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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 10:36 GMT
Profile: Richard Desmond
By Jorn Madslien
BBC News Online business reporter

Richard Desmond

It has always been clear that the adult industry is a big money spinner, but it has come as a shock to many that top-shelf publishing could provide a path into the higher echelons of society.

And yet, this was the path taken by Richard Desmond, the gritty porn publisher turned respectable Labour party donor and powerful newspaper proprietor.

Mr Desmond already owns the Express Newspapers titles, and his ambition to add The Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator to his portfolio could make him into a media mogul with serious clout.

It is a prospect that sends shivers down the spines of many who work for the Hollinger titles that are being auctioned off.

Staff fear they might be given the same ruthless treatment that their Express colleagues got when Mr Desmond wielded his axe a few years ago, slashing jobs and costs to shape Express Newspapers into a very profitable venture.

Power

Similar concerns have been expressed in Westminster.

Mr Desmond has been feared by members of the political elite after he acquired the prestigious Express titles in 2000 with money he had made in the adult industry.

The acquisition caused a great deal of controversy following the revelation that Mr Desmond donated 100,000 to the Labour Party soon after the government had approved the takeover deal.

The price Mr Desmond paid for the Express was 125m, and it seems that a generous portion of political clout came embedded in the package - as illustrated by Mr Desmond's latest activity in Westminster.

According to recent press reports, Mr Desmond has been telling Tony Blair that he would defect to the Conservative Party if the chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, was to succeed him as prime minister.

Adult spread

Mr Desmond's push into the sombre worlds of newspaper publishing and political hob-nobbing has done little to pull him away from his origins, however.

On the contrary, he still owns a slew of adult magazine titles, such as Asian Babes and Readers' Wives, and as the owner of the Fantasy Channel, the most popular adult channel in the UK, he maintains a strong presence in the growing adult television sector.

And further cash should be heading Mr Desmond's way soon following a recent deal to distribute his adult channels via Top-Up TV, a new subscription card service for Freeview users.

Personal fortune

All this has made Mr Desmond a very wealthy man.

His personal wealth is estimated at around 550m according to the Evening Standard's list of the 100 richest Londoners, though some estimates put it even higher.

His lifestyle goes a long way to reflect this.

He lives in a large house in North London and is believed to enjoy many of the trappings of massive wealth such as a butler and a Bentley.

Not bad for a man who left school in north London at 14 with barely any academic qualifications before applying for a job as a cloakroom attendant at Thomson Newspapers.

There, he met the classified-advertisement director, and went to work for him instead.

He soon moved to another company and by 21, owned his own house and two record shops.

It was his interest in music - he played drums in a jazz band - that led him to launch a magazine called International Musician in 1974.

Once in publishing, he moved on to produce a British edition of the American adult magazine, Penthouse, before expanding with other adult titles.

A self-made man tends to get what he wants, Mr Desmond has also gathered a reputation for a volcanic temper, the most infamous illustration being when he ordered a female executive, who was late for a board meeting to stand in a cupboard.

She refused and resigned.


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