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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 12:23 GMT
The Vikings are coming
Viking costume
Icelanders are proud of their heritage

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Icelandic companies are buying a stake in most parts of British life, football being the latest. But how is the country with a population the same of Doncaster staging a Viking invasion?

Woolworths, House of Fraser, Hamleys, Karen Millen, Oasis, French Connection, Whittards and, of course, Iceland. Much of the British high street now has a little bit of fire and ice in it - in the form of Icelandic investment.

For a country with a population of just over 290,000 - roughly the same as Doncaster - Icelandic businesses are starting to become an increasingly important deal maker in the City.

Icelandic singer Bjork
Icelanders are often 'eccentric'
In the last few years they have frequently emerged as the backers for many takeovers in the retail sector, with companies and banks such as Baugur, Kaupthing and The FL Group buying stakes in many high street shops. But the Viking invasion does not stop there.

This week a consortium financed by Icelandic billionaire Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson bought West Ham football club for a cool 85m. Last month the country's oldest bank, Landsbanki, launched an internet account for British savers.

One of the biggest children's television shows to emerge in the UK this year, Lazytown, is a Icelandic import. There was also the hugely successful installation by artist Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern. The Weather Project drew massive crowds in 2003. Last year's Miss World even came from the country.

Spirit

On paper Iceland doesn't look like a big player. Sitting on the edge of the Arctic Circle, it is the most sparsely populated country in Europe, with an average about three inhabitants per square km. The UK has 383.

Almost four-fifths of the country are uninhabited and mostly uninhabitable. Of the 290,000 people who live there, around 180,000 live in and around the capital, Reykjavik.

Mount Hekla
Famous for its volcanoes
Before now, probably the biggest thing to come out of Iceland for the average Brit was Magnus Magnusson, followed by Bjork. It also hit the healines when it announced it was returning to commercial whaling this year after a 20-year halt, causing international condemnation. Yet the "land of fire and ice" is making a surprising impact in other areas.

The invasion by Icelandic businesses and entrepreneurs is the result of recent financial reforms.

In the late 1980s, it was a highly-regulated country and its prosperity