A COMPANY backed by Irish businessmen, including John Magnier, Dermot Desmond and Denis Brosnan, has bought the exclusive Harbour Gym in London's fashionable Chelsea area for £16.1m (?23m).
The Harbour Club, famous as the location of Princess Diana's intimate coffee mornings with former England rugby captain Will Carling, becomes the 13th gym and leisure complex owned by Next Generation Clubs Ltd, the consortium backed by a host of well-known business and sports figures.
Next Generation investors with more than 10pc each include John Magnier, JP McManus, Dermot Desmond, horse breeder and trainer Michael Tabor and former British tennis star David Lloyd.
Other shareholders include former tennis star Billy Jean King and Scottish & Newcastle Brewery.
Former Kerry Group managing director Denis Brosnan is chairman of Next Generation and also a shareholder.
The fitness and leisure chain plans to continue growing at a rapid pace by buying up more clubs and by building several new ones of its own.
To help fund the expansion, it has negotiated a new bank borrowing facility with Bank of Ireland, Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS, which will give it access to a another £104m (?150m).
Since its inception, Next Generation has already spent an estimated £150m (?217m) buying up gym and leisure complexes around Britain.
The company was originally set up by David Lloyd when he was 23 years of age. Next Generation also plans to open a £15m health club and tennis academy in Dubai Sports City.
This will form part of a massive ?1bn Dubai project funded by the Maktoum family, which includes an Ernie Els-designed championship golf course, a 25,000-seat cricket ground, a 10,000-capacity hockey stadium, a 10,000-seat indoor arena and a rugby/football/athletics stadium, which will seat 25,000.
Next Generation managing director Scott Lloyd said the Chelsea deal was a "unique opportunity to purchase what is unquestionably the most prestigious family health and fitness club in central London".
Last year the Harbour Club made a profit before paying interest on loans of £2.4m (?3.4m).
Adjacent to Chelsea Harbour, the club was built in 1993 and has 6,800 members.
In December, Next Generation opened Europe's biggest racquets and fitness centre at Hartfield in Hertfordshire.
The Hartfield club is over 165,000 sq ft. Next Generation chairman Denis Brosnan said the group plans to open in Romford in May and it has a pipeline of five further sites with planning permission.
A connected company has three clubs in Australia.
Next Generation has a turnover of £36m (?51m) in 2004 and made a profit before interest of around £12m (?17m).
Mr Brosnan is also chairman of the British nursing homes and healthcare company Barchester Ltd, which is backed by Mr Magnier and Mr McManus.
It has become the biggest in Britain with more than 10,000 beds at 163 locations. Barchester became the biggest in the business last October when it beat off several rivals to buy Westminster Healthcare for a total of ?760m.