David and Frederick Barclay were two of the most consequential British business figures of their times. Yet until recently, surprisingly little was known about them, which was exactly how the obsessively secretive and highly litigious twins liked it. That began to change when the family turned their legal guns on themselves. The brothers had fallen out by the time David died in 2021, while later that year Frederick failed to honour a £100-million divorce settlement to Hiroko, his wife of thirty-five years and mother of his only child. Now, in this forensic analysis of their business dealings over seven decades, Jane Martinson has filled in many of the gaps. What emerges is more than just a rags to riches story; it explains much about the state of modern Britain.
From humble beginnings in a two-bedroom flat in Shepherd’s Bush, where they lived with their parents and six siblings, the twins rode the postwar property boom and the financial boom of the 1980s and 1990s to become billionaires, well-connected power brokers and owners of such trophy assets as the Ritz and the Telegraph Group. Margaret Thatcher lived in one of their houses after leaving Downing Street and spent her final months as their guest in the Ritz, while Queen Camilla used to holiday on their yacht. But although for much of their lives they were so close that they dressed the same and finished each other’s sentences, they fell out spectacularly, to the point where David omitted Frederick’s name from a new headstone on their father’s grave.
Yet many details remain murky, not least how the brothers got their first foot in the property market in the 1950s, when Frederick was an undischarged bankrupt. Others active in west London at that time included Michael Heseltine, who made his first fortune renovating a Notting Hill hotel,