No one could accuse David Gold of having had it easy. Like many of today’s household-name entrepreneurs, he earned what he has through hard work and determination. Where Gold’s story differs from most is in the sheer magnitude of adversity he overcame to get where is today.
Gold is on record as describing the driving force of his success as “fear of going back”. He once described a recurring nightmare that plagued him for many years. In the dream he would be driving his Bentley car, but instead of arriving at his luxury home, or his office, he would arrive at work on a building site with no money and just a bag of tools in the back of the car. Not a particularly bad dream for many in these days when any employment is better than none, but for David Gold the building site is symbolic of a bitter episode in his early life.
The young David was a keen football fan and youth footballer. Imagine, then, the delight and excitement he felt when, at 15 years of age, he was offered an apprenticeship with West Ham United, the team he supported. Now imagine the anguish that followed when his father refused to sign the forms, insisting that David should complete a bricklaying apprenticeship instead. That was just one of the disappointments David experienced in the course of his relationship with his father – a relationship that can be described as difficult at best. Not surprising, then, that dreams of building sites and poverty should be one legacy of his formative years.
Gold’s motivating fear of returning to hardship has certainly been channelled into positive and tangible achievements. From the poverty of London’s East End, David Gold has transported himself into a lavish lifestyle funded by an impressive business empire. His mansion – and that is surely the only word for an opulent house with 14 toilets – is attended by a 55-acre garden and golf course. He owns luxury cars, aircraft, several businesses and a football team.
David Gold’s business interests have been many and varied, although much has been made by the media of his association with adult entertainment. His first enterprise was a modest one. He took on a small, many times failed, bookstore off Charing Cross Road when he was 21 years old. David soon noticed that the racier publications not only sold well, but that people would pay more for them. Since then he has published adult magazines and started the Sunday Sport newspaper. He also acquired the Ann Summers chain, of which he is Chairman, his daughters Jacqueline and Vanessa are Chief Executive and Deputy Managing Director, respectively. He is also Chairman and major shareholder of Birmingham City Football Club.
When Regtransfers.co.uk visited David at his home, our team paused for a few moments to try to take in the house and its setting. The place, especially that golf course, must take some maintaining.“You know it’s not overly difficult,” says David. “The guys will mow the fairways in a day. The greens take about three hours and the rest of the time is just all the titivating. The bulk of what looks difficult actually isn’t. They do it quite quickly.”
Despite the constant maintenance that keeps the course in perfect condition, David doesn’t spend all his time playing golf. “I think I’ve played only half a dozen times this year; but it does get busy sometimes because the company has a golf day here and Birmingham City staff come down for a Corporate day. I have some friends down for a few rounds, plus a number of charity golf events. Despite all of this it doesn’t get used as much as it should.”
David has lived in the house since 1995. He bought it three years before that but considerable renovation was needed before he felt ready to move in.
“The architect – the first architect, who only lasted one day – stood up on the bank there with me and he said “We’ll pull it down and we’ll rebuild it higher up the hill”. But of course, I didn’t want to do that. I was desperate to renovate it as it was. I just wanted to bring it back to its original state, as it would have been in 1850.
David was determined that the restoration should be as faithful as possible to the period in which the house was originally built. He seems satisfied with the result, particularly with the discreet way that non 19th century features can be tucked away from view.
“All the televisions in the house are hidden either inside antiques, or in copies of antique furnishings. Even the replacement for the fireplace we couldn’t save is period. We got it from Paris, from a house that was also built in 1850, so it’s a French Victorian fireplace. The chandeliers are copies of the chandeliers of the time. All the shutters have been restored to their original state.
When the time comes to leave the house and get down to business, David Gold is spoilt for choice as far as transport is concerned.
