It has always been easy to find fault with Peter De Savary. He is brash; he is coarse; he speaks too loudly, too fast and goes on for too long. No one understands quite how he made his millions or how he keeps them. He is difficult to place socially. He parades his wealth but has very few friends in the Establishment. In print, journalists come as close as they dare to labelling him a crook. De Savary does not bother to correct them. He does not care what the media thinks. "The only people I care about are the ones that I see and deal with," he says, "those people must judge me as they find me. One to one. Nobody I care about is going to take notice of what the newspapers write."
It is chiefly De Savary's flawless eloquence that has created his rags- to-riches success story. At Skibo Castle in Sutherland, Scotland, his beautiful home and the setting for his latest hospitality venture, the up-market Carnegie Club, he talks fluently to the guests about golf, horse- racing and Chicago. (Most of the guests that day are American.) They lap it up - especially the advice he gives them about how to hit the golf ball into the wind and which is the best course in the area (his). It is only after an hour or so of this that he confesses that he has never played the game. There is a stunned silence. "Gee, Peter," says a woman from Detroit, "ya gotta be kiddin".
De Savary, the son of a French-born Essex farmer, left school at 16 (he got kicked out of Charterhouse for sleeping with a master's au pair). He immediately went off to Canada, where he began work as he meant to go on - on his own.
"At first I set myself up as a private tutor," he tells me smoothly, seeming to forget until I remind him that his only academic qualification is one O-level, in Scripture. "Yes, well," he roars with laughter. "Despite that, I managed to build up a small business. Having given the children tuition I would offer to mow their parents' garden. After a little while I offered my services as a babysitter on top. So from one customer I got three businesses."
After five years in Canada he moved to America; from there to the Far East, where he applied the same tactics to openings he saw in the oil and steel industries. By 1979 he was a multi-millionaire. He bought a chain of international premises, including one in St James's, London, which he dubbed the St James's Clubs. They were among the first clubs to be open to anyone of any sex so long as they could pay.
The clubs did not endear him to the British Establishment. …