Amanda Staveley: Flying fixer of the Square Mile

It was her part in the Abu Dhabi takeover of Manchester City that raised her profile. Now her controversial role in the rescue of Barclays is bringing the woman with the best Middle Eastern connections back into the news

She is the beautiful woman who has shaken up the beautiful game, lining up rich Middle Eastern buyers for some of Britain's biggest football clubs and so making millions of pounds. Amanda Staveley, a 35-year-old former restaurateur from Ripon in Yorkshire, has already helped to turn Manchester City into the world's richest team, brokering a sale to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a fabulously wealthy member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, which shocked the most world-weary members of the sporting fraternity, including the club's supporters.

Now there is fresh speculation that Liverpool FC, once one of the world's most successful clubs, may finally be bought by the Kuwaiti consortium which has been stalking it for years. Staveley, who has spent a decade or more building a network of highly placed contacts in the Gulf, is the conduit between the club and its Arab suitors, and she will doubtless pick up a substantial sum should a deal be done. Her company, PCP Capital Partners, is thought to have received £10m commission for the City deal.

But Staveley, said to be worth £100m, made her name as a dealmaker in finance rather than football, and her biggest transaction so far, helping to rescue Barclays bank, may also prove to be her most controversial. Last year, she persuaded the new Man City owner Sheikh Mansour to take a 16% stake in Barclays for £3.5bn, an intervention which, together with a similar investment from the Qatari government, meant the bank did not have be bailed out by tax payers when the financial system seized up last year.

Barclays executives were able to boast it was the only major bank that did not need a government hand-out, but it could ultimately cost the company dear, delivering it into the hands of its Middle East investors thanks to an obscure clause inserted at Staveley's insistence.

It effectively gives Mansour the chance to buy more shares in Barclays for a fraction of their value if it is forced to issue more equity, something that seemed unlikely when the deal was struck. But this would have to take place if the government is forced to take a stake in order to prop up the bank, whose shares plummeted last week after another wave of speculation about large losses.

Barclays insists its balance sheet is robust and argues it is the victim of a whispering campaign orchestrated by "short sellers", traders who bet shares prices will fall, and are using the febrile atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty on the world's stock markets to make a quick buck.

City sources say Barclay's Middle East shareholders may merely be drawing attention to the arrangement to dissuade the chancellor from taking a stake in the bank, a drastic step that could drive down the value of their own investment, but the fact that such an arrangement exists says much about Staveley's business acumen, and helps explain her status as a financial fixer for some of the world's richest men.

Born just outside the Yorkshire market town of Ripon in 1973 to wealthy parents, Staveley's father Robert is a landowner who inherited a 175-acre estate gifted to an ancestor by Cardinal Wolsey in the 16th century. Robert built a huge theme park called Lightwater Valley which he later sold for a healthy profit. Amanda was educated at the exclusive Queen Margaret's School near York. She went to Cambridge to study modern languages, but dropped out to become an entrepreneur. She won awards and accolades before an early brush with failure, when a company she ran went bust. It stalled her self-assured march towards success.

She has conceded she was "cocky" into her early twenties but, perhaps because of that setback, and despite her affluent roots, Staveley has created a down-to-earth persona, littering her conversation with "luv" and "sweetheart", an approach which is said to put colleagues and clients at ease.

Like her mother, a former part-time model, she cuts a striking figure, yet seems happy to operate in an environment that, as in football, is still run mostly by men. Her status as one of the Square Mile's "weathermakers" has given her an enviable lifestyle, with a huge house in London's Park Lane and another in Dubai, where her neighbour is tennis star Roger Federer.

Some of Britain's most successful entrepreneurs, including Top Shop's Philip Green, have done business with her and friends include X Factor creator Simon Cowell and designer Amanda Wakeley, but she has been quietly acquiring contacts in the oil-rich Gulf for a decade or more and Sheikh Mansour is unquestionably the most valuable of them.

His decision to buy Man City, a mediocre Premier League club accustomed to playing in the shadow of their more famous neighbours, brought Staveley to national prominence. Sports journalists quickly dubbed her the "Queen of football", although the headline writers probably didn't realise how apt that moniker is; Staveley once stepped out with Prince Andrew and she is widely believed to have turned down a marriage proposal from the man who was once second in line to the throne, passing up the chance to become a member of the royal family to concentrate on building her career. "I think Mum took three years to get over it," she has quipped.

