Saturday 7 December 2019

Quiet man Quinlan sipped champagne to celebrate buying London hotels – but deal would come back to haunt him

Derek Quinlan
Derek Quinlan
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Little did he realise he would be dragged into the limelight

It was a moment in time – 2004 to be precise, when horny-handed Irish builders were acting like oil-rich Arabs and buying up tracts of landmark London from Bond Street to Mayfair.

Then Derek Quinlan, the former taxman with a Shrewsbury Road mansion and art collection, a cut above the former blocklayers who were leading the Irish invasion, pulled off the most spectacular property deal of them all.

He bought Claridge's, The Savoy and The Connaught and The Berkeley, probably the most prestigious property portfolio in the world – four hotels that exemplified the British establishment, where they stayed, played, strayed with complete discretion.

With the promise of a meal cooked by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay I joined a motley crew of home town 'opinion formers' to tour the cultured Mr Quinlan's new empire.

Quinlan, whose investment syndicates attracted the cream of the Irish Bar, cash-rich consultants and well-known entertainment figures, personally led the party. That is how he and I stood drinking a chilled glass of champagne on the Terrace Bar of Claridge's, looking out over the Palace of Westminster and the rooftops of a city falling under siege by Irishmen, some with more money than sense.

"I like a quiet life and I don't intend to change that" said the Irish multi-millionaire later that evening after we walked around to The Connaught. Mr Ramsay was on a day off, but we sat down in the private dining room to a feast prepared by Angela Hartnett. I can't quite remember the meal, but I'll not forget the very fine 1997 Burgundy that accompanied it, and flowed freely during the evening.

Little did Derek Quinlan then realise that night that the war of attrition over the hotel portfolio he was so proud of would drag him and a cast of colourful characters, from the even more reclusive Paddy McKillen and the billionaire Barclay Brothers, into the limelight from which have never been able to retreat.

But it was all so different that summer's night in London, which ended in the Blue Bar of the Berkeley Hotel.

Back then there was no mention of Paddy McKillen, in fact the only photograph of the 'secret millionaire' was a grainy old black and white of him taken in a dress suit at a bankers dinner decades before.

Over dinner we asked Derek Quinlan who had invested in this his latest and most high profile venture. "This is an area where we are very secretive" he answered truthfully. "Our clients are very private."

And so they were, at the time. Now, of course, we know that one of the biggest investors in the chain was the secretive Paddy McKillen and that other investors in his syndicates included a host of barristers, medical consultants and bankers.

It has been fascinating to read through the pages of the newspapers and now the celebrity magazine 'Vanity Fair', just how bitter the break-up has been.

"Not many times in your life do you just feel your partner sitting beside you has just thrown you under the bus" says McKillen of his former partner in the venture. "Paddy's view of me says more about Paddy than me" counters Mr Quinlan, who owes hundreds of millions to NAMA.

While it is always unfortunate to see old friends squabbling in a celebrity magazine I still console myself with memories of an idyllic London evening and the vintage wines we drank with such abandon.

Irish Independent

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