21 year old turns loan into billions
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Mortgages & homes
A property fairytale: from £6,000 to £9bn
Damon Syson, Live magazine, Mail on Sunday
5 December 2007

Thirtysomething Brothers Nick and Christian Candy turned a £6,000 loan into a £9bn property empire. In a rare interview they explain their success, spotting the niches of making super-luxury for the super-rich, and how they're riding out the global credit crisis...

The year is 1995 and brothers Nick and Christian Candy have just bought their first property, a one-bedroom flat in Redcliffe Square, Earls Court, London.

Nick is 23 and working at advertising agency J Walter Thompson. Christian is 21 and studying for a business management degree at King's College, London.

Using a £6,000 loan from their grandmother, the brothers renovate the £122,000 apartment while living in it. Eighteen months later they sell it for £172,000.

Delighted with the £50,000 profit, they look for a similar property in need of modernisation and eight months later are another £90,000 up. They're on a roll.

Twelve years later, newspapers report that a consortium led by Nick and Christian has just purchased Chelsea Barracks, one of the most prestigious chunks of real estate in London. The figure paid for this 13-acre site between Sloane Square and the Thames is reportedly in the region of £900m.

With this sale, the brothers - now aged 34 and 33 - are sitting on three of the most exciting private developments in the world. With flats reportedly ranging from £20-£100m, One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge promises to be the most expensive development in British history; while planning permission to turn the former Middlesex Hospital north of Oxford Street into 'Noho Square' - an apartment and commercial complex worth close to £1.5bn - puts the brothers in control of 20 acres of London, most of it in Westminster. And that's only in the capital: globally, the value of their portfolio is estimated to be £9bn.

What happened in those intervening years is one of the most remarkable entrepreneurial stories witnessed in post-millennial Britain. How exactly did two brothers from a modest middle-class background turn a six-grand loan into a multi-million pound fortune? How did they carve out a niche in a market dominated by well-established and powerful players? How did they get away with paying, and charging, what some claim are preposterous sums for prime London sites?

Naturally along the way there have been detractors - with frequent accusations of hubris, profligacy and Icarian over-reaching. As their empire grows, it seems the world is waiting for their wings to melt and the Candy brothers to come crashing down to Earth.

But from where I'm sitting, the crash is going to have to be mighty big to cause even a ruffle in their tailor-made shirts. Maybe that is because my seat is in the meeting room of Candy & Candy's global headquarters in Knightsbridge, and is a sumptuous velvet and crocodile-skin Fendi Casa armchair.

I'm waiting for the arrival of Nick Candy, the elder of the two brothers. The Candys don't really give interviews these days. They don't need to. It's only the fact that we've bombarded them with questions for two months that has persuaded Nick - the less coy of the pair - to do the decent thing and offer Live an hour of his extremely valuable time.

The office, opposite Harrods on Brompton Road, is very much in keeping with the sleek Candy & Candy aesthetic. Two suitably attractive receptionists and a bank of plasma screens greet you as you emerge from the lift. On either side of the desk are liquid-crystal glass dividers that change from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button. Behind them a 60-strong team of design, marketing and technical experts labours to create what could soon become the world's most important lifestyle brand.

'Candy & Candy are the biggest arrival in the property industry this decade,' says Giles Barry, editor of Property Week. 'The Establishment has turned its nose up at them, saying they are too young and that they over-pay for sites. But at the same time it's secretly envious of their success.'

Even their detractors agree that the genius of the Candy brothers' vision was in recognising that millennial London was not just becoming the financial capital of the world, but the city everyone wanted to live in. The influx of Middle Eastern royalty, Russian oligarchs and billionaire tax exiles lured by Gordon Brown's open-armed policy needed to be catered for, not just sold expensive apartments but welcomed into a kind of billionaire boys' club.

'I am very impressed by what they have done,' says a rival property developer. 'It is clever lateral thinking. All of their competitors bring out the tired old brochure or buy the conventional advertising, but this is not what these guys do. They spend a lot of time working their contacts, because these contacts lead to other contacts and if you want to get into the top echelon of the money world you need to move in those circles.'

In a nutshell, the Candys infiltrated the jetset. They watched, took note and then sold its members everything they desired - lock, stock and barrel. 'The most valuable thing in the world for these people,' Nick Candy has said, 'is time. They love the fact that with Candy & Candy, what you get is a one-stop-shop.'

