The global authority in superyachting
- Yachts Home
- The Superyacht Directory
- Yacht Reports
- Brokerage News
- The largest yachts in the world
- The Register
- Yacht Advice
- Yacht Design
- 12m to 24m yachts
- Monaco Yacht Show
- Builder Directory
- Designer Directory
- Interior Design Directory
- Naval Architect Directory
- Yachts for sale home
- Motor yachts
- Sailing yachts
- Explorer yachts
- Classic yachts
- Sale Broker Directory
- Charter Home
- Yachts for Charter
- Charter Destinations
- Charter Broker Directory
- Destinations Home
- South Pacific
- Rest of the World
- Boat Life Home
- Owners' Experiences
- Interiors Suppliers
- Owners' Club
- Captains' Club
- BOAT Showcase
- Boat Presents
- Events Home
- World Superyacht Awards
- Superyacht Design Festival
- Design and Innovation Awards
- Young Designer of the Year Award
- Artistry and Craft Awards
- Explorer Yachts Summit
- Ocean Talks
- The Ocean Awards
- BOAT Connect
- Between the bays
- Golf Invitational
- Boat Pro Home
- Pricing Plan
- Superyacht Insight
- Product Features
- Premium Content
- Global Order Book
- Tenders & Equipment
Mimi La Sardine: The 33.5m explorer designed with a little help from Pinterest
Natural materials bring the interior of 33.5-metre Mimi la Sardine to life thanks to an owner with an eye for the organic and a board on pinterest. Roger Lean-Vercoe tours an earthy explorer designed with a little help from social media.
The technology used to plan and build superyachts is constantly evolving, so why shouldn’t the creative inspiration that also shapes them? When browsing photo inspiration site Pinterest for interior design ideas, I was intrigued to stumble across an elegant mood board based on natural materials and beachcomber finds. Beyond the gorgeous images, what struck me most about the collection was its title – Mimi la Sardine ... because I had just been asked to visit a yacht of the same name. Could there be a connection? Could a superyacht’s decorative scheme be developed on a social media platform?
Mimi la Sardine is an explorer built by Cantiere delle Marche in Ancona, Italy, for a company created by Nick and Maxine Leslau. Maxine, who took the lead in conceiving the interior of their new yacht, is a bubbly character – a sculptor from the American Midwest, full of life and enthusiasm. “Our first three yachts were Princesses , the last a 95-footer [29 metre], but to tell you how we got to where we are today I have to step back to 2000 when we were in a very bad yachting accident,” she says. “We were chartering [41 metre sailing yacht] Mirabella III in the Caribbean when we lost our mast. It was in a storm and there was lots of drama – extremely scary stuff, especially with our three small boys aboard.”
Maxine and her husband are, as she puts it, “obsessed with the water” and were soon back on it, but the experience left its mark. “I had a bit of post-traumatic stress and I always worried about tipping over,” she says. This meant that when it came to choosing a new yacht to buy, safety was the first priority and the couple looked for a really solid boat with a steel hull. Nick saw an explorer for sale but Maxine was not convinced. “I thought, OK, but is that just going to look like a bath toy because, being an artist, lines are very important to me. If I’m honest, I hadn’t imagined the next boat looking like that!” she recalls. “But when we went out on it we were impressed with her chunkiness and feeling of solidity and stability. It felt so safe at sea, and it had so much space inside – it really felt like a house, with everyone having enough room to do their own thing. We didn’t buy her as there was so much work needed to bring her up to standard, but she did, eventually, lead us to Cantiere delle Marche for the next boat.”
Cantiere delle Marche has carved a name for itself in the explorer yacht market since it was founded in 2010. Its boats are more than white yachts with a chunky look; they boast truly rugged steel-hulled construction and exceptional range, together with seaworthiness and stability beyond reproach: items that were identified as essentials of the breed by the yard’s founders, Vasco Buonpensiere and Ennio Cecchini. “Two years after a huge recession was not the most opportune year to start a shipyard,” admits Cecchini, the company's CEO, “but we found a client who believed in us." Twelve years on, the shipyard has delivered over 25 yachts – many of which have become award winners. The seaworthiness of these vessels is epitomised by one of their early yachts, a Darwin 96 class that was caught in Hurricane Sandy as she approached Fort Lauderdale where she was to take part in the boat show.
“She was taking six-metre waves on the stern,” says Cecchini, “but she rode them out very safely and arrived just 12 hours before the show started – and she was still ready in time for the opening!” The yard still offers the Darwin class in lengths up to 32.6 metres, but Mimi la Sardine is a 33.5 metre in the Nauta Air class. As ruggedly built as the Darwin, this handsome, semi-production vessel has an extremely efficient steel hull from Sergio Cutolo at Hydro Tec topped by an aluminium superstructure. The styling of the yacht and its interior layout were the work of Nauta Yachts , while Maxine became intimately involved in the interior decoration from day one, working closely with Cantiere delle Marche’s interiors boss, Filippo Bevilacqua.
“As an artist, I’m very interested in plaster and clay sculpture,” says Maxine, “and my work often incorporates impressions of bark and natural organic materials, like shells and flowers.” This new boat, the first they had built from scratch, had to embrace this style. “We are quite earthy people and are not interested in an interior full of shiny, polished surfaces. We wanted to create the feel of a family holiday home, with the close-to-the-water feel of a relaxed beach house. I wanted to use plenty of natural materials like reclaimed wood and fabrics like hemp, linen and bamboo, and we even insist on organic soaps and candles.” What they did not want was “Wedgwood porcelain or white-gloved stewardesses constantly offering you coffee”. Luxury was essential but she describes it as “Bohemian boutique hotel” or “rich hippy” rather than formal glamour. “Life for us is all about finding the balance – enjoying what we have worked hard to get, but not leaving a trail of environmental destruction in our wake,” she says. So Mimi la Sardine is an economical displacement yacht with that ethos running throughout – they jettisoned plastic straws, for example.
The unusual style presented some challenges for Maxine, the largest of which was making the yard understand exactly what was wanted. “I don’t speak Italian and a lot of the design team didn’t speak English, so my Pinterest file where I gathered my ideas was very useful in the many meetings when I was getting this message over,” she says. “I even arrived with pieces of tree saying, ‘Look, I really want to have this texture; don’t give me any flat surfaces.’” Maxine’s persistence, together with her Pinterest board, certainly delivered the interior that she wanted, so much so that she literally jumped for joy when she saw the completed interior for the first time.
As soon as you enter the main saloon you are encased in organic serenity – the oak floor is repeated in the deckhead, while the built-in furniture is also crafted from weathered oak, a huge bulk of which forms a rough-cut low table between a pair of stylish Scandi-style sofas. Vast windows and bright walls light the room and its many pieces of art, while connecting it with the ocean beyond. It certainly achieves the aim of a family-oriented beach house style. But, unusually, there is no dining table, since the eminently sensible decision was taken to make dining the function of the upper deck saloon while, moving aft through wide doors, the aft deck of the same level is the yacht’s main outdoor dining area. This organic elegance extends throughout the yacht from the master cabin, positioned traditionally, forward on the main deck, to the four lower-deck guest cabins.
