The UK’s Rich List: women on ascent

For all the covetous curiosity it raises, Philip Beresford’s annual ranking for the Sunday Times of the fortunes of the UK’s richest invites anthropological analysis.

This year, for example, for the first time the number of women in the Rich List exceeds 10 per cent of the list, with 105 in the top 1,000 worth a combined £45.2bn ($73.9bn).

What does the list tell us? For one, divorce pays. Ten women are on the list as a result of generous settlements following splits with their spouses. Slavica Ecclestone, former wife of Bernie Ecclestone, the head of Formula One, is estimated to have assets totalling £734m.

The fortune of Irina Abramovich, former wife of Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, has risen to £155m, thanks in part to the £12m estate in west Sussex that she gained in her divorce. New to the list is Galina Berezovsky, ex-wife of Boris, the Russian oligarch, whom she divorced last year, and is now estimated to be worth £80m.

Divorce pays, but marriage, you might argue, pays better. About 40 entries on the list are husband-and-wife teams. Top of the list is Kirsty Bertarelli, a former Miss UK and songwriter of the hit single Black Coffee for the girl group All Saints. The wife of Ernesto Bertarelli, she shares her husband’s biotech fortune of an estimated £6.9bn. Victoria and David Beckham have a joint pop, fashion and football fortune of £165m, and Catherine Zeta-Jones and husband Michael Douglas have an estimated joint wealth of £180m. Jamie Oliver’s wife, Jools, has seen the fortune she shares with her television-chef husband rise by £41m to £106m.

Helena Bonham Carter, wife of film director Tim Burton, has also seen a hefty increase to £70m in the movie couple’s worth. Sir Philip and Lady Green, the retail tycoon and his wife, have an estimated joint wealth of £4.2bn.

However, there are women in the list who have accumulated fortunes through enterprise and hard work, rather than through marriage vows. Dame Mary Perkins, who co-founded Specsavers, the opticians, is the UK’s sixth-richest women and the country’s first female self-made billionaire.

J.K. Rowling, best-selling author of the Harry Potter books, is estimated to be worth £530m, and Tamara Mellon, co-founder of Jimmy Choo, the shoe brand, is worth £150m.

Xiuli Hawken, wife of a London teacher, is the highest new entry with slightly more than £1bn, based on a fortune made converting air-raid shelters in China into underground shopping malls with her brother.

Other female entrepreneurs include Ann Gloag (Stagecoach), Jacqueline Gold (Ann Summers), Denise Coates (Bet365), Ruth Parasol (founder of PartyGaming) and Christina Ong, fashion mogul and wife of Ong Beng Seng. New to the list is Hayley Parsons, founder and chief executive of Gocompare.com, the price comparison website, with an estimated fortune of £95m.

Generally, the super-rich have got richer over the past year, with the number of billionaires now standing at 73 (compared with 53 last year) and nine of the top 1,000 seeing their fortunes rise by more than £1bn over just 12 months.

It would be gratifying to see more self-made women on next year’s list. Women are gradually increasing their presence, but we need a concerted effort to promote entrepreneurialism across the genders.

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