Saudi Arabia’s £360bn sovereign wealth fund didn’t buy Newcastle United on its own. PCP Capital Partners, a private equity firm run by Amanda Staveley, scooped up 10% of the football club’s shares. The 48-year-old businesswoman, who is worth at least £110m, was the driving force behind the deal.
How did it come together?
Staveley had been trying to buy Newcastle for years. In 2019, two years after the failure of her first attempt, she met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his £450m yacht, Serene, and told him he could buy a Premier League club for less than what he’d paid for Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Salvator Mundi. She was right – after another failed bid in 2020, a Saudi-led consortium this month secured Newcastle United for £305m, £20m less than the painting’s price tag. Cue a bunch of boozed-up Geordies wrapping dishcloths around their heads in celebration. Hatice Cengiz, who was engaged to Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist murdered by a Saudi hit squad in Turkey three years ago, witheringly described the purchase as a “shame for Newcastle and English football”.
Did that trouble Staveley?
She’s sticking to the (debatable) line that the sovereign wealth fund is “autonomous and independent of the Saudi government”. Her single-mindedness for bagging deals is “like a dog with a bone”, one former chief exec tells the FT. PCP Capital Partners has a reported £28bn under management and has been involved in deals worth £8bn over the past decade. These include the Staveley-brokered £210m sale of Manchester City to the Emirati prince Sheikh Mansour in 2008, which earned PCP £10m in commission. She also tried to engineer a Middle Eastern takeover of Liverpool FC, but without success.
Where is Staveley from?
She’s the daughter of Yorkshire landowner Robert Staveley, whose family was given a 1,000-acre estate by Cardinal Wolsey in 1516. All that old money didn’t blunt her entrepreneurial drive, especially when it was made clear that her brother would be the one inheriting. She polished off her A-levels in a single year and was accepted by Cambridge at 16. Afflicted with an eating disorder and affected by illnesses elsewhere in her family, she dropped out. At 22 she took out a £180,000 loan and opened Stocks, a restaurant near Newmarket racecourse. She would wake up at 4am and do everything from accounting to waiting tables herself. This laid the foundations for her formidable business network – with all the Gulf racehorse owners hanging around, “you would think you were in Chelsea or Mayfair”, one Newmarket veteran tells The Athletic. Her afternoons were spent studying finance in London.
Sounds exhausting. Did it pay off?
Not entirely. In 2000 she sold a share of her next business venture, a £10m Cambridge science park, to EuroTelecom. The communications company promptly collapsed, leaving Staveley with sky-high debts. Not wanting to ask her family for help, she ended up sleeping in the doorway of a City bank one night. “I thought I must be the only person with a Burberry coat who doesn’t have a roof over my head,” she later told the Evening Standard. She gradually rebuilt her career and moved to Dubai, where she brushed up on Islamic finance and worked her way into the inner circles of the Gulf. “I don’t think there is a ruler in the Middle East that doesn’t know her,” one associate told The Guardian in 2008. She even dealt with Colonel Gaddafi.
That’s quite an address book
It came in handy during the financial crisis of 2008, when Barclays needed bailing out but didn’t fancy going cap in hand to the Treasury. Staveley, at only 35, brokered a £3.5bn investment by Sheikh Mansour, earning PCP a reported £40m. Believing she deserved a bigger fee, Staveley sued Barclays last year. But she lost the case, leaving her with a legal bill of £19.5m. Phone transcripts came to light in which Barclays execs discussed the size of her breasts and described her as a “tart” and a “dolly bird”.
Does she take all this in her stride?
Staveley, a former model, has long used financial acumen to counter being dismissed as eye candy. She once boasted that her head for figures meant she never needed to use a calculator. This combination of beauty and brains hooked Prince Andrew, who met her in 2001 and immediately asked her to dinner. They started dating and he proposed in 2003. Fearing for her independence, she declined. Staveley eventually married the British-Iranian banker Mehrdad Ghodoussi, 50, in 2011. Forty-eight hours after the ceremony, attended by Tracey Emin and Andrew Neil, she was back at her desk.
So she’s happily married?
It seems so. She and Ghodoussi have a six-year-old son, Alexander, and split their time between the exclusive Dubai enclave of Emirates Hills and a £10m townhouse on Park Lane. Sadly, though, she has inherited Huntington’s disease from her mother, Lynne, a champion showjumper. She found out that she had the incurable, fatal brain condition when she and Ghodoussi were thinking about starting a family. “I didn’t want to get married when I found out about the disease – but he said he didn’t care, and that we would find the best medical care available,” she said last year. Stress can make the symptoms worse, but that doesn’t seem to have deterred Staveley: she went back to work the day she was diagnosed and is known for working seven days a week, including Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Those close to her say the diagnosis has only added to her urgency and drive.