From The Sunday Times
The Swedish owner of H&M is developing a taste for English country life and it’s costing £25m
Lucy Denyer and Helen Davies
THE Swedish billionaire owner of H&M, the high street fashion giant, is poised to buy an entire English village and up to 2,000 acres of surrounding countryside for £25m.
Stefan Persson, Sweden’s second richest man, is snapping up the Linkenholt estate near Andover, Hampshire, following a bidding war in the depths of the recession.
It is the second English country estate bought by Persson, 61, who already owns 8,500 acres in neighbouring Wiltshire, where he hosts partridge and pheasant shoots.
His latest purchase will give him a taste of the influence once enjoyed by Britain’s aristocrats. On top of a sizable manor house, Linkenholt includes 1,500 acres of farmland, a 425-acre wood, a cricket ground and 21 dwellings leased to villagers, some of whom have lived there from birth.
Since the 1970s, it has been run by a charitable trust after its last owner, Herbert Blagrave, an entrepreneur, died without leaving any children.
As a viable business – with rents ranging from about £500 a month for a small cottage to £3,500 for the manor house, to say nothing of lucrative shooting rights – the trust put Linkenholt on the market in March.
Persson, whose wealth is estimated at £11.4 billion, securing him joint 16th place in The Sunday Times World Rich List, is believed to have had an offer accepted at the top end of the £23m-£25m guide price.
Solicitors have been instructed within the past fortnight, but contracts have yet to be exchanged, according to property industry sources.
An estate agent familiar with the deal named Persson as the buyer, adding: “He knows the area and likes it – this will be the icing on the cake of his portfolio.”
Ironically, the H&M boss is rumoured to have been bidding against Claas Bourghardt, another wealthy Swedish businessman who has rented the manor house for several years.
The new owner of the estate, which lies in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty an hour’s drive from London, is notoriously media-shy.
Persson was last in the public eye in 2005 when he cancelled Kate Moss’s modelling contract with H&M following allegations about her drug use.
The fashion tycoon, who counts the King and Queen of Sweden among his closest friends, spends most of his time in Stockholm.
However, he also owns a £9m country estate near Marlborough in Wiltshire. Through its grounds flows a mile of the River Kennet, regarded as one of the country’s best trout fishing areas, where anglers pay £1,700 for an annual permit.
Earlier this year, the Environment Agency reportedly spent £53,000 of public money raising the river bed in a move that will improve the quality of the fishing for Persson’s guests.
H&M, or Hennes & Mauritz, was founded by Persson’s father, Erling, in 1947, and has more than 1,800 stores across the world. Its competitive pricing and affordable collections by guest designers such as Matthew Williamson have allowed H&M to buck the downturn.
This weekend a spokeswoman said Persson did not wish to comment on the sale.
Some believe his son Karl-Johan, who lives in west London with his wife Leonie, could benefit from his father’s latest investment. The main house at Linkenholt, which appeared in the Domesday Book, burnt down in 1905 and was rebuilt.
Last week residents were curious about the new lord of the manor. Betty Smith was born in the village in 1931 and was among the last to go to the local school, which closed during the war. From the age of 14, she worked her way up from maid to cook at the house, while her husband Alan worked on the farm. The couple have been given a lifetime guarantee on their terraced home that came with their jobs.
“Do you know who it is who’s bought it?” asked Smith. When told about Persson by The Sunday Times, she nodded: “I heard Swedish too.”
Smith looks after the church (which was not included in the sale) while her sister Elsie minds the cricket ground.
Now, with so many people travelling out of the village for work these days, it is quieter than it was in the 1940s.
WHAT YOU GET FOR £25M
Edwardian-style manor house
1,500 acres of farmland