|Financial Mail on Sunday, London|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 9, 2004 - He owns luxury hotels, including Cliveden in Berkshire, the Royal Crescent in Bath, Somerset, and Sharrow Bay in the Lake District. The walls of his properties are bedecked with Old Masters worth millions. And his hotel guests are ferried about in company-owned helicopters and fleets of plush cars -- Ferraris, Aston Martins and Bentleys.
Andrew Davis also luxuriates in what he confesses is the "meaningless" title of Lord Davis, thanks to an honour that came with the purchase of one of his hotels.
Despite an uncharacteristic show of openness last week when the secretive businessman filed accounts for the first time for his hotels empire, question marks remain over how he funded his opulent portfolio.
The Mail on Sunday's Rich Report estimates his private wealth at an astonishing UKpound 250 million. And 40-year-old Davis, who is divorced, has been linked with buying London's prestigious Lanesborough Hotel as well as reportedly expressing interest in the Connaught in Mayfair -- Baroness Thatcher's favourite retreat.
According to accounts filed at Companies House, his business empire seems less affluent. Von Essen Hotels made a profit of only UKpound 1.4 million last year on a rather modest turnover of UKpound 21 million. The latest figures do not reveal Davis's salary, though they show he did not receive a dividend.
The hotels company is a subsidiary of Von Essen Mining & Development Corporation (UK) Ltd, which made a pre-tax profit of just UKpound 6,469 last year on an unspecified turnover.
While the accounts reveal that the hotels are valued at UKpound 98 million, bank loans against the properties total about UKpound 50 million. A further loan of UKpound 5 million is from Davis himself and UKpound 3 million more is from Channel Islands trusts.
Davis also runs an aviation company that supplies helicopters -- used by the Royal Family -- and a fleet of limousines. But Von Essen Aviation made a UKpound 117,885 loss last year on turnover of UKpound 309,237 while Von Essen Investments made a pre-tax loss of UKpound 1,601. None of the figures suggests a fortune significant enough to bankroll his purchase of some 16 hotels, nor does it look likely to underwrite the acquisition of the ten that are on his "to buy' list.
The Von Essen name supposedly comes from a titled Austrian aunt of Davis, known as the Countess Von Essen of Austria, to whom he is reportedly related through his mother's family. But while it has been speculated that the countess was the source of Davis's riches, he claims she played only a small role in getting him started.
In a rare interview, Davis insisted his money was made "primarily in art, property and then art again'.
Other reports suggest the Davis family received a UKpound 200 million windfall from the 1997 sale of Redland Tiles to French company Lafarge.
Windfall, debt, investments or inheritance -- the source of Davis's fortune is a mystery. Yet he has bought hotels at a formidable rate in the past decade, including Thornbury Castle near Bristol. The latest accounts cover the period to last June. Davis has bought five more properties since, including Buckland Manor in Gloucestershire.
The Lanesborough, for which Davis has a bid on the table, is designed to be his London flagship -- a desirable retreat acting as a gateway to his country park properties. But close associates reckon his chances of acquiring it are slim.
Though he refuses to discuss the rumours, it has been persistently speculated that Sir Paul McCartney is set to fund his next venture.
Davis has recently restructured the company and issued UKpound 50 million in new shares.
He spends most of his time at his five-storey Georgian house in London's Knightsbridge. His three other homes include a villa on France's Cote d'Azur with his close companion Andrew Onraet. Even here the mystery continues.
Also registered as living with Davis is Erika Jones, tantalisingly known only as an Austrian associate and former director of Von Essen Mining and Hotels.
By Sarah Bridge and Peter Day. Additional reporting by Martin Tomkinson.
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(c) 2004, Financial Mail on Sunday, London. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. LAF,