Although the brothers are inseparable, temperamentally they are said to be very different. Former employees describe Christian as the money man, while Nick's talents lie in networking. He won't just provide you with an apartment; he'll get you a table at The Ivy or invite you down to the Candy yacht. The Candys don't just sell property and design, they sell a lifestyle - one they themselves now lead.

The meeting room has, in pride of place, glass cases displaying architectural scale models of breakthrough Candy & Candy projects: Manresa Road in Chelsea, the 19th-century building they converted into 16 'eight-star luxury living' apartments, the largest of which hit the headlines as 'London's most expensive flat' at £27m.

21, Chesham Place Candy's penthouse flat
Plush: The £15m 21 Chesham Place

Then there's 21 Chesham Place in Belgravia, where just one huge 'lateral space' apartment remains to be sold - the Garden Apartment, on the market for £16 million. Nick Candy strides purposefully into the room wearing a sober grey suit and no tie. He looks tired. His eyes are redrimmed and there's a faint sheen to his skin. 'I flew in from Hong Kong this morning,' he explains. 'I've been up since 5am, and I will be working until midnight.' The self-avowed 'failed accountant' is frequently described as 'bullish', a trait that manifests itself almost immediately when I bring up the looming threat of global recession.

With the Candys' ante upped to such dizzying heights, does he wake up sweating at night? 'No,' he says, with the expression of someone unfamiliar with the concept of self-doubt. 'Anything under a million will be seriously hit because they rely on mortgages.

But stuff over ten million? I don't think so. In the week after the credit crisis I sold three flats over £12m. I sold one last week for over £50m. So am I worried? No.' He reaches for a glass of water and his sleeve rides up, offering a glimpse of a serious piece of horological hardware in the shape of a Girard-Perregaux ww.tc Financial with rose gold case and crocodile strap. This £13,200 timepiece provides a simultaneous reading of the time in 24 time zones. Which is handy, because in the past month the property magnate has circumnavigated the globe twice.

'This year I'll do about 1,000 hours on a plane,' he offers. 'If you work it out, that's a couple of months. In the past two weeks I've spent more time sleeping on planes than anywhere else. And in two days' time I'll be going around the world once again, stopping off in Las Vegas, LA, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Macau.' What was he doing in the Far East? 'We've bought some hotel chains in China,' he says matter-of-factly, adding that the recent mission included 'a trip to Macau and dinner with Stanley Ho, who pretty much owns Macau.' (Forbes magazine has Mr Ho as 104th richest man in the world, with a fortune of $7bn.) Nick Candy was once reported as claiming to know 20% of the world's wealthiest people and being able to pick up the phone to 40 billionaires.

He shrugs. 'Yeah, maybe. I was probably misquoted, but it's true we've got some fantastic clients. We're very fortunate to be connected with the movers and shakers of all the global cities of the world. You can usually tell when we've got a client in here because their bodyguards are all over the place: two outside the front door, two in the lobby, one in the lift…'

The Candys have been described, with a hint of mistrust, as 'young men in a hurry' - and in conversation Nick Candy certainly comes across like someone whose nitrous button has been pressed. He crackles with energy and talks nineteen to the dozen, words tumbling out as if they're late for a meeting. His accent is neutral, with a mild trace of estuary creeping in occasionally. Most importantly, he possesses the relaxed self-assurance necessary to hold your own around the kind of people who have subjects rather than friends. Part of the Candy & Candy mythology is based on tales of outrageous and futuristic requests from clients unaccustomed to hearing the word 'no'. 'We don't get asked for as much of the really extreme stuff as people think,' Candy insists. 'Though we have been asked to supply a Jacuzzi on a private jet before, by a Middle Eastern customer.

Obviously turbulence would present a bit of an issue. And we are currently looking at designing Airbus A380s for personal use.' Airbus A380s? As in the largest passenger jet in the world, a double-decker superjumbo capable of seating 853 people? What kind of person needs one of those parked in their driveway? 'We're not talking celebrities here,' says Candy, who becomes understandably uncomfortable when asked to provide even the sketchiest details about his clients.

'These are global… you know… rulers of countries, oligarchs, some of the richest entrepreneurs in the world. The kind of people who can afford these things.' Just to be absolutely sure they can afford them, the brothers employ an investigation company to check out all prospective clients. Once they have established that you're Gatsby-rich, your every whim will be catered for. Say, for example, you decide your new apartment could do with a library of leather-bound first editions? 'Yeah, we've done that,' says Candy. 'We've done fur fridges, champagne cellars like you wouldn't believe, swimming pools that turn into ballrooms.