Equal attention was given to the deck areas, which were arranged for maximum functionality and style. Aloft, the sundeck includes a spa pool, sunbathing and bimini-shaded dining served from its own barbecue, while forward-facing seating gives the grandstand view when under way. Another large sunbed, ideally positioned to obtain a cooling breeze while at anchor, is found on the foredeck but, for many, the main deck aft will be the yacht’s real outdoor attraction.
Mimi la Sardine was lengthened by a metre over her earlier sistership Narvalo to provide a larger bathing platform for watersports, but shares her wide stairway descending from the aft deck, a feature that provides intimate connectivity between the aft deck and water. “I love this area,” enthuses Maxine. “You can sit and draw in shaded comfort on the aft deck and still be part of the watersports or fishing that is happening on the bathing platform; this boat is all about being together as family and friends and close to the water.
“We feel this is a perfect yacht,” she continues. “It accommodates a family in all the style and comfort it needs and gives everything you want without disrespect to the planet. Mimi la Sardine is, for sure, the largest yacht I have helped create and may be the last, but we shall see.” What Maxine did not say, was that it was her hard work that achieved her dream. The shipyard and its professional design team fully acknowledge this, writing on its website: “A special tribute must be paid to Maxine Leslau, whose enthusiasm, charisma, knowledge of design, materials and manufacturers were pivotal to the extraordinary result achieved. Her exquisite taste and capability to share her vision helped create Mimi la Sardine’s unique interior design and decoration.” Of course, a modicum of praise must extend to Pinterest, which also played the part of translator in all this.
Exploring the world with a smaller footprint
Owners are slowly but surely becoming aware of the need to reduce the environmental impact of their yachts. The most laudable example of this is perhaps the ultra-cool, three-masted 107-metre Black Pearl – the world’s largest sailing yacht – that boasts the unique ability (for any yacht, motor or sail, of more than 30 metres in length) to cross the oceans without the use of any carbon-based fuel. But going greener doesn’t have to involve such revolutionary boatbuilding. With Mimi la Sardine , the Leslaus have replaced a “gas-guzzling” semi-displacement yacht with a larger but eminently cleaner and more economical displacement vessel. Two 1,800kW diesels (typically MTU 16V 2000 M93s) are generally used to power a 29-metre, 28-knot, semi-displacement motor yacht.
These will have an approximate fuel burn of around 600 litres of diesel per hour (yacht brokerage advertisements for semi-displacement yachts usually shy away from providing consumption figures) at a cruising speed of about 20 knots. Of course, powered by a pair of 533kW Caterpillar diesels, Mimi la Sardine is much slower, offering a normal cruising speed of 12.2 knots when she consumes just 163 litres per hour, while at 10 knots she sips just 72 litres per hour – but what a saving in both monetary and ecological terms. On a long-distance delivery her comfortable 7.5-knot cruising speed is even more economical, giving her a massive range of more than 12,000 nautical miles. This yacht can see the world in comfort and style while reducing her impact on the planet.
This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of BOAT International.
More about this yacht
Yachts for charter, more stories, most recent, from our partners, sponsored listings.
- Yachting Monthly
- Digital edition
St Katharine Docks gets new owner
- June 29, 2011
London marina bought for £156 million
London’s St Katharine Docks , home of the capital’s main marina, has a new owner, after it was snapped up for £156.3 million.
Property mogul Nick Leslau, who co-owns Saracens Rugby Club, has bought the marina and five surrounding buildings through his Max Property Group , which counts Alton Towers and Madame Tussauds among its portfolio, although this is its first experience of investing in a marina.
St Katharines became available after the previous owners, F&C Reit and Area Property Partners, defaulted on a £170 million loan.
Mr Leslau is hoping the waterside location will woo City of London tenants to its office space and he promised a major overhaul of the buildings.
Subscribe to Yachting Monthly magazine for all the latest sailing news and reviews.
Nick Leslau: 'Be tough in business, but be totally honest'
Millionaire businessman Nick Leslau is renowned for making bold plays on the property market – and he usually gets them right.
- Newsletter sign up Newsletter
"Mention Nick Leslau's name in property circles and even rivals smile," saysThe Sunday Times. "He's one of the great characters. He's a great campaigner. He's done it all," gushes one. Among the many strings to Leslau's bow is a stint on Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire show, which culminated in a donation of £400,000 to a deprived community in Glasgow. He also gained the distinction 30 years ago of being the youngestchief executive of a UK-listed company. But it is Leslau's property nous thatreally commands his peers' respect.He's renowned for making big calls and usually getting them right (see below).
A big, well-padded man, at 56, Leslau "sports a mane that would make Peter Stringfellow proud". He recounts how, in his 1980s youth, he featured in pop videos with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Elton John and Level 42. But unlike some other young guns of that era, he retains a clear-eyed view of the boom that made his first fortune. "Never confuse a bull market with genius," he told the Financial Times. "We made so many mistakes in the 1980s, but the bull market carried us through. I learnt so much I was a lucky bugger, because if I had done half those things in a bear market, it would have been commercially fatal."
Leslau got into business young. Born in Cricklewood, London, his father had a jeweller's shop. His parents divorced when he was ten, and his grandfather put him through Mill Hill private school. "I was always conscious that a lot of kids had new football boots, whereas I had hand-me-downs. I'm sure that slightly awkward insecurity has been a driver."
- Subscribe to MoneyWeek
Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE
Sign up to Money Morning
Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter
Before going to Warwick to read German (he dropped out) he had a formative experience working at the local Late Late store. His hunger for business so impressed the boss that he was put in charge. But he also made a vital contact, says the Evening Standard. One regular was Nigel Wray, another old Millhillian with "something of a City personality", who had bought, written and later floated the Fleet Street Letter investment newsletter. It proved a lasting and fruitful partnership.
Leslau and Wray made their first property fortune with Burford, building it into a £1.2bn business in the 1980s. One of their coups was netting a £50m profit transforming "a load of clapped-out businesses in Finchley Road into the O2 cinema and shopping complex". It was the first of many co-ventures, including the purchase of Saracens Rugby Club (one of their less successful commercial ventures). They still "speak daily", says The Sunday Times. Leslau and his family recently moved from a £30m Mayfair mansion to Primrose Hill and he citeshis yacht as his "favourite gadget".
He's worth an estimated £200m, but says that ultimately money isn't what counts. "When you die all you have is your honour and your good name. Be tough in business, but be totally honest and have integrity. That's more important to me as my legacy than dying a billionaire."
His magic touch in the property markets
The plan was to wind up Max Property in seven and a half years. But last year, Leslau jumped the gun, says Kathryn Hopkins in The Times: he sold Max, whose assets included St Katharine Docks and the Holborn estate, to Blackstone Real Estate for £448m, and this year he sold the freehold to Madame Tussauds for £332m. "We've sold £2bn worth of property in the past year or so," he told Claer Barrett in the FT.
