Sir David Barclay moved in tandem with his twin for most of their careers, first in the property and hotel sector before moving into shipping, retail and media
Sir David Barclay moved in tandem with his twin for most of their careers, first in the property and hotel sector before moving into shipping, retail and media © AFP via Getty Images

David Barclay, the British billionaire who built a business empire with his identical twin brother that included ownership of The Daily Telegraph newspaper, has died after a short illness aged 86.

Born within minutes of each other to a family of humble means in west London, Sir David and his brother Frederick moved in tandem as businessmen for most of their careers, first in the property and hotel sector before moving into shipping, retail and media.

While the Barclays fiercely guarded their privacy, often through the courts, serious tensions within the family and between the brothers spilled into public in recent years.

This culminated last year in Sir Frederick and his daughter Amanda suing a group of Sir David’s direct relatives for allegedly being complicit in bugging 1,000 of his private conversations in the Ritz hotel.

The dispute was partly over the offshore family trust, which divided the Barclay brothers’ assets among their children.

At points the brothers’ holdings spanned the Ritz and Cavendish hotels in London, which were sold in 2020 and 2012 respectively; the former Littlewoods home shopping business that became the online retailer Shop Direct; the brewing-to-shipping group Ellerman; and the Yodel delivery and logistics business.

But the Barclay family’s influence in large part came through its print titles, which the brothers began acquiring in the early 1990s with the purchase of The European and The Scotsman.

After working to develop the Sunday Business, which closed in 2008, the Thatcherite Barclay brothers seized the chance to buy the Telegraph family of newspapers, titles which still hold great sway with the Conservative party. In its obituary of Sir David, the Telegraph said it was an ambition “the brothers had nurtured since the 1980s”.

Initially in 2003, David and Frederick negotiated a controversial arrangement with the owner Conrad Black, the media baron who was later convicted of obstruction of justice and theft and pardoned by Donald Trump in 2019.

This involved paying Lord Black $326m via a private Canadian company, sidestepping the board of his Hollinger International group — an arrangement eventually struck down by a US judge. The Barclay brothers still secured the Telegraph newspapers and Spectator magazine in an auction in 2004, defeating the owners of the Daily Mail with a bid of £665m.

The brothers spent much of their time in a 92-room mock gothic castle on Brecqhou in the Channel Islands © BLOOMBERG NEWS

Over time Sir David and Sir Frederick stepped back from day-to-day management of the business, delegating to their children and spending more time in properties in Monte Carlo and a £60m, 92-room mock gothic castle on Brecqhou in the Channel Islands.

Sir David’s sons Aidan and Howard, who have taken on the leading role in running the Barclay businesses, told a court last year that their father and uncle Sir Frederick had retired in 1990.

During a separate legal dispute in 2012 over the company that owns the Claridges hotel, the court was told that Sir David had undergone heart surgery the year before and was “medically unfit” to give evidence. Friends of the brothers say the twins had barely spoken for several years.

The son of a travelling salesman from Kilmarnock who died when the twins were 13, Sir David’s early childhood included some hardship and upheaval. The brothers were evacuated from London several times during the second world war.

After leaving school at 14, his first jobs included painting and decorating, running a financially-challenged corner shop and working in the accounts department of General Electric. 

His first steps into the property business came in the early 1960s as an estate agent with his brother in Notting Hill. The brothers began to buy and sell assets, starting with boarding houses and small hotels and moving to more prestigious sites, including the 1979 acquisition of the Mirabeau Hotel in Monte Carlo. 


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