'At the moment we're working on a gold-leaf interior for a car - which wouldn't be my first choice - and a helicopter with a boardroom in the back. And we've just been asked to design a walk-in wardrobe for a client who loves shoes. He wants at least 150 pairs on display simultaneously.'

In the early days the Candys built their reputation on providing a very specific aesthetic - slick, minimalist bachelor pads bristling with gadgets: Gattaca meets 007. They were the first to introduce biometric reading (fingerprint-recognition door locks) into the UK, and Nick Candy once memorably commented: 'If you're running your own bath and drawing your own curtains, you're living in the past.' Candy & Candy has an 'innovations' team working full-time on developing new technology.

Some of the theoretical requests put to this team can be outlandish, bordering on science fiction: 'I've asked the guys to work out a way of making a floating runway,' says Candy. 'So in 20 years' time you'll be able to land your plane next to your superyacht.' The word bespoke is crucial to the Candy & Candy service. Designers shadow their clients for days or even weeks to get an accurate picture of their lifestyle. Or as they put it, 'To see if they have a left-handed chef'. 'You would love to know how some of these people live,' Candy chuckles. 'Sometimes our idea of luxuries are their ideas of necessities. You might think having a helicopter pad in the back garden, 20 housekeepers and two tennis coaches is over the top. But for them it's like you buying a sandwich.' When you look at the meteoric success of the Candy brothers, two questions tend to crop up.

One, how did they do it? And two, how did they do it so quickly? When Candy & Candy first started grabbing headlines, everyone assumed they were a pair of trustfund kids blessed with an enviably memorable name, dabbling in a spot of interior design. This obviously still rankles: 'When you see two young guys like us who've done pretty well, it's easy to paint a picture of a couple of playboys rather than two hard-working guys,' says Nick.

'Chris and I came from nothing. We're selfmade. We started with nothing, so we have nothing to lose. And we have everything to gain.' Nick Candy was born in Wimbledon, London, in January 1973; Christian arrived 18 months later.

They were brought up in the affluent Surrey commuter-belt town of Banstead. Their father, Anthony Candy, managed an art studio and a media production company - giving the boys an early introduction into the worlds of advertising and design - while their Cypriot mother Patricia attended stage school before becoming a drama teacher. 'I think I've done 'At the moment we're working on a gold-leaf interior for a car and a helicopter with a boardroom' good job,' their mother told one of Live's reporters. 'I'm very proud of them. I am a driven person myself and I think Nick and Christian get bits of their determination from both their parents.'

The brothers attended the local private school in Epsom where neither excelled academically, though Nick was good at sport, playing for the first XV rugby team and eventually becoming 'head of school'. Classmates that the Mail on Sunday's Live magazine spoke to seemed surprised at his subsequent success. 'Nick was head boy,' recalls fellow Epsom student Lawrence Tudor-Williams, 'but among what I would describe as an indifferent group of boys. You would not have thought of his name if you thought about who would be most successful from our year. You would have imagined him being a chartered accountant or a lawyer with a 2.4-children lifestyle.'

After Epsom, Nick studied human geography at Reading University while Christian graduated with a degree in business management from King's College London. Post-university, Nick worked at KPMG, J Walter Thompson and Dentsu, while Christian joined investment bank Merrill Lynch. In their spare time, between 1995 and 1999, the brothers began doing up flats, gradually working their way up the property ladder. Eventually the brothers were able to give up their day jobs and set up Candy & Candy.

'We were lucky,' he shrugs. 'We created a brand and by early 2001 people were coming to us and saying we want you involved in our deals. We also did it at a time when property prices were booming exponentially.

Today they've definitely softened.' Timing, he freely admits, was the key to their subsequent success. Despite no formal training in property or design, the brothers rapidly made a name for themselves, buying flats in Belgravia, Mayfair and Chelsea, stuffing them with gadgets, sumptuous decor and state-of-the-art security and then selling them at £2,000 per square foot to the Russian oligarchs who were moving their money into the UK. At one stage 25% of their sales were to Russian clients.