He sees it as a precaution. "I don't think the UK property market is going to fall off a cliff, but the market may not be well positioned to deal with any surprises." Being ahead of the curve doesn't bother him. At the end of the 1980s, "we decided the market was too frothy and liquidated all our holdings. We were a year too early. But then the market crashed." He repeated the trick in 2006.
City faith in Leslau's magic touch has led to the occasional fiasco, says Money Observer, notably "the Knutsford debacle" of 1999, when Leslau, Wray and former MP/Asda boss Archie Norman floated a £5m cash shell with the aim of finding a retail business for Norman to run. Rumours of plans to buy Sainsbury's or M&S saw the market cap hit £2bn in a fortnight. It was "lunacy", Leslau says now. Another "painful" experience, says Oliver Shah in The Sunday Times, was Southern Cross. Leslau's investment firm, Prestbury, owned 21 houses let to the care provider; he was branded "despicable" by union leaders when it collapsed. For Leslau, that insult grated more than any financial loss.
Ofgem, the energy regulator has set its latest price cap which will see energy bill drop by 12.3% this spring. Here's what to expect from April
By Henry Sandercock Last updated 23 February 24
Like the US, China too got fat on fake money. Now, China's doom is not far away.
By Bill Bonner Published 23 February 24
- Get the MoneyWeek newsletter
- Latest Issue
- Financial glossary
- MoneyWeek Wealth Summit
- Money Masterclass
- Best savings accounts
- Where will house prices go?
- Contact Future's experts
- Terms and Conditions
- Advertise with us
Moneyweek is part of Future plc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. Visit our corporate site . © Future Publishing Limited Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. All rights reserved. England and Wales company registration number 2008885.
- San Francisco
- Washington DC
Romero britto on transcending the world of fine art to expand his massive empire.
Mario Carbone Is Planning A Major NYC Domination With The Opening Of ZZ’s Club New York
Katie Couric’s Advocation For Cancer Screening Paid Off — And May Have Saved Her Life
Introducing The Official 2023 Haute 100 Miami List
Issa Rae Is Embarking On A Sparkling, New, Barbie-Worthy Venture
Luxury rules at the moscow yacht show.
by Maria Sapozhnikova
The windy Russian autumn weather might be a little bit tricky for sailing, but it doesn’t stop brave yachtsmen from all over the world from flocking to Russian capital in the beginning of September when the Moscow Yacht Show commences. The main Russian Yacht exhibition gathers professional and amateur yacht lovers together under the wing of The Royal Yacht Club.
This year it took place for a fourth time already. The exhibition is considered the principal event on the sporting and social calendar. The Moscow Yacht Show 2010 united in one area three of the largest Russian yachts distributors: Ultramarine, Nordmarine and Premium Yachts.
A wide range of yachts were on display for a week. An exhibition showcased yachts both from Russian manufacturers and world famous brands: Azimut, Princess, Ferretti, Pershing, Riviera, Doral, Linssen, etc.
It was a real feast for seafarers as visitors of the show had a unique chance not only to take a look at the newest superyachts before they hit the market, but also to evaluate their driving advantages during the test drive. The show provided an excellent opportunity for yacht enthusiasts to choose and buy a new boat for the next season.
The event started with the grandiose gala evening. It included grand dinner, the concert and professional awards ceremony for achievements in Russian yachting industry. The guests also enjoyed the annual regatta.
Special guest Paolo Vitelli, Azimut Benetti Group president, opened the evening.
Next year organizers assured guests they would bring more yachts, the scale of which will even make oligarch Roman Abramovich envious. Sounds very promising indeed.
Dori's World: Lunch with Karl Lagerfeld
Haute Event: Project Dinner Table Comes Features 5 MGM Grand Chefs
' . get_the_title() . ' ' ); >, related articles.
Haute Wine + Spirits
Champagne for a greener future: telmont’s eco-forward.
Major food group is making major moves with its latest.
Haute Living Naples Celebrates Iconic Artist Romero
The LA Restaurants That Need To Be On Your Radar This
Latest news, you might also like.
Cincoro tequila & haute living host an intimate dinner at zz’s club in miami for national margarita day.
Brunello Cucinelli Once Again Masters Luxe Essentials For Its Fall Winter 2024 Collection
Inside The New AC Hotel Naples 5th Avenue
Fendi’s Fall/Winter 2024 Collection Is A Sartorial Homage To 1984’s Eclectic Elegance
Inside this issue.
DISCOVER THE BEST KEPT SECRETS IN YOUR CITY
* All fields are mandatory
Property tycoon Nick Leslau: Danger? I like running towards it
Nick Leslau is busy chewing over the vast implications of the rapidly rising cost of debt for the commercial property industry when his boxer dog comes bounding into the boardroom. He rises to his feet. “Hello, sausage!” he exclaims with glee. “This is Yogi, our head of security. She’s an old girl now ... sorry, where was I?”
Leslau sits back down, runs his hand through a grey mane reminiscent of the late Peter Stringfellow’s and tries to retrace his thoughts. Meanwhile, Yogi turns to her water bowl and begins slurping so loudly that conversation, at least momentarily, becomes untenable.
After accumulating a vast fortune over four decades of investing in commercial property, Leslau has navigated through his fair share of economic turmoil. That bank
Exclusive: The property tycoon who gave away £225K to Possil's poorest after undercover mission
HE'S one of the richest men in Britain, with a cool £200million in the bank. But when Nick Leslau hit Glasgow, his first job was to clean the toilets.
- 00:00, 14 AUG 2008
- Updated 09:51, 1 JUL 2012
Get the latest top news stories sent straight to your inbox with our daily newsletter
We have more newsletters
HE'S one of the richest men in Britain, with a cool s200million in the bank. But when Nick Leslau hit Glasgow, his first job was to clean the toilets.
The property tycoon, who owns the theme park Alton Towers, went undercover in a mission to help some of the poorest people in Scotland.
And he revealed that swapping his s15million mansion in the heart of London's Mayfair, along with his yacht and private jet, to work with disabled Scots and live on s8.40 benefits a day, changed his life.
The emotional stories he heard filming the Channel 4 show, The Secret Millionaire, which airs on August 19, inspired him to give away more than s225,000 of his money.
Nick, 49, said: "It's the greatest gift to be able to give away money.
"I didn't mind cleaning the toilets and mopping the floor. That's something any volunteer would be asked to do.
"And doing this gave me the chance to chat to people and work out where my budget could best go to make a real difference to their lives."
But dad-of-three Nick's first impressions of Glasgow's Possilpark, in the north of the city, which became his home for 10 days, were not good. Describing the buildings as "like East Berlin", Nick was shocked by the crime-ridden streets which form one of the poorest areas in the UK.
"I was amazed at how quickly Glasgow transformed from its beautiful bits into the less beautiful bits," he said. "It was just a matter of minutes. They took away all my material comforts and the question was will I drown? I was pleased that I didn't."
