, Jacqueline and Vanessa.
"Just look at my girls," says the 70-year-old, pointing at a particularly lovely photo of his two daughters from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. "Aren't they beautiful? You know, Jacqueline was just 20 when she first walked into the board room at Ann Summers. Her and Vanessa both have great business heads on them, and have gone on to achieve incredible things with the company." The famous Ann Summers chain, which has its head office in Caterham, is just one small part of what is a truly extraordinary story - a real-life tale of rags to riches.
Born in the East End of London, David and his brother, Ralph, grew up in a loving household but one with little money. Their late mother Rosie, who sadly passed away earlier this year, worked hard to give the boys the best upbringing possible, but things were often tough. Early life "My earliest memories are of being cold, being hungry and being sick with dysentery and TB," says Gold. "People say to me now, 'oh, but I've been cold in my life, I've been ill', but when you put all those things together, that's really being poor..." Initially, Gold dreamt of escaping his impoverished existence by becoming a footballer. But when he was finally offered the chance to play for his local club West Ham, his father refused to sign the papers, not deeming it a suitable profession for his son. So, following a stint as a brick layer, David teamed up with his brother to open a bookshop just off Charing Cross Road. They soon discovered, however, that it wasn't so much the ordinary books that were flying out the door but more the 'top shelf' sort of stuff - in fact, they could barely keep up with demand. But then just as business was really starting to take off, disaster struck. "We'd been working in the shop for three years when the landlord suddenly gave us six months' notice on the place," recalls Gold. "We were devastated... "So I swore never again to take a lease, and with the money we'd made and the help of the bank, we bought two new shops off Tottenham Court Road, paying �40,000 for the pair. Anyway, by sheer good fortune, they began redeveloping the area, and a few years later we were offered �3 million for them." Over the years, Gold has gone on to build up an empire worth a mind-boggling �525 million. He now heads up 11 companies, including the Daily Sport and Sunday Sport newspapers, the Ann Summers chain, run by his daughter Jacqueline with the help of her sister Vanessa, and Knickerbox. Life as Birmingham City chairman Nowadays, however, he concentrates most of his time and energy on Birmingham City FC where he has been credited with turning the club's fortunes around. Incredibly, when he bought the club some 14 years ago, they were on the verge of bankruptcy and he paid just �1. Now, of course, they have just been promoted to the Premiership. "I'm elated and thrilled for the fans of Birmingham City," says Gold, who celebrated at home by enjoying a big glass of Champagne with Lesley. "Unlike business, where if you pull off a big deal you share your success with just a few people in the board room, in football you celebrate with thousands - and that's what it's all about - bringing success to the fans." "It's a vital time for the club to be promoted as the TV income has increased so substantially. Our turnover could increase this coming season by �50 million." Meanwhile, on behalf of all the soccer followers here in Surrey, I feel compelled to ask whether he has any plans to get involved with a club here in our county. Could we yet see him going head to head with Roman Abramovich at Chelsea? "At the moment, I am completely committed to Birmingham FC," says Gold, who famously bought himself the original FA Cup for nearly �500,000 to save it from leaving the country. "But I often have dinner with an old manager and dear friend of mine, Barry Fry, and some evenings, after three or four glasses of red wine, we talk about one day buying a club in the county. "We'd both become managers of this club and probably joint chairman. And I would keep a No.9 shirt in the boot of my car with my football boots - just in case Barry picked me to play!" Gold has always been passionate about Surrey, and has made no secret of his affection for our green and leafy county. "Most of my adult life I've lived in Surrey - and I can't think of anywhere I'd want to be more," he says. "And, of course, it's fantastic flying in my helicopter over Surrey, looking down on all those wonderful sights. Flying up to Birmingham, which I do most weeks, the most beautiful part of the journey is going over our county." As well as being a great supporter of the local community, often opening his grounds to the public, Gold also does a lot of work for charity, his favourites being those that help the elderly. He even invites groups of pensioners to his home and puts on tea for them in the garden - though it hasn't always gone quite according to plan... Swimming pool issues "There was this one time when it was pouring down with rain," he recalls. "So we decided to give them their tea in the swimming pool area inside. Anyway, there they all were having a lovely time when, suddenly, one of them mistook the swimming pool cover for a rug. Next thing, she was gradually submerging, handbag in one hand and cup of tea in the other... "Fortunately we managed to get her out safely, with no lasting damage, but thought that maybe we'd better remove the cover and put all the pool lights on, to avoid a repeat. "Well, blow me, five minutes later, another one fell in, and this time my brother had to dive in to rescue her, dressed in his Armani suit and his Gucci shoes!" Swimming pool mishaps aside, it really does seem that anything he touches turns to gold (if you'll excuse the pun). So what is his secret to succeeding in business?
"It's quite simple really," he says, whisking out a badge that he recently had made to sew on a new jacket. Pointing at the shield that's been painstakingly embroidered upon the front, he reads out the words: "Courage, determination and perseverance. If you adopt those three qualities in business, you can't go wrong." With all that he's achieved, the one thing I'm left wandering is whether he can still have any ambitions left. Well, as it turns out, it seems he has quite a few... "There are still un-won trophies, there are still unachieved goals - and that's exciting," he says. "Firstly, I want to be the oldest ever pilot. I believe there's a 95-year-old pilot in Canada, so I'd like to beat that. I also want to fly my helicopter around the world - now that's been done before, but never by a 70-year-old! Into the dragons' den "I'd very much like to do Dragons' Den too. They did ask me originally, but much to my regret, I was too busy at the time with Birmingham FC. "You know, the chap that retires at 60, I envy him in a way because that's his happiness and that's his achievement, but I would find that soul destroying. For me, personally, pursuing goals is vital to my whole being." And with that, it's time to let him get on with running his multi-million pound business empire - but not before he's walked photographer Andy and I to the front door and even waved us off as we leave. Now you wouldn't see that on The Apprentice...
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