Richard Desmond - Biography
Richard Clive Desmond (born 8 December 1951) is an English publisher and businessman. He is the owner of Express Newspapers and founder in 1974 of Northern & Shell, which publishes various celebrity magazines, such as OK! and New!, and British national newspapers Daily Star and Daily Express. Northern & Shell also owns British television network Channel 5 as well as Portland TV, which, in turn, owns the adult TV channels Television X, Red Hot TV, and others.
In 2010, Desmond was ranked the equal-57th richest man in Britain according to the Sunday Times Rich List, with a net worth of £950 million, He was once again listed on the 2011 Sunday Times Rich List, with his fortune still at £950 million.
Desmond was born in north London into a Jewish family, the youngest of three children. His father, Cyril, was at one time managing director of cinema advertising company Pearl & Dean. An ear infection caused the sudden loss of Cyril Desmond's hearing and, according to Richard, he used to take him along, when he was no more than three years old, to act as "his ears" in business meetings, where he ostensibly acquired his "first taste of business dealings". After Cyril lost a significant amount of family money to gambling, his parents divorced and 11-year old Desmond moved with his mother into a flat above a garage; he has described his impoverished early adolescence as a time when he was "very fat and very lonely".
Richard and Janet Desmond were married for 27 years. In October 2010, in a little-reported development, Janet filed for divorce on the grounds of his "unreasonable behaviour" and was granted a decree nisi from the court."
Desmond left school at 15 and started working in the classified advertisements section of the Thomson Group, while playing the drums at night. After moving to another company, and, on the basis of his music interests, he opened a record shop.
Desmond founded Northern and Shell in 1974, and combining his interest in music and advertising, joined Ray Hammond in co-ownership of the latter's International Musician and Recording World monthly magazine. This was followed by the publication of Home Organist, whose editor contributed the old-school motto Forti Nihil Difficile ("Nothing is difficult for the strong" - it was Disraeli's motto), still used by the Northern & Shell publishing group. Desmond eventually bought out Hammond, who moved on to writing books as a futurologist.
In 1983, Northern & Shell obtained the licence to publish Penthouse in the United Kingdom. The company soon moved onto publishing a range of adult titles, including Asian Babes, alongside about 40 other specialist publications, on subjects such as bicycles, fitness, stamps, cars and cooking. It was the first company to move to the revamped Docklands and the Princess Royal opened the offices. When the company moved to the Northern & Shell Tower, the Duke of Edinburgh presided over the ceremonial.
In November 2000, Northern & Shell acquired Express Newspapers from United News & Media for £125m, enlarging the group to include the Daily and Sunday Express titles, the Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday (which Desmond started), and the Irish Daily Star (owned jointly with the Irish Independent News & Media group). The Daily and Sunday Express each sell around 700,000 copies per issue. The Daily Star is currently the only national paper to put on sales year on year with an 18% increase (September 2008 – September 2009) and circulation figures of around 850,000, largely due to aggressive pricing policies which significantly undercut competitors such as The Sun.
Northern & Shell also publishes a wide range of magazines including the celebrity weekly OK!, started as a monthly in 1993, which is the largest weekly magazine in the world, with 23 separate editions from the US to Australia to Azerbaijan and with a readership in excess of 31million.
After buying Express Newspapers, Desmond became embroiled in a feud with Viscount Rothermere, publisher of the Daily Mail, the rival to the Daily Express, largely derived from stories relating to Rothermere's private life.
In February 2004, in a move that some newspapers interpreted as an attempt to clear and bolster his image, in view of his bid for the Daily Telegraph, Desmond sold the adult magazine business to Remnant Media for an amount of approximately £10m.
In April 2004, the Daily Express reverted to supporting the Conservatives, after a period backing Labour. On the same day Desmond accused The Daily Telegraph, then considering accepting a takeover by the German Axel Springer group, of giving in to Nazis. Desmond reportedly harangued The Daily Telegraph's chief executive and associates in faux German at a business meeting and imitated Adolf Hitler.
In 2005, The Guardian reported that Desmond became unwittingly caught up in a pornographic telephone and internet scam which allegedly led to him receiving death threats from the New York Gambino mafia family, according to documents released during a court case. Desmond has denied the whole episode.
In 2008, Northern & Shell reported a turnover of £483.9m. Since the time of its inception, the small, privately-owned publishing venture has become one of Britain's leading independent publishing businesses, with annual revenues close to £500m and more than 2,000 people employed. The group has offices in London, Broughton, Glasgow, and Dublin, and in New York and Los Angeles. They also have offices in Sydney, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany, for their partnerships in these countries.
On 23 July 2010, Desmond bought the UK terrestrial-television channel Channel 5, which was losing money, from the German group RTL, for £103.5million. The new owner immediately proceeded to cut costs, starting with the dismissal of seven out of Channel 5's nine directors, beginning a drive to eliminate "£20m of yearly expenses". The stated plan includes the dismissal of up to further 80 of the network's 300 employees.
In 2003, Desmond and Roger Daltrey formed the RD Crusaders, a rock group featuring Desmond on drums, in order to raise money for charitable causes. Since its inception, the group has raised around £14m via a series of fundraising concerts for charities including Marie Curie, The Teenage Cancer Trust, Norwood Child Care and the Evelina Children’s Hospital. As well as Daltrey and Desmond, the lineup occasionally includes Robert Plant, Lulu, Steve Harley, guitarists Russ Ballard (of Argent) and Rick Wills (of Foreigner and Bad Company), keyboardist Steve Smith and organist Zoot Money.
Desmond, an active supporter of children’s charities, became president of the Norwood Charity in 2006.
He also financed the construction of the Richard Desmond Children’s Eye Centre, in Moorfields Eye Hospital, the world’s largest specialist paediatric eye clinic, a centre treating more than 25,000 children a year. The Centre was officially inaugurated in 2007 by Queen Elizabeth II.
Litigation began at the High Court on 6 July 2009 over claims in journalist Tom Bower's biography Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge that Desmond had made a "humiliating climbdown" over an Express story at the end of 2002 on the state of Lord Black's finances, which it was alleged Desmond had ordered to be written.
This claim of a weakening of Desmond's "super-tough" reputation as a businessman was viewed as defamation by Desmond. Bower denied libel on the grounds of the story being "substantially true". The following day, the presiding judge The Hon. Mr Justice Eady, discharged the jury as "fundamental" evidence and legal submissions had emerged. The new jury later found in favour of Bower.