As he reluctantly settled into a tenement flat on Hawthorn Street, the mould on the walls didn't make him feel any more at home.
Nick said: "The accommodation I was put into was grim. It was pretty scary when I first moved in. That first night in a horrible bed, in a horrible flat, wasn't my best night's sleep.
"Ironically, what seemed pretty desperate on the first day actually seemed quite nice by day three. It became my sanctuary."
And choosing who to give away cash to meant hitting the streets.
Telling locals he wanted a career in social work and was making a film about voluntary work helped explain the cameras, but Nick admits he started out worried that his posh, accent would be a dead giveaway.
"I was concerned my accent was going to be a giveaway but if you haven't got a Glaswegian accent, then they don't care where you're from.
"There were a few serious Glaswegian accents I didn't understand, but on the whole it was fine. Glaswegians are very friendly.
"The shopkeepers were fantastic. I'm not used to going to shops where you get served through cages, though.
"I met people who had been in prison, people who were happy to show you their stab wounds, people who had been junkies, drug pushers. It was very depressing at that level, but in that darkness there are those beacons of light who help the needy who fall through society's net."
The hundreds of people who are helped every day by the Possil and Milton Disability forum centre in Closeburn Street, turned Nick's head from day one.
After he got stuck into cleaning the toilets, Nick chatted to chairwoman Veronica Rodden, who won an MBE for her services to the community.
Veronica said: "I had no idea Nick was a multi-millionaire. I just treated him like any other volunteer but now I know who he is, I can't believe I presented him with a mop and a pail. Nick and everything he has given us is proof that dreams really can come true."
Nick was impressed by the difference the centre makes to Scots' lives through running everything from social groups to providing free meals in the community.
He also learned they could do more if they had the money to upgrade the kitchen and build an extension to take in more community groups. But working with disabled people for the first time forced Nick to confront some uncomfortable truths about his own attitudes.
Nick admitted: "I learned I had fears of disability. It's slightly embarrassing to admit, but I was a road crosser. I would cross the road rather than confront someone who was severely disabled or blind. I guess I had a fear of what the reaction would be. I very quickly learned that it doesn't take long to see through the disability and see the person instead.
"That's how the programme has changed me."
When mum of two Irene Macrennie, of the Visual Impairment Organisation, shared what it felt like to suddenly lose her sight aged 30, Nick was close to tears.
Nick said: "She bent over to pick something up and asked her husband to switch the lights on. He said 'what are you talking about? The lights are on.'
"That was it. She'd gone blind there and then. She didn't leave her home for many years until her friend introduced her to the forum. Now she's there almost every day. It's just a life-changing place."
The courage and tireless devotion of the parents of disabled children at the Riding for the Disabled School in Summerston, also made Nick desperate to help.
As he chatted to the parents in a cafe next door to the riding school, he realised that precious half an hour when their kids are at a riding lesson is the only time in a week that many of the carers got to themselves.
"Some of these carers get no respite at all," Nick said. "That's why this place is so important as it's a sanctuary, a safe place where carers can go to share their feelings."
Later, through a befriending scheme, Nick met Andrew Lowe, 30, who lost his sight eight years ago after contracting a rare illness. Unlike most of the people he had met, Nick got the impression that Andrew had not yet accepted his disability and was still angry about it. Unable to use body language or even eye contact to forge arelationship, it made their first meeting uncomfortable.
Nick, who is used to effortlessly building long-lasting relationships with captains of industry across the world, even considered stopping meeting Andrew altogether. But back at his flat he had a change of heart.
Nick said: "I sensed Andrew was quite hostile towards me. I'm not sure what it was which kept making me come back. I closed my eyes and I thought to myself 'imagine if someone said you are never going to open them again.' Then I thought about Andrew, and I thought how dare I even consider if he's worthy of another visit. I had to go back."
It was the start of a great friendship, which forced Nick to confront his fears about disability and ask some close to the bone questions he'd always avoided.
"I asked Andrew questions about blindness which I'd never have dreamed of asking before," said Nick.
"It's a very personal question to ask ablind person 'Do you dream visually?'
"Andrew dreams of a holiday in Ibiza, a place he visited when he still had his sight. He can relive what it was like to see only in his dreams.
"He is a lovely chap, a really good guy."
After deciding who his money could best help and revealing his true identity, Nick promised to stay in touch with all the community groups that had impressed him.
The experience has moved him so much he's even signed up for voluntary work in London, which he plans to start after the summer.
And he can't wait to switch on the TV next Tuesday with his wife and three sons, aged 20, 16 and 10, to relive the 10 days which changed both his and dozens of lives forever.
Nick said: "I will stay in touch with all those people.
"I don't want to write a cheque and go. The remarkable people I met in Scotland are society's real heroes."
The Secret Millionaire, Channel 4, Tuesday, August 19 at 9pm.
- Most Recent
- International edition
- Australia edition
- Europe edition
Finance, property and mining: the money behind Sunak’s £460,000 leadership bid
Multimillionaire flew on private plane and received more donations than any rivals, including Liz Truss
R ishi Sunak’s Conservative party leadership bid was bankrolled to the tune of almost £500,000 by City figures including a multibillionaire hedge fund manager, a spread betting tycoon, and intriguingly, a close friend and policy adviser who masterminded his campaign.
Sunak, 42, who together with this heiress wife has a £730m fortune , received a total of £458,570 in donations as well as gifted office space and the use of a private jet for his failed – but then eventually successful – bid to lead the Conservative party and become prime minister.
He received more money than any of the other contenders in the race, ahead of Liz Truss who collected £424,000, and in excess of the £300,000 spending limit put in place by the Conservative party.
Chris Rea, industrialist
Sunak’s single biggest backer was Chris Rea, a little-known Northern Irish businessman. Rea, who runs the manufacturing company Aesseal, donated £100,000 according to the register of members’ interests . He gave £50,000 on 28 July, followed by another £50,000 on 9 August.
Rea, who has been confused by some with the Road to Hell rocker , has been a long-time donor to the Conservatives including £25,000 in 2008 and £100,000 during the 2010 election campaign.
Rea told the Guardian that he chose to donate to Sunak because he was “horrified at the prospect of Liz Truss actually implementing her promises as I am numerate and it was clear to me that it would be bad for the UK”.
He said Sunak did not solicit the donation, but he did call him and invite him to a “thank you dinner in London” after Sunak lost initially to Truss.
Rea insisted there had not been and “never will be any conversations about any policies that will benefit me personally or Aesseal”.
“Frankly neither I nor the business need any help, and I and we are more concerned about what we can give to society than what society can do for us,” he added.
Michael Farmer, ‘Mr Copper’ hedge fund manager
Michael Farmer, a former Tory party treasurer, prominent Brexiter, hedge fund boss and metals trading multimillionaire known as “Mr Copper”, donated £38,470 including, as Sunak described it, “use of a plane during my campaign for leadership of the Conservative party”, a gift in kind valued at £23,470.