“I’ve had a pilot license for 35 years and I’ve had a helicopter license for six years. I really should have done that earlier, because it is fantastic. Although I do still fly my fixed wing, I fly the helicopter ten times more because it’s just s0 enjoyable, very easy and quick. I can get to the Birmingham training ground from here in 45 minutes. It takes me two and a half hours in the car. If I went by plane, although I can take off from here, I’d have to go to Birmingham airport and then get a car. The helicopter is infinitely more practical and more exciting. I use it all the time.
“It’s really horses for courses. I love to drive my Daimler myself, but if I’m going to Birmingham by car I want to be driven in my Rolls by my chauffeur. If I’m going to Birmingham then I’ll want to go in my helicopter. If I’m going to the South of France I’d want to go in my Lear Jet. If I’m just going in the grounds then I’ll go in my 4-wheel drive or my golf buggy.”
Of course, the Regtransfers team was intrigued to lean that David has personal registrations for his helicopter and his aeroplane.
“All the registrations on my planes are ‘GOLD’, so I’ve got GOLD T, GOLD X and GOLD W on those. I’ve got
GOLD H and GOLD O on my helicopters. The other one isn’t here at the moment.”
Hang on…Planes – plural? Other helicopter?david gold helic
“I remember, many years ago, I met a very wealthy guy. A girl and I went over to see him and he picked us up at the airport. As he was driving us back to his house, the girl asked if she could take a picture of his yacht and he said, “Which one?” I thought it was arrogant, bit I still thought, wow! And here I am talking about my other helicopter. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant.”
The helicopter is clearly David’s favourite way to get about, but owning so many aircraft is not just an extravagant hobby. As well as offering a range of practical and flexible transport options, they also form part of his business.
“I’ve sold my airline (Gold Air International), just before the recession although I still keep my three planes. That is a business and they’re hired out. It’s like when people own yachts; they use their yacht themselves and they also hire it out to clients.”
What about the personal number plates on his cars?
“Well, my daughters bought D6 OLD for me as a Christmas present. 1 GSP is a company one for Gold Star Publications (the publishing company that Gold used to own). The oldest one must be GSP 3, which is on the four-wheel drive. That’s got to be 25 years old, I would have thought. Well I’m guessing, but I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. Nearly all of my numbers have been presents but I think I bought that first one about 25 years ago.
“In the early days I thought they were pretentious. I thought that having your own name or your own initials was pretentious, but then I thought it different to have the company initials, and that’s why I had GSP.
We also had GSP 43, so every director in Gold Star Publications would try to get GSP with a 1 or 2 digit number. I ended up with 1 GSP, and I’ve still got GSP 3. Another director has GSP 10. But then, years later, I started to think it was just a bit of fun. I thought it was fun to have D Gold, to have number plates that reflect who you are. Years ago people would have coats of arms, didn’t they, the gentry, the wealthy, the famous would have their coats of arms. I think, in a way, that’s what we do with our number plates. They’re kind of like coats of arms, family coats of arms, aren’t they? It just gives you a nice feeling.
“My helicopter has my…both my helicopters (laughs) and all my planes have the Gold name. The one that I liked most was GOLD D that I had on my HS125. If I could get more for my cars I would.”
Other members of the Gold family also have an interest in personal car registrations.
“We do have J Gold for Jacqueline Gold; we have B Gold for my nephew, Bradley Gold. Yeah,
B Gold, J Gold, D Gold so that’s quite nice. But there wasn’t a V Gold for Vanessa. If there had been I’d have bought Vanessa that one, but she’s still got 1VG.