The controversial émigré Boris Berezovsky is said to have been an early customer. 'Hotels are the smartest thing some people have ever seen, so they want to replicate it for themselves,' says David Forbes of Chesterfield estate agents. 'Candy & Candy woke up to this before others did. What they are doing ticks every box for a certain type of buyer.'

How did they get so knowledgeable about the habits of the super-rich? 'We learned it ourselves,' says Candy. 'How did Rupert Murdoch become a media tycoon? He taught himself along the way. Every day we're learning. Our learning curve is so steep. The minute I stop learning I'll be bored. 'I've just come back from Hong Kong and Shanghai learning about a whole different culture and how they do things. You can't have a fourth floor or a 14th floor in a building there because four represents death. We went to meet the vice-mayor of Shanghai and one of the people we were with took him a clock as a gift. In China giving someone a clock is the worst present imaginable - it's like the Mafia sending someone a fish.'

With their reputation booming in tandem with London's growing pre-eminence, it was time to up the stakes. In 2004, Christian Candy founded CPC Group, the Guernsey-based investment arm of their operation. Their business is now split in two: Candy & Candy on the design side, CPC Group behind large-scale property development interests and joint ventures. Candy & Candy do not own One Hyde Park, for example, though they have been 'appointed' as the project's design and development managers. Which in layman's terms sounds a bit like ringing yourself up and offering yourself a job.

By September 2004, the brothers had amassed so much money that they were able to put up £13m for 21 Chesham Place, a former BT telephone exchange in Belgravia which they proposed to convert into six luxury flats. A year later, after planning was approved, they had it revalued at £25m. 'Chesham Place was the tipping point for us,' says Candy. 'The first big life-changing deal. We did it on our own. We got planning and we persuaded Norman Foster to design a relatively boutique building. With Chesham Place we went from doing one-off flats to doing something pretty substantial.

'At the time everyone said, "Oh they may have planning for it but they'll never build it." Well, that building is finished. It's built. The first flat has been taken and the others will be occupied over the next one, two or three months.'

Since then, the Candys' two-pronged business has expanded at a frightening rate; these days they are the super-rich, selling a playboy lifestyle which they now lead, with all the trappings - the yachts, the private jets, the fleet of cars.

They currently have hundreds of properties on the go, from Monaco to Moscow to Majorca, taking in the south of France, Ukraine, Barbados and Grenada - not to mention recent forays into the Far East and the US. Is it true that their global portfolio is worth £9bn?

'Maybe more, maybe less,' Candy says. 'Depends on how you value the properties. Globally all our properties are probably in excess of $25bn. So that will give you a feel for it.'

Naturally there are some who claim the whole empire is built on sand. One report even claimed that the brothers' business operated at a loss last year and is actually £10m in debt. 'Where did you read that?' snorts Candy, irritated but also faintly amused. He leans forward: 'If we sold everything now, we would be sitting on hundreds and hundreds of millions. But we're long-term players. We're 34 and 33. We could have stopped work three years ago. But we like what we do. I wouldn't change what I do for Lewis Hamilton's job, David Beckham's job, anyone's job. This is the hardest I've ever worked in my life but I've got no intention of slowing down and neither has Christian. And we have a very nice life.'...

.A 'nice life' is something of an understatement. In an industry that prides itself on its discretion and stealth wealth, the Candys understand the importance of making a splash. In London they drive around in a Maybach 65S (the first of its kind in the UK) with personalised number plate 1CC. With a list price of more than £215,000, this German-built limo allows rear-seat passengers to lie fully flat and watch TV on 9.5in screens while travelling at 155mph (0-62mph requires just 5.2 seconds).

Their favourite car, however, is the top-of-the-range Range Rover. So they bought four of them. 'We've also got a Rolls-Royce Phantom,' he says, adding with a wave of his hand: 'We've had Ferraris, Aston Martins, Porsches. We've probably got about ten cars.'

Like many of their clients, the brothers are tax exiles. Home is now Monaco, where their apartment's 'bibliothèque' has 30ft floor-toceiling windows with a view across the port to the Grimaldi Palace (where they have been visitors of Prince Albert's on more than one occasion).

It also has a spa, gym, cinema room, games room and video conference room. 'My own bedroom has a cinema room off it,' adds Candy. Much has been made, too, of the Candys' sharpsuited look, which lends them an air of the Krays.