Farmer, 77, who made most of his estimated £150m via his Red Kite group of hedge funds, is one of the largest donors to the Conservatives , giving at least £6m over past last 10 years. He was Tory party’s co-treasurer from 2011-2015 and made a life peer in 2014.
Farmer, one of the world’s most influential commodity hedge fund traders, donated £300,000 to the Vote Leave campaign in 2017 and said Brexit would be a “bright new beginning” for Britain. He also donated £100,000 in 2011 to the No to AV campaign, which opposed replacing first-past-the-post voting with a transferable vote system.
He was an early public backer of Sunak, saying in July that the now prime minister was “a serious man” and said his plan to apply fiscal “discipline now and allowing some generosity later is the right way to handle the current economic difficulties”.
Farmer, who campaigns for “a culture that values family life” and became a Christian “literally overnight when he was 35”, shot to public attention in 2013 when it was revealed he had paid for his son George to join Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon club, the male-only dining club that David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson attended.
George Farmer is now chief executive of Parler, the rightwing social media app that Kayne West – who changed his name to Ye last year – has said he is buying after he was blocked by Twitter for making antisemitic posts.
George is married to Candace Owens, the outspoken US rightwing political pundit. They tied the knot at the Trump Winery in Virginia in 2019 with a string of famous US and UK rightwing guests including the former UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage. George stood unsuccessfully for Ukip in the 1999 European parliament elections.
Nick Leslau, property developer
The second-largest donation came from Yoginvest Ltd, a company controlled by the multimillionaire property investor Nick Leslau, which donated £50,000. Leslau, who is estimated by the Sunday Times rich list to have a fortune of about £400m, owns big stakes in Alton Towers, Warwick Castle and Thorpe Park.
Leslau, who donated £20,000 to the Conservatives through Yoginvest in 2019, said in 2020 he would not give any more money to the Tories after the government banned commercial landlords from evicting shop and restaurant tenants struggling during lockdowns. “I think the flippancy with which the property industry has been treated has been narrow-minded,” he told the Times.
after newsletter promotion
Mick Davis, mining tycoon
Sir Mick Davis, also a former Tory party treasurer and ex-boss of the mining company Xstrata, gave Sunak £25,000, and said last week any MP backing Johnson’s bid to return to No 10 was “delusional”. Davis has donated almost £6m to the Conservatives over the years. In 2011 he was revealed to be one of the people funding the jetset lifestyle of Adam Werritty , a friend of the former minister Liam Fox whowho posed as an official adviser in a scandal that let to Fox’s resignation.
Will Harris, PR boss
Office space in a Grade II-listed building near Westminster, worth £3,195, for advisers running his campaign was provided by Bridge Consulting Ltd, the home of PR firm Bridge F61. The firm, which has boasted on its website “We can make you rich, we can make you famous”, was co-founded by the the Tory marketing guru Will Harris, part of the team that devised the slogan “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” for the mobile phone firm.
Harris, who says he campaigned for Michael Howard in 2003, the year he became leader of the Tory party, boasts on his website that working for political clients is akin to a “frantic T20 Blast”. “Despite a shared love of Jaffa Cakes and cans of Coke Zero, business campaigners rarely start their day at 5.45am with the morning media briefing, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
Eleanor Shawcross, political adviser
Another £20,000 came in from Eleanor Shawcross, a policy adviser who helped run the campaign from the headquarters in Dean Trench Street. She is expected to be rewarded with the job of head of the No 10 policy unit or possibly chief of staff.
She was among the staff who lined up to welcome the new prime minister as he walked through the door of Downing Street on his first day in the role.
Her donation was made in the name Eleanor Wolfson. She is married to Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of the clothing chain Next, who has given hundreds of thousands to the Tories, and was granted a peerage in 2010.
She is the daughter of William Shawcross, who has written several books on the royal family and former chair of the Charity Commission, and is a non-executive director at the Department for Work and Pensions and was deputy chief of staff to George Osborne when he was chancellor.
She met Lord Wolfson, who is 14 years her senior, while working for Osborne. The couple married in 2012 and have two children, one of whom was born prematurely and spent weeks in neonatal intensive care – she is on the board of the Winncott Foundation, which works to improve neonatal care.
Shawcross previously worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Blavatnik school of government at the University of Oxford.
Michael Spencer, financial entrepreneur
Michael Spencer, the billionaire founder of the broker Icap, donated £25,000. However, the long-term Conservative backer who has given more than £5m to the party and as treasurer from 2006-2010, initially backed Penny Mordaunt with a £25,000 donation. The day after she was eliminated he donated to Sunak, and then later when Truss appeared to be winning he donated the same amount to her campaign.
In her first days in office he praised her as “one of the most pro-business” leaders the country has ever had.
- Financial sector
- Rishi Sunak
- Party funding
- Hedge funds
Conflict of interest row greets new boss of watchdog for City regulators
Labour has no intention of reinstating cap on bankers’ bonuses, says Reeves
Labour vows to cut financial ‘red tape’ and ‘unashamedly champion’ UK sector
Labour to unveil plans for City at forthcoming business conference
Fund manager abrdn to pay bonuses despite slashing 500 jobs
Top hedge funds make record $67bn in profits for 2023
Sexual harassment in City has shifted from office to work trips, MPs told
UK and Switzerland agree to deepen ties between City and Swiss banking system
UK financial watchdog ‘will not take any action against’ Odey Asset Management
Aviva has acted to sack male employees for inappropriate behaviour, says boss
Alton Towers owner and multi-millionaire Nick Leslau on the “constipated” property market and that rollercoaster tragedy
By: Shruti Tripathi
Nick Leslau, one of Britain’s wealthiest property entrepreneurs, loves buildings other people would find ugly.
“I have a thing for unfashionable buildings that people generally hate,” says the multi-millionaire who turned two sixties office blocks in London into the St Martins Lane and Sanderson hotels. “I like them because of the opportunity they represent and not because they look beautiful.”
But Leslau, who has amassed wealth in excess of £330m through big property deals, expects his sector to be slow this year.
“The property market is, excuse my expression, very constipated,” he says.
“The costs associated with buying and selling a property are so high that even when a buyer offers a cracking price, the seller doesn’t want to sell because he won’t be able to make a solid profit.
“Equally, everyone is desperate for yields in a market that is highly illiquid. This has led to a place where the assets you want to buy are too expensive and the vendors aren’t interested in selling because it will kill their yield. I expect the market to remain like this over the next two-three years.”
Is this Brexit-related? “No, not at all. This is a property cycle that would’ve happened irrespective of Brexit,” Leslau warns.
It is hard not to trust the 58-year-old property veteran’s judgement about the market.
In 1982, a 23-year-old Leslau was appointed the youngest CEO at the time of a listed company, Burford Estate & Property. Lessons learnt scraping through a degree in estate management from South Bank University came in handy, he says.
In 2011, Leslau bought London marina St Katharine Docks for £156m through his investment vehicle Max Property Group. The firm was sold to Blackstone for nearly £450m in 2014.