“They were all presents: I bought Jackie’s and Vanessa’s and they bought mine. It’s a fantastic gift. It’s a unique present, and you know absolutely 100 percent, that they haven’t already got one. If you buy a watch they might already have that watch, if you buy them a car, they might already have that car, but if you buy them a number place they definitely do not have it. It’s so personal to them. It makes the present so special. As we’ve already discussed, there was a time when people thought they were pretentious, but that’s now behind us. Personal registrations have become more and more popular. They make fantastic gifts and I think they’re a pleasure to have. It can still be a bit of a status symbol as well.“I’ll tell you a little story, I travel to Birmingham every week in my Rolls Royce, and I go on the M40. I’m very proud of my D.Gold number plate, and quite often when I’m parked people will come up and ask if they can have their picture taken with the car and the number plate. So, the car gets a lot of attention because of the number plate. When people ask to have their picture taken it’s because they want the number plate in the photo, as well as themselves and the car. Anyway, I pulled up at Birmingham City Football Club one day, and this couple came up to me and asked if they could have their picture taken with the car. I said they could. They told me that they saw me every week and that I always overtook then on the M40 as they came up from Seven Oaks to the football match at Birmingham. They said ‘And we always recognise you and we recognise your number plate.’ I thought yes of course you recognise my number plate, D Gold on the Rolls Royce’. But they went on, ‘Yes, yes we recognise your number plate D6 OLD’. So for the moment there I thought the car and I were quite famous, but clearly we’re not. They recognised ‘old’, not my name!”
David clearly loves his name and is very proud of it. What better name for a businessman? It works on so many levels.
“When I think of promoting the name Gold, you can promote it with Gold finger; you could have gold bullion, gold medals, gold star. You see, it’s so easy to promote that kind of name. I think I’d rather have Gold than Branson. Although, I’d rather be as rich as Richard Branson!”
One number that David owned caused him a few headaches.
“Ah, ‘Birmingham City Football Club’, 13 CFC. I had a Chevy people carrier that we used when we went to football – that was before we used to fly – and wherever we went we got a ticket. I remember it happening at Norwich, Oxford, Aston Villa. I went to Swansea once and we were running late and the police pulled us over because the 1 and the 3 were too close together. I sold it in the end because I got fed up with the pettiness of the bureaucracy. And, I must say, the irony of it was that my driver was caught speeding by a camera, so how illegal could that plate have been? Do you see what I’m saying? If the camera can read it, what is the fuss?
Speaking of Birmingham City: at the time of the interview Birmingham were still fighting to achieve promotion back to the Premier League. We recalled that there was some considerable upset when the team suffered relegation last season.
“Upset? We were all upset. You know fans are passionate, I’m passionate. We were relegated, so my next thought was how I get the football club back into the Premier League. Whereas fans, they’re angry. Their passion turns to anger. You know, not thousands and probably not hundreds, but some do get very, very angry and disappointed. People want to win. That’s what drives us.
“But upwards and onwards. We’ll be promoted.”
Happily, that prediction has since been proved accurate, much to David Gold’s delight, and other business interests are also doing well.
“Ann Summers is thriving. We have just opened a new store in Liverpool and during 2009 we plan to open a further five stores taking it up to a total of 140.”
One of the innovative aspects of the Ann Summers business model was the party plan approach that had previously been more commonly used for kitchenware and fashion lines. How is that side of the business going?
“The parties are as popular as ever. When we opened our first store, nearly 20 years ago, our party planners thought it would mean the end of party plan. 135 stores later, party plan is still as vibrant as it ever was. I must confess that I always thought that opening stores would reduce the amount of parties, but apparently not.
“There used to be a stigma about people going into stores, so that’s why the parties were so popular. But now everyone can walk into Ann Summers because it’s just like walking into any lingerie store. So, now that anyone, guys, girls can go at anytime, I expected that the parties wouldn’t be as popular as they used to be. Retail stores were a different kind of experience. You know, husband and wife could go in there, boy could go on his own, singles could go on her own. So it is a different experience to party plan. And maybe that’s why they’ve both grown and flourished side-by-side.”
Despite being well known for the adult orientated publishing that has characterised much of his business career, his most recent publishing experience has beeDavid Goldn along very different lines. His autobiography, Pure Gold was published in 2006, but he is already re-writing it.
“I’m going to redo it, and update it. I might change the title from Pure Gold to …Solid Gold.”
We are looking forward to the new version.
Interview: Angela Banh
Photography: Stan Thompson