WORDS JOHN ARLIDGE
Open the Sunday Times Rich List and who's at the top? The Queen? The Duke of Westminster? Sir Philip Green? Is the richest person in Britain even British? No. One of the most striking trends in recent years has been the rise of foreign billionaires in Britain - for which read London - and none comes richer than Indian steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal.
Mittal is the biggest player in the global steel industry with his company, ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest producer. The recovery in the steel market, driven by strong demand in China, has taken his fortune to £22.45bn, up a none-too-shabby 108 per cent on last year. In 2003 he bought the former embassy of the Philippines in Kensington Palace Gardens for £70m — one of the most expensive homes in London.
And Mittal is not alone. Thanks to history, Indians have long settled in Britain and many have created big businesses. Bijay and Bikhu Patel built Waymade Health care from a single chemist's shop into a firm that turns over £300m a year. The Hinduja brothers (mining and chemicals) and the Noons (curry) are household names. But as the Indian economy has opened up, Indian businessmen - and they are almost all male - have begun to create multi-billion pound global businesses and have made London their home. We know about the Middle Eastern movers and sheikhers flush with petro-dollars. Russian oligarchs have colonised large parts of Belgravia. Now say hello to the ‘Bollygarchs’.
After the Mittals, the most notable in London are the Ruia brothers - Shashi and Ravi. The flotation of their energy company, Essar Holdings, earlier this year put billions of pounds into their pockets. Cyrus Vandrevala, a technology investor and one of the founders of Intrepid Capital Partners, lived at Claridge's for six months with his heiress wife, Priya, before settling into a £20m home in Holland Park in 2008.
Naresh Goyal, owner of fast-expanding Jet Airways, India's largest domestic airline, commutes to India from his townhouse in Regent's Park in spite of his fear of flying. He prays before take-off. Vijay Mallya, who owns another new Indian airline, Kingfisher, as well as the beer of the same name, owns a London town house and a country house in Berkshire. Anil Agarwal, the founder and Executive Chairman of the UK-based mining giant, Vedanta Resources Corporation, is based in Mayfair.
Not only interested in bagging some of the best London houses and indulging in high-flying lifestyles, the Bollygarchs have shown a strong philanthropic bent — both in Britain and abroad. Lakshmi Mittal has quietly given millions to tsunami relief and other causes. His son Aditya gave £15m to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital earlier this year — the largest single donation they have ever received. The Vandrevalas were major donors to the Elephant Family — the charity behind the Elephant Parade earlier this year that saw hundreds of decorated elephant statues placed all over the capital. And they have established a charitable foundation dedicated to improving mental health care in India.
Why London? And why now? Although India is moving fast in economic terms, entrepreneurs do not yet have access to sophisticated capital markets, law firms and insurance services, all areas in which London leads the world as the international capital of capital. Indians also like Britain's public schools, legal system and lack of corruption. History and Britain’s colonial legacy plays its own part. ‘An Indian wants to demonstrate to the folk back home that he has arrived,’ says the marketing guru Suhel Seth. ‘He wants to be more British than the British, but also to prove to his erstwhile colonial masters that he can cock a snook at them.’ At Number one in the Sunday Times Rich List Lakshmi Mittal is doing just that.