Currently, Leslau is the chairman of investment adviser Prestbury that is a 30 per cent shareholder in Secure Income real estate investment trust (Reit), a property firm with £1.6bn worth of assets including 55 Travelodge hotels.
Read more : What the General Election results mean for house prices
That rollercoaster crash
The Aim-listed Reit also owns theme parks Alton Towers and Thorpe Park which it leases to Merlin Entertainments .
Secure Income Reit is Leslau’s main focus this year.
“It is a fantastic business for returns and has performed beautifully in the last couple of years. It has the longest leases of any Reits in the UK,” Leslau says.
Leslau shrugs off worries about growth following the rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers in 2015 in which 16 people were injured including two girls who needed leg amputations.
The motormouth property mogul expresses great faith in Merlin CEO Nick Varney and calls him “an outstanding leader of his generation”.
“Statistically, you’ll have heard that it’s 20 to 200 times more likely to get killed driving to a theme park than in a theme park. The whole point the rides are there is because of the thrill.
“There was a human error for which Merlin has paid a massive price but the performance of the business has been exemplary and the share price is now at an all-time high,” he says.
A colourful character, Leslau worships the property sector but has a bizarre analogy for his obsession with it.
“The sector is wonderful to work in as properties don’t have opinions, they don’t go on holiday, they don’t answer back,” he chuckles.
Read more : Merlin says recovery from Alton Towers crash is "well underway"
From bricks to books
However, Leslau’s most memorable deals, both good and bad, are from outside the sector.
“I tried to bring the world’s first indoor virtual reality theme park at the Trocadero centre in Piccadilly Circus but it bombed and that hurt because it was such a public failure.
“It did make money but it wasn’t about the money, it was about the vision.”
His favourite deal has been buying rights to Enid Blyton’s books.
“I did that deal with Enid’s daughters, one of whom didn’t really like her mother at all and one who adored her. That was quite an interesting negotiation,” he enthuses.
Among sectors that have impressed Leslau is the meteoric rise of online retailers like Amazon while high street brands have left him unimpressed.
“When retailers are doing well, it’s the management and when they’re doing badly it’s the weather. They aren’t good investments in the long run,” he remarks.
Leslau cleary likes to think long-term but do not mention the r-word to him.
“No, no, no, I have no plan to retire. I’m not retiring until I’m stuck in a home or in a box or something,” he says.
Subscribe to the City A.M. newsletter to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.
Your news your way
Subscribe to get the essential daily news updates from City A.M's top stories to your inbox.
Saracens are proud to work in partnership with a range of companies and suppliers, all striving for excellence in their field.
- About Saracens
- Club History
- Stadium Tours
- Saracens Rewards
- Saracens Pioneers
- Together Since
- The Priory Collection
- Jobs at Saracens
- Saracens High School
- Saracens Foundation
- Help Centre
- UK Investor Show
- StoneX Stadium Venue Hire
- Saracens Business Club
Community & Camps
- Junior Rugby Camps
- Saracens Staycations
- Netball Camps
- Partner Schools
- Sister Clubs
- Junior Rugby Festivals - Men's Matches
- Junior Rugby Festivals - Women's Matches
- Pre-Match Activations - Saracens Mavericks
Match Day Guide
- Travel to StoneX Stadium
- Matchday Sponsorship
- Ticketing FAQs
- StoneX Stadium Map
- Food & Drink
- TV, Radio & Digital Media - Match Coverage
- Accessibility & Inclusion
- Supporter Feedback
Club Statement: Leslau steps down from Saracens board
The Club confirms that after 21 years as a board director, Nick Leslau is stepping down in order to focus his time on new initiatives in the education sector and the ongoing demands of his role as the Chair of Prestbury Investments.
Nigel Wray commented: "Nick is one of my closest friends and always will be. We have had a great journey together at Saracens and although Nick now needs to focus some of his limited spare time on other projects, I know he isn't going far.
"I would like to personally thank Nick for his outstanding support and for everything we have been privileged to build together at this amazing club, both on and off the pitch."
Nick Leslau said: "After over 20 amazing years with the Saracens family, I am finally hanging up my director's boots. I have been so fortunate to have been part of this incredible club under Nigel's pioneering chairmanship and I am looking forward to staying closely associated with the Club for many years to come."
Nick will always remain extremely close to Saracens and the Wray family in particular and we wish him every success with his other endeavours. Nick will always be part of the Saracens family.
- Mavericks Netball
MATCH REPORT | Saracens Mavericks 53-44 Leeds Rhinos (NSL Rd 2)
Saracens Mavericks secured their first win of the 2024 Netball Super League in front of a sold out home crowd at HSV, as Emma Thacker inspired her side to an impressive victory. After last week’s draw to Cardiff Dragons, it was crucial that Mavericks could get a win under their belts in their quest for […]
- Men's Rugby
MATCH REPORT | Saracens Men 31-19 Leinster Rugby
Saracens Men returned to action in style with an impressive 31-19 victory over Leinster at StoneX Stadium. The Men in Black were back out on the pitch for the first time since the last weekend of January, and it looked like they had never been away as they scored five tries and played some scintillating […]
MATCH PREVIEW | Saracens Mavericks vs Leeds Rhinos (NSL Rd 2)
Goal Attack Kira Rothwell is relishing being back at HSV this weekend. After a pulsating draw against Cardiff Dragons in last weekend’s Season Opener, Rothwell is thrilled to be back in the home comforts of HSV. “I’m so excited to be back at home. Alongside playing at the big arenas, home games at HSV are […]
- Work & Careers
- Life & Arts
Become an FT subscriber
Limited time offer save up to 40% on standard digital.
- Global news & analysis
- Expert opinion
- Special features
- FirstFT newsletter
- Videos & Podcasts
- Android & iOS app
- FT Edit app
- 10 gift articles per month
Explore more offers.
- FT Digital Edition
Print + premium digital.
Then $75 per month. Complete digital access to quality FT journalism on any device. Cancel anytime during your trial.
- 10 additional gift articles per month
- Global news & analysis
- Exclusive FT analysis
- Videos & Podcasts
- FT App on Android & iOS
- Everything in Standard Digital
- Premium newsletters
- Weekday Print Edition
Complete digital access to quality FT journalism with expert analysis from industry leaders. Pay a year upfront and save 20%.
- Everything in Print
- Everything in Premium Digital
The new FT Digital Edition: today’s FT, cover to cover on any device. This subscription does not include access to ft.com or the FT App.
Terms & Conditions apply
Explore our full range of subscriptions.
Why the ft.
See why over a million readers pay to read the Financial Times.
Your browser is not supported
Sorry but it looks as if your browser is out of date. To get the best experience using our site we recommend that you upgrade or switch browsers.
