Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Man Who Struck Gold in Fish

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Man Who Struck Gold in Fish

Article excerpt


IF gardeners have green fingers, then Les Steadman must have fish fingers. Since starting work at 15 on an eel stand in Billingsgate Market, fish has been his livelihood for nearly half a century.

Now it's his fortune. Working his way up from [pound]5a-week stand boy, he has acquired all the trappings of a cockney millionaire - a mansion in Essex with a swimming pool in the garden and a Daimler in the drive.

His Billingsgate business boasts an annual turnover of more than [pound]12 million, supplying fish to top restaurants in London. And on Thursday he opens the City's latest destination restaurant with [pound]1.5 million of his own money - no backers and not a penny borrowed.

Naturally, it's a fish restaurant, where dinner for two will cost six months' wages at Les's old starting salary. And the market traders filling Chamberlain's are more likely to come from the money markets than Billingsgate.

It's a far cry from the day in 1955 when his mum lent him the bus fare from Dagenham for that first day's work at the market, where his dad was a porter. Convinced the market was dying, he made his son walk all the way home because he didn't want him working there.

The term "self-made man" could have been made for Les Steadman, who grew up in the East End and left school with no qualifications to start his first job. "At 15 you couldn't wait to get to work in them days," he recalls, his cockney accent unchanged by his wealth and success. "Billingsgate was like a village of its own and everyone had family there: my dad was a porter and my uncle was a salesman."

Les, who still rises each day at 3am to get to the market before dawn, has kept the family connection alive. His own sons, Jeff and Ray, have worked with him at Billingsgate since they left school, and one of his daughters runs a fish-and-chip shop and a fishmonger.

At the age of 18 Les became the market's youngest porter. At 21 he married and, with his first child on the way, took a second job slaughtering turkeys on an Upminster farm.

After the birth of their first child, Les and his wife, Jan, lived with an aunt in his childhood home in Bow. …

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