The scrap dealer’s son who met Queen at Balmoral
FOR David ‘Spotty’ Rowland, a visit to Balmoral to meet the Queen in the summer of 2010 marked the peak of his social ascent.
Mr Rowland’s host that day was his old friend Prince Andrew, who, having introduced him to his mother, found a secluded spot on the Deeside estate for the two men to have lunch.
Perhaps the secretive property magnate, then 65, allowed himself a moment of reflection as he drank in his surroundings. In addition to counting Royalty among his acquaintances, he was one of the richest men in Britain and, as the Tories most generous benefactor – he once paid £20,000 for a portrait of then Prime Minister David Cameron – had just been appointed party treasurer.
Not bad for a scrap metal dealer’s son from South London who left school without a single qualification.
But just nine days after his Balmoral sojourn (Andrew’s paedophile friend Jeffrey Epstein was given a similar tour six years earlier), Mr Rowland quit before he could take up his new Tory post. It followed media scrutiny of his business dealings and colourful private life, and fears he might tarnish the party’s reputation.
Ironically, it was his links to Royalty, along with his cash, that had reassured party chiefs when doubts about his suitability first emerged.
Starting his working life as an office
boy, he bought his first house at 18, sold it, bought another one, sold that and formed his own property company.
By the time he was 23, he had made his first million and he floated his company, Fordham, on the Stock Exchange a year later. The precocious entrepreneur was dubbed ‘Spotty’ because of his relative youth and lingering acne – and the nickname stuck.
His business activities frequently kept him in the headlines. He was one of the first financiers to spot the potential money-making value of top soccer clubs, and was the secret figure behind the £800,000 takeover of Edinburgh Hibernian, parent company of Hibs football club in the Scottish capital, in 1987.
But the deal turned sour when the company went into receivership – after having asked thousands of fans to plough their money into the club.
In addition, he used one of his trusts to buy the upmarket estate agents Chesterton, which later also went into receivership after 200 years of trading.
His UK interests were first controlled by companies in the Bahamas and Panama before they were transferred under the aegis of family trusts to the tax haven of Guernsey, where Mr Rowland occupies the island’s largest privately owned estate. His critics speak of his vainglory, which peaked with him erecting a statue of himself outside his mansion, Havilland Hall, and unveiled by Prince Andrew. Who else?
Members of the Royal Family visiting the island have always stayed at Government House, official home of the Lieutenant Governor. On this occasion, 2005, Andrew stayed with the Rowlands.
The official explanation was that ‘it was going to be a late night’.
How the two men first became friends is not known, but, as with Epstein, there is a strong symbiotic element to the relationship. One friend of the Prince said: ‘Rowland is like an older surrogate brother to Andrew.’
Like Epstein, Mr Rowland once came to the rescue of the Duchess of York, paying £40,000 to help clear her debts.
The two men appeared publicly together in 2009. This time it was the Duke of York’s services that were required. He unveiled his friend’s latest acquisition, the Luxembourg arm of an Icelandic bank he snapped up after it succumbed to the international financial crash. It was renamed
David is like an older surrogate brother to Prince Andrew
Banque Havilland after his mansion. At the time Andrew said: ‘In the past I have had the pleasure to meet and work with the Rowland family in the framework of my functions and I wish the family every success in this new business venture.’
Further links surfaced in 2011 when The Mail on Sunday revealed that the two men secretly flew to Libya together when the Prince met Colonel Gaddafi.
Having built a £730 million fortune, Mr Rowland was a tax exile for more than 30 years but returned to the UK before the 2010 General Election so he could pump £2.7 million into the Tories’ campaign war chest.
Jonathan Rowland, 44, the second of David’s eight children from two marriages, inherited his father’s entrepreneurial flair.
He left school at 16 but seized the opportunity of the dotcom boom of the late 1990s to make £42 million from an internet investment company called JellyWorks. At one point its shares rose 2,000 per cent in a few days.
He tried to repeat the success in 2011 with JellyBook. He launched the investment firm at that year’s Monaco Grand Prix, chartering a 161ft yacht with Italian marble floors to schmooze clients.
The business later had to be wound down after Jonathan suffered a stroke in 2013.
SOCIAL ASCENT: David Rowland at Princess Eugenie’s wedding, and, inset, in his youth