Find a solution
- Skip to main content
- Skip to navigation
- Like our page on Facebook
- Follow us on Twitter
- Connect with us on LinkedIn
- Watch PWTV on Youtube
- Subscribe to our RSS feeds
- Back to parent navigation item
- Subscribe to PW
- Advertise with us
- Download PW App
- A-Z of contributors
- Latest issue
- Digital edition
- Features list
- In Conversation With
- Climate crisis
- Cost of living crisis
- Energy crisis
- Hotels & leisure
- Levelling up
- Planning & policy
- Banks & lending
- Property companies
- Private investor & auctions
- News analysis
- Residential and development
- Later living
- Student accommodation
- Data by sector
- Data by UK region
- Leader & Blogs
- Blogs (sponsored content)
- Big interviews
- Client Solutions
- Campaigns & Special Reports
- Get Set For Net Zero
- 2023 Watching Brief
- Video & podcasts
- East of England
- East Midlands
- Northern Ireland
- West Midlands
- Republic of Ireland
- Legal & Professional
- Ask the expert
- Support Hub
- People moves
- People features & campaigns
- Five minutes with
- Property Eye
- Project Manager
- Estate/Property Manager
- Surveyor – Quantity
- Surveyor – Building
- Jobseekers Account
- Property Week Fantasy Football
- Event calendar
- ESG Edge Conference & Awards
- Industrial & Logistics Conference
- IWIP Awards
- Later Living
- Property Awards
- RESI Awards
- Student Accommodation Conference & Awards
- More from navigation items
Prestbury Investments’ Nick Leslau on the real estate battlefield
By Nick Leslau 2023-05-18T06:00:00+01:00
- No comments
In the last 12 months, the already challenged real estate world has morphed, yet again, into a new battlefield of conflicting pressures, which have resulted in some of the fastest valuation write-downs in my near-four decades operating in the UK market. Is there a simple explanation?
No doubt Peter Pereira Gray’s RICS review has had an immediate impact.
Many blame interest rates but they have rarely, if ever, been a major cause of sustained property devaluation. Availability of debt has had a much greater influence on value but nothing comes close to the impact of gross domestic product as the most influential reflection of value direction.
Since the global financial crisis, free money has created vast wealth, so returning some of that is hardly cataclysmic as surely this a small price to pay for 14 years of huge unearned wealth creation? Quantitative tightening was always going to produce a material value correction – maybe not quite so fast, but otherwise that was no surprise.
Those who over-geared heavily during the last few years and now face imminent refinancing have a massive challenge, which might also cause market skittishness.
Loan-to-values are less of a debt breach issue, as many deals acquired in the last few years will have plenty of equity fat on the bone, but interest cover challenges will see lenders, many from the ‘shadow’ banking sector, strip out economic value from borrowers if the assets can even be refinanced.
Unlike deposit-takers, which have maintained very robust balance sheets under the forensic scrutiny of the Bank of England, the unregulated lenders do possess decent real estate skills and are prepared to loan to own in the event of default and where the economic value is there to be carved out over time.
There is fear that where that isn’t feasible default could negatively affect values, but it is unlikely to have more than a very short-term impact. Those who over-geared heavily during the last few years and now face imminent refinancing have a massive challenge, which might also cause market skittishness.
I remain puzzled by one particular contributor to value uncertainty and it’s the obsession with the ‘E’ in environmental, social and governance, and mainly Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs).
The ambitions are worthy but the rudimentary way they are being assessed will, in years to come, make today’s EPCs look like caveman drawings on the walls of energy conservation. We desperately need to modernise our thinking in this area.
Random targets and dates have started and will continue increasingly to distort markets, in offices in particular. Were this value destruction to be based upon good science and technological measurement, it might attract more attention from most property owners. We need to replace green washing with genuine action, not just to do the minimum to reach random targets but to achieve the maximum.
If government really wants a green revolution it needs to start offering carrots for actual proven energy savings and not the stick of potential stranded assets for non-compliance.
Total compliance is impossible in any event as the majority of our real estate world cannot physically pivot in anything like the permitted timeframe or afford the changes, and everyone knows it. Stranded empty buildings with no economic use will be a physical blight and destroy local surrounding economies, or what’s left of them, and create inflated rents for the greenest buildings, leaving a desert of empty, non-productive real estate. Pension funds, equity, insurers and society at large will suffer further value destruction because of this lack of creative thinking.
Surely the best solution is to incentivise property owners and occupiers to reduce their actual energy costs and to keep that process going, measured accurately using technology, which already exists. Use the carrot of tax concessions to encourage owners to spend money on their buildings, not the stick of stranding them. You create wealth for society by ensuring capital is deployed not destroyed and here is a wonderful and worthy opportunity for government to achieve this.
We are experiencing an illiquid market and value destruction following recent black-swan events, but occupational demand remains decent and is improving in many sectors, GDP is gently and increasingly positive and, who knows, a change to a more rewards-based approach to EPCs and we might well be looking at the start of a new and positive commercial real estate cycle.
Nick Leslau is chairman and chief executive of Prestbury Investments
- Expert comment
No comments yet
Only registered users can comment on this article., related articles.
EY in talks with other ‘interested parties’ over fresh takeover of Britishvolt
Gallantium’s Andrew Greener on a fresh outlook on mental health in the property sector
Hotelification: It’s all in the mix
Can we still count on ONS data?
Q&A: Property Week talks to Christopher Laing, founder of Signstrokes
Big interview with Canvas Offices: “We’re only interested in the best buildings”
- Terms & Conditions
- Subscribe to our RSS feed
- © 2023 Metropolis International Group
- Previous Issues
- A-Z Subjects
- A-Z Contributors
Site powered by Webvision Cloud
Trawling the depths of forgotten fiction, films, and beyond, with yer pal, Joe Kenney
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Moscow (aka nick carter: killmaster #61).
I haven't read this novel, but from your description the merman angle just seems to be tacked on. A better use of it might have been about say Soviet mermen sabotaging the navy or something.
Post a Comment
First refuelling for Russia’s Akademik Lomonosov floating NPP
The FNPP includes two KLT-40S reactor units. In such reactors, nuclear fuel is not replaced in the same way as in standard NPPs – partial replacement of fuel once every 12-18 months. Instead, once every few years the entire reactor core is replaced with and a full load of fresh fuel.
The KLT-40S reactor cores have a number of advantages compared with standard NPPs. For the first time, a cassette core was used, which made it possible to increase the fuel cycle to 3-3.5 years before refuelling, and also reduce by one and a half times the fuel component in the cost of the electricity produced. The operating experience of the FNPP provided the basis for the design of the new series of nuclear icebreaker reactors (series 22220). Currently, three such icebreakers have been launched.
The Akademik Lomonosov was connected to the power grid in December 2019, and put into commercial operation in May 2020.
Electricity generation from the FNPP at the end of 2023 amounted to 194 GWh. The population of Pevek is just over 4,000 people. However, the plant can potentially provide electricity to a city with a population of up to 100,000. The FNPP solved two problems. Firstly, it replaced the retiring capacities of the Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant, which has been operating since 1974, as well as the Chaunskaya Thermal Power Plant, which is more than 70 years old. It also supplies power to the main mining enterprises located in western Chukotka. In September, a 490 km 110 kilovolt power transmission line was put into operation connecting Pevek and Bilibino.