On my way into the building I pass Christian Candy looking crisper than a newly minted banknote in white shirt, pink tie and immaculate black covert coat with velvet lapels. Nick's bespoke suits, meanwhile, are by Savile Row tailor Spencer Hart. 'Or Dolce & Gabbana and Armani if I'm going off-the-peg. And the only shoes to have in the world are Berluti,' he adds, pointing at an elegantly buckled wingtip.

And yet, in spite of everything, he still looks faintly embarrassed when talking about the trappings of their new-found wealth. When I ask how many watches he owns, he looks sheepish and winces: 'Too many.'

The brothers' biggest extravagance, he confides, is their yacht, the £11m Candyscape, moored in Monaco with ten crew on permanent standby. 'I mean it's not as if you need to have a yacht,' he smirks. 'But then again we live in Monaco so for four or five months of the year we use it non-stop, every day. And a lot of my friends use it - it's a great way of escaping real life.'

They used to rent out Candyscape to Hollywood celebrities and other super-rich but they've stopped, even though it seems criminal to forego £120,000 a week for doing nothing. 'The problem is it's like hiring out your own home,' he says. 'You feel weird going back, especially if it's been mistreated. I chartered it to someone I know personally and they and their kids were not very respectful. I pulled a blind down one day and there was green snot all over it. I said to the guy, "You'll have to pay for it," and he said, "Take it out of the tip I gave your captain."'

For the fourth year running Candyscape will be present during the Cannes Film Festival, hosting breakfast every day for between ten and 20 Hollywood movers and shakers in May. The Candys' close friends include actress Gwyneth Paltrow and US Idol presenter Ryan Seacrest.

How many Oscar winners have come on board? 'A few,' he shrugs. 'Quite a few.' This weekend he's off to Las Vegas on business. 'I'm not a gambler,' he adds hastily. 'I get upset if I lose £200 on blackjack or roulette. Of course, some people might tell you I'm gambling here with One Hyde Park, but I don't really see myself as a gambler.' It's nearly lunchtime, and below us on Brompton Road the traffic is building up. A van driver toots his horn in frustration.

A few hundred yards from where we're sitting there's a large hole in the ground into which 80 people are planning to throw very large sums of money - One Hyde Park. Although Candy spends much of his life with a hard hat on, he admits he hasn't visited what he refers to as 'the hole' for about six weeks.

'There's no reason for me to at the moment,' he says, adding with a rueful grin: 'And if I do, I might get pelted by people for holding up the traffic. Much has been made of the roadworks and general disruption caused by the cranes and diggers, but Candy is unrepentant: 'God, I'm as fed up with the traffic congestion as anyone. So I can understand why people get annoyed. If the Government and Transport For London had said, "Right, we'll shut the whole of Knightsbridge down for two weekends," we could have finished the whole thing. That way you wouldn't have had three years of congestion. But they chose not to do it that way.

'If this was Shanghai they would have shut it down for two weeks, the job would have been done and we could have moved on. But in this country they discuss Crossrail for 15 years. In 15 years in Shanghai they've built an entire metro system half the size of London's.'

Formerly an unloved Fifties office block called Bowater House, the site of One Hyde Park was bought by the Candys for £150m; they then hired Richard Rogers's architectural practice, Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners, to create the most sumptuous residential apartment block in the world. The 80 apartments, which should be ready for habitation in 2010, will have 24-hour room service (provided via an underground walkway to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel), baths hewn from wood, to-ceiling fridges, panic rooms, bulletproof windows, private lifts direct to each flat, eye scanners, parking spaces for 115 vehicles below ground and impressive views over Hyde Park and The Serpentine.

Descriptions of the Candy brothers may range from 'cocky' and 'wide' to downright arrogant. And yet during the time I spend with Nick Candy he is courteous, expansive and remarkably forthright. The only topic that causes him to clam up is the cost of apartments in One Hyde Park. He refuses to confirm newspaper reports that the first penthouse has been sold for £85m.

'Confidentiality is paramount,' he says, 'but the two things I can tell you are that it will be the best residential building the world has ever seen and that of the 80 apartments, just under half are sold, with 50% stage payments.

'Normally you'd pay 10% and then 90% on completion. Here we've got 50% stage payments. So even if we sell nothing between now and 2010, the building's done.'

Some critics portray the Candy brothers as London's Trojan Horse. As the Evening Standard put it: 'The sight of great swathes of London being carved up to suit the whims of foreign multi-millionaires offends some.'