Her mother was a successful show jumper and Staveley also took up riding, along with sprinting, when she was young, but stopped competing when she snapped a tendon when she was 14. "I had a lot of drive as a kid. I didn't have ambition for anything except wanting to do more and more. I wasn't thinking of anyone else. Looking back, I realise I wasn't very comfortable with myself."

She met Prince Andrew through friends in the horse racing world, a sport where, like football, the biggest owners must have big bank balances to compete. She bought Stocks, a restaurant in Bottisham near Cambridge, after she left university, turning it into a buzzing eatery frequented by trainers and owners who used Newmarket racecourse, and getting to know staff from the Godolphin stables, owned by the rulers of Dubai, the Maktoums.

While running the restaurant, she trained to become a financial adviser, reputedly rising before dawn to cram for her exams, invested in a London restaurant chain and, after closing Stocks, she founded a company, Q.ton, at the height of the dotcom boom, which offered outsourcing services to local businesses.

It went bust after merging with a rival and Staveley's entrepreneurial career nearly ended before she was 30.

She said last year that she was still paying back her creditors, despite her immense wealth, and she hired private detectives to investigate the behaviour of her associates. "I'm still angry about it," she said.

That was not the only setback on Staveley's journey from failed businesswoman to one of the most influential bankers of her generation. She dropped out of Cambridge because, she said: "I was very young. My grandfather died and I was in a very unhappy period."

After the break-up with Prince Andrew, she moved to Dubai to set up PCP, although the company is based in tiny offices in London's Mayfair, and began gathering Middle East contacts. She met Roger Jenkins, regarded as Barclays' top banker, and one of the Square Mile's biggest earners, who also has impeccable contacts in the region and is married to Dijana, a Bosnian Muslim who grew up in Sarajevo. The two women are believed to be close and perhaps that is not surprising. Staveley helped make her husband a huge amount of cash last year when they jointly masterminded the Barclays rescue, Jenkins bringing the Qataris to the table and Staveley delivering Sheikh Mansour.

Staveley's fee alone was around £40m, but her role was a crucial one, according to associates. "Amanda is known and trusted by her contacts in the Gulf like almost no other non-Arab," says one. "She tells things as they are and has a clarity of purpose that they appreciate." That leaves little time for a social life - or a long-term relationship.

She has been spotted at Annabel's, the London club, and flew out to the Middle East after the Barclays coup to celebrate sealing the deal in less then 10 days, but tells friends she works seven days a week, "including Christmas Day and New Year's Eve". A recent holiday to Barbados was her first for 15 months. She travelled to the Caribbean with friends and has not stepped out with anyone in public since Prince Andrew more than five years ago.

"Business and romance don't really mix," she says. "Whoever marries me would have to be a hell of a hero to put up with me and my life."

They would also share an existence that few people outside Staveley's close circle of clients and contacts could ever dream of, although, like many business people, she insists it is success, not money, that drives her.

"It's not about money - it wouldn't matter if I was making £8m or £200m. I just want to go to bed at night and say I've done a good job."

The Staveley lowdown

Born 11 April 1973 near Ripon. She went to school at Queen Margaret's near York and studied modern languages at Cambridge University, but chose to leave before finishing her degree.

Best of times Now. At the end of 2008, Staveley's firm earned £40m commission for brokering a deal between Barclays and Middle East investors. Just weeks earlier, she was involved in the takeover of Manchester City Football Club, which earned her £10m.

Worst of times The collapse of her conference and restaurant business Q.ton, in 2001, left her close to bankruptcy.

What she says "It's a great opportunity for Barclays, to have two strong shareholders in Abu Dhabi and Qatar... they want to put a lot of money into the UK."

What others say "Her own family has a reasonably good standing, so she is accepted by these people. She is just a hard worker, completely focused on what she is doing."

Mark Horrocks, a hedge fund manager and former boyfriend, talking about her deals with Middle Eastern sheikhs.

"I don't think there is a ruler in the Middle East who doesn't know her. She is very warm and friendly and has to put up with this 'pretty blonde' stuff, but she is realistic about it."

An executive who previously worked with Staveley.

• This article was amended on Sunday 1 February 2009. Our profile of entrepreneur Amanda Staveley described her as having studied modern languages at Oxford University but "The Staveley Lowdown" on the same page was correct in recording that she actually went to Cambridge but chose to leave before finishing her degree. This has been changed.


James Robinson

The GuardianTramp

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