Image courtesy of TVEL
- Terms and conditions
- Newsletter sign up
- Digital Edition
- Editorial Standards
Nick Leslau: The veteran property player who prefers ‘steady-Eddie’ game
This is the only fridge Jonny Wilkinson ever painted,” says Nick Leslau proudly. We’re in the bowels of the property mogul’s Mayfair headquarters, which is less a meeting room than a giant man-cave.
England’s greatest fly-half daubed the said kitchen appliance (inexpertly) with a painting of his black Newcastle rugby strip, to be auctioned off for charity. As Leslau puts it, “his kicking was a lot better than his painting”. But as a collector, naturally he had to have it.
Alongside the fridge, there’s a sporting shrine that would have any sports nut drooling; an England kit from an 1885 match against Wales and All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick’s strip from New Zealand’s 1987 World Cup-winning campaign are among the relics on the wall.
Upstairs in the lobby, one of only six originals of Flip Schulke’s famous picture of Muhammad Ali training “underwater” — staged by the trainer — is on display. There’s also one of WG Grace’s cricket bats in his office, near the Fifties jukebox.
At first look, Leslau — long grey hair, trimmed beard and open-necked shirt — might be some advertising guru or music A&R man. But alongside the sporting memorabilia, the part-owner of Saracens rugby club also collects buildings.
"Instead of having smoking commissionaires, we’d have great-looking girls dressed in Donna Karan."
After a lengthy career at the top of the property industry, and more than his fair share of excitement as one of the infamous Knutsford Four (of which more later), he has finally discovered that “boring is the new sexy”.
At 57, his latest venture is Secure Income Reit, a tax-efficient property investment firm that does exactly what it says on the tin. It owns the freeholds to a £1.6 billion portfolio — including the likes of Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, as well as 19 private hospitals —which generates rising guaranteed rental flows every year. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but in a world where 20-year government bonds are returning 1%, Secure’s promise of 4% dividends and 11%-a-year overall returns to investors has caught the eye of the City.
The AIM-listed shares are up 72% since the float two years ago, and the returns are “bonkers in a negative interest-rate world”, Leslau says. He isn’t formally on the board of Secure but he chairs Prestbury Investments, which advises the company on deals as well as having £105 million of its own money invested.
Stabbed teenager ‘ran for his life’ before collapsing, court hears
Esken mulls deal to save Southend Airport, but lose majority control
Minister rejects claim Post Office compensation stalled ahead of election
First look at exceptional new London properties for sale in 2024
“It’s the easiest business on the planet to understand,” he says. “If we go under a bus tomorrow, the shareholders will still get their 11%.”
Secure has just splashed out £195 million on 55 Travelodges to get more of those safe, steady-Eddie returns and the Prestbury boss wants to build further. “This is one business where bigger is better, more income, more risk diversification,” he says.
Leslau, who has made an estimated £300 million, has been at this game since his early twenties and shows no sign of slowing down. The son of a Polish mother and English father, he showed his early business acumen as a teenage convenience-store manager in Belsize Park but stumbled into property through managing a small block owned by his maternal grandfather.
He had enough of Kant and Goethe, dropped out of studying German at Warwick and switched to estate management at South Bank Polytechnic, “having no idea what it was all about”. That led him to property company Burford, where he became a junior partner at 23.
He made his first serious pile when investor Nigel Wray — who owns Saracens and later tempted Leslau to put his own cash in — bought Burford in 1986, making him a precociously young chief executive in his mid-twenties. The pair built Burford into a £1.2 billion business over the next decade.
What’s the secret? “People get quite highfalutin about real estate but actually it’s about flogging space, and you want the best product at the best price in the best location. It is pretty unglamorous at the bottom level; we started at the trashy end of secondary offices at Burford. I loved that, refurbishing space, making it look different.”
Burford did things differently, for example introducing the first valet parking for any office in the UK — anything to get the rents up and the tenants in. “We were always innovating. It sounds horribly sexist today but instead of having smoking commissionaires grumbling, we’d have great-looking girls dressed in Donna Karan outfits, usually with big... I’m not allowed to say that.”
A bull market also helps. He realised he was a “lucky bugger” but worked hard as “I’ve always had this abnormal fear of losing”. That stems from a modest upbringing in Cricklewood, despite money from his grandfather putting him through Mill Hill. He’s got a few more toys these days — the Mayfair home, the place in Miami — but, as a newly-moneyed twentysomething, “I’d buy a car and keep it for 10 years as I couldn’t bear the depreciation”.
The smallest reverses stick with him — like the one tiny office block in Lexington Street on which they lost £750,000 when he didn’t sell before the Nineties crash. “Nigel never lets me forget it. I never forgot how painful that loss was even though we’ve made a ton of money. It really grates.” Leslau has generally made his money selling early rather than too late.
The Midas touch also briefly deserted Burford in the late Nineties with the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus when the Sega World amusement park crashed and burned, although he stresses it eventually made £70 million profit on the property.
Soon after, he was one of the famous Knutsford Four, hyped up as the “awesome foursome”. He, Wray, Julian Richer, the founder of hi-fi chain Richer Sounds, and former Asda boss Archie Norman put cash into a shell company at the height of the dot-com boom. Sheer speculation — a takeover of Marks & Spencer, for example — sent the value of a company with £5 million in the bank to more than £1 billion.
“People got completely carried away. I just stood there in wonderment. It was like being in the theatre, watching it all play out in front of you.” He never took advantage of the inflated values, and now the ill-judged euphoria of the Knutsford episode is taught in business schools. Leslau was back in more familiar territory in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, raising money to buy up distressed property in 2009 through the Max Property Group and doubling his shareholders’ money when he sold out to Blackstone for £448 million in 2014.
Leslau isn’t a one-man band; he surrounds himself with good lieutenants like Prestbury’s chief executive Mike Brown and chief operating officer Sandy Gumm, who stay out of the limelight. “If Nick is the lead singer, Mike is lead guitar. He’s absolutely forensic,” says one property chief executive.
Leslau might even have a chip off the old block waiting in the wings as Jonah, the youngest of his three sons, is studying estate management. He says: “If he wants to come into the business, I’d be thrilled, but I have never placed any pressure on them because I think it would be hard for them. I don’t mean this immodestly but, when you’re a name in this industry, I know how I reacted as a kid coming from nothing when I met someone who was in ‘dad’s business’. I was always slightly off, or a bit resentful. You have to be five times better than the dad and I don’t know if he wants that kind of pressure.”
Leslau met his wife Maxine through property. Her uncle was friends with one of the original financiers of Burford and he was asked to show her around London. There were times when the young tyro was drowning in deals and “didn’t have enough bandwidth for everyone” but they’re off to the US next month to celebrate their 30th anniversary.
Above all, Leslau is a player. He’s been on the field for the best part of four decades and shows no sign of leaving the pitch. “Good fortune happens to everyone but you’ve got to put skin in the game. If you stand on the sidelines, nothing good or bad will ever happen.”