A motorbike weaves through the London traffic. It’s heading across town, from Belgravia to the City. Riding pillion is Aidan Barclay. The bike races up to the doors of the Lloyds Bank headquarters. Barclay dismounts, rushes in and thrusts a piece of paper into the startled receptionist’s hand. It’s a banker’s draft for £1.2 billion. Barclay begs that it be taken upstairs immediately and given to Charlie Nunn, the Lloyds chief executive, with his compliments.
If, and when, Netflix or whoever dramatises the rise, collapse and rebirth of the Barclay family, this could well be how recent events are portrayed. Of course, it would allow for creative licence, but this would not be a bad way to explain the late, late move from the Barclay family to repay their outstanding debt to Nunn’s bank.
What the film could also show would be the dismay and frustration on the faces of super-rich folk elsewhere in the capital, as news of the family’s last-gasp intervention sank in. There they were, supposing the dynasty that owned the Telegraph newspaper group had gone. Unable to meet Lloyds’ repayment demands the Barclay family, led by Aidan and his brother, Howard, had been forced to witness the Telegraph and The Spectator magazine going into receivership and being auctioned.
The Barclay family was humiliated — no longer. This was payback, as seemingly out of nowhere, the money appeared
There was no shortage of bidders — among them the GB News backer and hedge fund chief Sir Paul Marshall, Lord Rothermere’s DMGT, owner of the Daily Mail, Sir William Lewis, the former Telegraph editor, David Montgomery’s local newspaper publisher National World, and German corporate giant Axel Springer. Even Rupert Murdoch himself had declared an interest to the auctioneers, Goldman Sachs.
The Barclay family was humiliated. Not any longer. This was payback, as seemingly out of nowhere, Aidan and his relatives came up with the money.
By now, Axel Springer had pulled out, believing the £600 million-plus price tag for the Telegraph was too high. Lewis, too, had seemingly gone, seduced by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to run his Washington Post — although there are those who maintain that the ultra-wealthy Bezos, aided by Lewis, could still make a play.
That left Marshall, Rothermere and Montgomery. Marshall had the funds, he was in cahoots with one of New York’s mightiest hedge fund bosses, Ken Griffin of Citadel, and he was viewed as the front-runner. Rothermere may have been able to lay his hands on the lucre but his approach would most likely give rise to competition issues. Montgomery, successful as he is, was thought not to be in the same league. As for Murdoch, he was rumoured to be more interested in acquiring The Spectator.
Supposedly informed talk had it that Marshall was prepared to offload GB News to Murdoch, to join with Talk TV, thus avoiding controversy over the upstart GB News and the Telegraph sharing the same bed. Another was that Rothermere would sell the i newspaper he owns to Murdoch to lessen finger-pointing about the size of market share belonging to DMGT.
All that is likely to be of little relevance, thanks to production of sufficient funds to repay in full the original Lloyds loan. The Telegraph and The Spectator will be released from receivership and the Barclay family can hold their heads up high once more.
It’s not totally cut and dried. The £1.2 billion is being supplied from RedBird IMI, a media investment vehicle led by former CNN head Jeff Zucker and partly funded by Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour. His portion will not be coming from the Abu Dhabi royal family, of which he is a member.
Under the rules on ownership of newspapers, if the purchase is more than 25 per cent foreign funded it may be subject to official scrutiny. Indeed, for the auction, Lloyds had said that no more than 25 per cent may come from the Gulf, for fear of triggering a drawn-out regulatory review. But it’s not up to Lloyds any longer. RedBird IMI says it will co-operate with the authorities.
Danny Kruger, the Tory MP, who is close to Marshall, has complained to the Culture Secretary, and is seeking a review.
Just when it appeared as if the Telegraph could be heading to Marshall, the Barclay family, aided by Zucker and Mansour, swooped.
To cloud the situation further, Sir Frederick Barclay, uncle to Aidan and Howard, is embroiled in litigation concerning his inability to meet a divorce settlement. When it mattered, though, his nephews magicked up £1.2 billion. It’s not all over for the Barclay family.
Chris Blackhurst is a former editor of The Independent