Britain’s feudal structure was supposedly abolished in 1660, but to many of the country’s occupants the modern economic system might look a lot like it did in the time of Henry 8th. A recent Oxfam report found that the United Kingdom’s five richest families had a total wealth of £28.2bn (around $50bn) making them richer than Britain’s 12.6 million poorest residents.
Oxfam is usually associated with the developing world, but recently began UK programs to tackle the growing poverty of the vast majority at home. The report has been released just before the Conservatives announce the UK’s budget, in the hope that the chancellor George Osborne will take note of the widening gap between Britain’s super rich and the poor.
A Guardian report notes that although ‘the early stages of the UK’s most severe post-war recession saw a fall in inequality as the least well-off were shielded by tax credits and benefits’ the trend has been overturned in recent years due to factors like lower wages and rising property costs.
The list below shows the families and businesses behind the shockingly wealthy top tier of British society, some of whom come from centuries of British aristocratic wealth, some of whom are relatively new money and some of whom are in fact relatively new British families.
5. Mike Ashley ($5.4bn)
Despite his self-made $5.5bn Mike Ashley is best known for his extremely reclusive nature (or if you’re a soccer fan, you may know him as the controversial owner of the English team Newcastle United). He never gives interviews and is rarely photographed outside of his team’s arena, which has lead to Ashley’s being dubbed Britain’s answer to Howard Hughes. Born in the mid sixties (the exact year is unknown) in Buckinghamshire, Ashley went to Burnham Grammar School where he played county level squash until he was injured and became a coach.
In the 80s Ashley opened his first shop, which quickly grew into the Sports Direct sporting apparel and equipment chain which now includes 400 UK shops, and employs over 20,000 in Britain, Ireland, and Belgium. In a wonderful case of revenge, the founder of JJB Sports – which has now been bought up by Sports Direct – once told Ashley that “There’s a club in the north son, and you’re not part of it.”
Because of his secret ways very little is known about Ashley’s personal life; at the age of 24 he married a Swedish economics student, but the two divorced in 2003, with a quiet agreement on one of the largest settlements in British legal history at £55 million. He is currently thought to live in a large house on the edge of a Hertfordshire village, but the property is screened by trees and CCTV cameras. In recent years his privacy has reached new levels, and when a local newspapers placed an ad asking for any information on the occupant of the house not a single person replied.
4. Cadogan family ($6.6bn)
The Cadogan family is the almost the polar opposite of Mike Ashley. Their wealth is the result of three centuries of ancestry dating back to 1712, when Sir Hans Sloane purchased the manor of Chelsea which came with 40,000 square metres of surrounding land. This area of land would become one of the most expensive pieces of property in the world: West London’s Chelsea and Knightsbridge districts.
The Cadogan motto of “He who envies is the lesser man” seems somewhat pointless now that the family has over $6.6bn, which will only continue to grow as the world’s wealthiest elite continues to invest in the London property market. Until 2012 the estate was run by Charles, the Eton educated eighth Earl of Cadogan, but is now run by his son Edward.
Unlike his father who had vocally expressed his opinions on various political and social matters, Edward (who served in the RAF in the Gulf War) has kept his head down. He currently lives on the family’s 2,000 acre estate in Scotland and acts as a figurehead for the Cadogan estate rather than someone involved in the day to day running of London’s second biggest property empire.
3. Hinduja brothers ($9.9bn)
Forbes Magazine lists the source of the Hinduja family’s wealth as ‘diversified’, which couldn’t really be more accurate. They’re involved in a range of industries including media, internet, trucking, lubricant, banking, and healthcare. Since the Hinduja Group was founded in 1914, the family has had business interests in Mumbai, Tehran, Switzerland, London, Dubai, and Sri Lanka.
The brothers have been so successful that they’re referred to as two of India’s ‘Fab Four’. S P Hinduja, the primary shareholder and chairman of the family business, has consistently ranked in the top 20 richest Asians, and in 2013 became the UK’s wealthiest Asian.
Like many of the world’s wealthiest, the Hinduja family gives millions of pounds away every year, with donations to the several of the UK’s political parties and various charities. However, one of these donations landed the brothers in hot water, when they were accused of having ulterior motives after a donation of £1m to London’s Millennium Dome ‘Faith Zone’ led to the approval of a previously refused passport application. The family has also been accused of being involved in the arms trade in the Middle East, though this has never been definitively proved.
2. Reuben brothers ($11.4bn)
The Bangladeshi born brothers were raised in Britain, and cut their teeth in the entrepreneurial world in the scrap metal, carpet, and real estate markets. In the 1990s, after having worked separately for some time the brothers banded together to create the company Transworld. As the Soviet Union broke up the brother bought up half of Russia’s aluminium production facilities.
Over the past two decades the brothers have built their personal fortune (much of which is kept in forms such as cash or bonds, as both of brothers are fearful of debt) and have gained a reputation for being hard-working, deeply publicity shy, and charitable.
1. Duke of Westminster (Wealth: $13bn)
The current Duke of Westminster, Gerald Grosvenor has had a colourful life, as is fitting for the notoriously eccentric British aristocracy. He was brought up on an island on a loch in Northern Ireland, before attending Harrow school (whose other alumni includes Churchill, Byron, and the Notting Hill director Richard Curtis). At the age of 16, having only received two GCSEs, the Duke left school to join the army. Three years later Grosvenor attended Sandhurst and embarked on a military career which peaked in 2011 when the Duke was responsible for 50,000 Reservists and 138,000 Cadets.
The list of titles, awards, and honorary positions held by the Duke is almost comical, and well-worth a quick google search for any aspiring aristocrats. The correct way to refer to Grosvenor at the time of writing is His Grace The Duke of Westminster KG CB CVO OBE TD CD DL, and he has also received Britain’s highest order of chivalry making him a Knight of the Garter.
As with the Cadogan family, the Duke of Westminster’s wealth stems from the land given to his ancestors by the British monarchy, and he currently owns 190 acres of prime London real estate next to Buckingham Palace. In addition to this, the family owns 96,000 acres in Scotland, 32,000 acres in Spain and thousands scattered across various other English estates.