Candy is swift to refute this: 'Is it bad that we have foreign companies investing in London? It is the global capital of the world today. So people are embarrassed that London's powerful? That people with huge amounts of money want to invest in London? I'm not embarrassed by that.' He leans forward and fixes me with a hard stare: 'But we've never had any Russian money in the company.'

One of the enduring myths about the Candy brothers is that they're a front for some kind of shady Russian syndicate, a fanciful idea the brothers have repeatedly denied. 'People love to speculate,' Candy says wearily. Does the constant sniping anger him? He shrugs. 'For anyone to have set up a brand as quickly as we did does seem to be a mystery. If there's a mystery to anything, people are inquisitive.

'People are always trying to find a chink in our armour. They love to say it's all going to fall down around our ears. That doesn't bother me. Every day someone says that, it makes me work harder. So please keep saying it.'

Likewise there have been claims that Candy & Candy have a tendency to overcharge for their exquisite nick-nacks. I mention one rumour about monogrammed towels charged at £1,000 each. 'That's absolute nonsense,' he tuts. 'Yes, we do Candy & Candy monogrammed towels, but one towel is not £1,000. Towels for a whole apartment maybe. You have to remember that people who've made a lot of money tend to be careful about how they spend it. They look at everything to make sure it's value for money.'

Like latterday Victorian industrialists, the Candys want to leave an indelible mark for posterity, not just in bricks and mortar but also through philanthropy. As Candy says: 'I want my children to walk past One Hyde Park and look up and say, "Daddy did that."

'We want to put something back into the life of London both in the buildings we build but also in charitable ways. You can't spend all the money that you make. You can only go for so many nice meals and so many nice holidays. You don't need all the boats 'We're working on a floating runway so in 20 years' time you'll be able to land your plane next to your yacht' and planes. We just want to leave a legacy both here and globally.'

Starting a family probably won't be imminent: in February Nick split from Brigitta Spinocchia, his girlfriend of seven years and Candy & Candy's former creative director. 'She no longer works here but I speak to her a lot,' he adds. 'We're still good friends.'

That means he's now an extremely eligible bachelor. Has he had a lot of offers? He blushes with embarrassment, and mumbles something like. 'Oh, I don't know about that.' I'm suddenly reminded that he's only 34. The process of rolling out the Candy brand is well under way. They're already designing huge yachts with hovercrafts, submarines and cars on board, not to mention jets and helicopters. For the next stage, they're looking at going into hotels (designing them, not operating them), as well as high-end fashion and home furnishings. And the company will soon move into new state-of-the art global headquarters, overlooking the Houses of Parliament and the Thames, occupying more than 26,000 sq ft of space over nine floors. A suitably grand statement of intent.

Meanwhile the expensive toys continue to arrive. They have just bought their first jet: a Bombardier Challenger 605 - for £15m - and have another aircraft in the pipeline. They are eagerly awaiting delivery of a new £30m yacht, Candyscape II, which will have all the accoutrements of Candyscape plus a whole lot more. They recently fitted it with a 100in plasma screen, which weighed so much they had to rebalance the boat. Concept designs are on the drawing board for Candyscape III. And in 2008 they take delivery of a 60-knot chase boat, which does the Monaco to St Tropez run in a sprightly 35 minutes. It's going to be called Catch Me If You Candy.

Amid all this fun the spectre of world recession is always a sobering thought. Candy admits that the supply of oligarchs and sheikhs arriving in the UK with bulging suitcases is not unlimited. And although people will still be attracted to living in London, with property prices stagnating our bejewelled capital presents less of a juicy carrot for investors. Recently the Candy brothers have focused their attention on Beverly Hills, where their youth and chutzpah earns them admiration rather than brickbats.

'Opening our office in Rodeo Drive was a pretty proud moment,' says Candy. 'To go somewhere like America and pull off the biggest real estate development deal in the history of southern California [they bought an eight-acre plot at 9900 Wilshire Boulevard for £250m] and set up an office there is pretty amazing.' Are they courting Hollywood? 'Not really,' he sniffs.

'A lot of movie stars wouldn't be able to afford the homes we're building. And they tend to live in Malibu or the Hollywood Hills. I believe the key cities of the world are London, New York, Beverly Hills, Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Our goal is to have an office in all of those cities. Then I'll sit back and say maybe we're achieving.'

• Additional reporting by Mark Hollingsworth and Adam Luck


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