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, 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.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

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Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.