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Daily Telegraph bidders line up at the ‘Gulf ATM’

It would be a brave man to predict with any degree of certainty who will win the Torygraph

Rupert Murdoch could be among bidders for Telegraph publication The Spectator Reuters
As he steps down from News Corp, Rupert Murdoch is showing interest in the Telegraph Media Group publication The Spectator – a fitting retirement hobby

The Middle East is going to play an outsize role among bidders for the future of the Daily Telegraph, the London newspaper affectionately dubbed the “Torygraph” for its unabashed rightwing stance.

The 168-year-old title – where I spent a few happy years in the 1990s as a not-very-close colleague of one Boris Johnson, then Brussels correspondent – is up for auction after the Barclay family lost control of it, and the weekly magazine The Spectator, to Lloyds Bank over some unpaid debts.

Quite a lot of debt, actually – around £1 billion or so.

The Barclays, who ran their businesses profitably for years under the shrewd stewardship of twin brothers Sir David and Sir Frederick, lost the plot to some extent as these two men aged.

David died in 2021 aged 86. Full disclosure here: I got to know David quite well in the early 2000s when he generously assisted my son, who had suffered a life-changing illness as an infant.

In a gesture of genuine philanthropy, David provided top prosthetic care for a number of years, and even welcomed my son and me by helicopter on his Channel Island of Brecqhou. With hindsight, it was surreal.

The Barclays are among the bidders to get the Telegraph out of hock, and this is where the first Middle East link comes in. It has been widely reported – by the Telegraph and others – that they are looking for financial assistance for their plan in Abu Dhabi financial circles.

The Financial Times reported that the Barclays are in talks with the Abu Dhabi-funded RedbirdIMI investment group to help put up the £600 million or so it would take to get the titles back from Lloyds.

Why the family wants it back is an interesting question. They always enjoyed owning a big newspaper for the access it got them to people and information. Aidan Barclay, David’s son, is said to be very upset to have lost control to Lloyds and wants it back at all costs.

Also among the Telegraph bidders with Middle East links is Lord Rothermere. Owner of the Daily Mail group among other titles, he has held talks with Qatari investors about joining a Mail bid for the Telegraph.

Rothermere is being a bit sniffy about taking the Doha shilling, with a spokesman making prissy noises about maintaining majority control and the need for editorial independence – always a top priority at Mail titles.

The next would-be Telegraph owner is Sir Paul Marshall, the British financier who has pulled together a consortium including hedge fund supremo Ken Griffin, one of the richest men in the world.

The Middle East link is more tenuous here, but intriguing. Marshall is being advised by the US investment bank Moelis, headed by Ken Moelis, known by some in these parts as “Ken of Arabia” for his legendary deal-doing powers in the Gulf.

With his wealthy backers, Marshall doesn’t look to be in need of money, but if he wanted more Ken would be well able to tap into what Wall Street Journal recently called “the Middle East ATM”.

The final potential bidder with possible Middle Eastern links is Sir Will Lewis, former Daily Telegraph editor and chief executive of Dow Jones.

I was quite pally with Will in Fleet Street days but he was horrible to me at a drinks party in Davos in January 2020 and I haven’t forgiven him.

His Gulf connections are more distant (so far), consisting of a statement that he would “not reject” Middle East support.

But I detect a dark horse. At a reception ahead of the Arab Media Forum in Dubai this week, lots of Saudi media types were asking about Lewis. I filled them in.

There are a couple of other bidders I think we can safely rule out of serious contention, such as David Montgomery and Daniel Kretinsky. Media moguls they may be, but not quite in the same league as the rest of the pack.

Another intriguing prospect is that Rupert Murdoch, soon to be ex-chairman of News Corporation, would like to buy the Spectator as a separate asset from the rest of the Telegraph group.

As a retirement hobby, I suppose it’s more appropriate than gardening.

It would be a brave man to predict with any degree of certainty who will win the Torygraph, but I predict that, with those bidders’ deep pockets, Middle East backing, and the lure of a genuine trophy asset, it will go for considerably more than £600 million.

OK, I’ll be brave: Sir Will Lewis to get the newspaper, with Saudi backing. Murdoch to get the Speccie.

You read it here first.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He also acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia

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