The golden girl behind the biggest deals in the Gulf
- 28 June 2010
- From the section Business
Amanda Staveley doesn't look like one of the world's biggest deal makers.
For a start she's a tall blonde woman in her late thirties, and she's pretty glamorous as you'd expect from a former model who once dated Prince Andrew.
I went to see her while she was in London sealing a deal for Barwa - a Qatari property investment company.
Perhaps more astonishing has been her route to the top - particularly as her academic career was cut short - she dropped out of Cambridge University.
Her next move was to open a restaurant near the racing town of Newmarket.
It was there that she began to rub shoulders with visitors from the Gulf who were dining there because of its proximity to the racecourse - customers included the associates of powerful rulers like Sheikh Maktoum of Dubai.
Fast forward to the credit crisis which sparked a number of big-money deals from rich Gulf investors.
The deal that really propelled Amanda Staveley into the public eye was when the Qatar Investment Authority bought a stake in Barclays in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis.
The deal saved the bank from the arms of the UK taxpayer- its rivals Lloyds and RBS had to be propped up with state aid.
So should the British public be grateful to Amanda Staveley and her firm PCP Capital Partners for not having to put its hand even deeper into its pocket to save Barclays?
"Not me," says Ms Staveley. "Thank Sheik Mansour bin Zayed (a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal family) and the Qatari government."
It is not just Barclays that has benefited from Qatar money.
The supermarket chain Sainsbury and the London Stock Exchange have also seen an injection of Qatar money and it's clear that the Qataris are keen to buy yet more British assets.
In the past few weeks they have taken over Harrods and there is a rumour that the next target is to buy the financial district of Canary Wharf - already part owned by the Qataris.
"They are saying 'we are betting on British and betting on London'. There is a definite appetite - this is an attractive time to invest in Britain," according to Ms Staveley.
However one thing the Qataris won't be buying anytime soon is an English football club.
Two years ago Manchester City was bought by Sheikh Mansour in a deal worth over £200m - brokered, naturally, by Ms Staveley.
She's clearly very proud of this particular transaction pointing to her wardrobe in an adjacent room containing a number of Manchester City shirts which she enjoys wearing from time to time.
But any club hoping for an Arabian saviour will find no encouragement from the woman behind the Man City deal.
"The Gulf has enough on its plate at the moment. Football is not top of the agenda," she says.
She makes clear that the size of the Gulf investment in Manchester City is of such a scale that if anyone else decided to buy a club they would have to have pretty deep pockets to compete with it.
Despite her broad Yorkshire accent and affection for the country of her birth, it's clear that Amanda Staveley is now rooted to the Gulf where she has chosen to live and work.
"I love the Gulf but I miss London," she says.
She also misses British television but still manages to get her fix of favourite shows including The Apprentice, Question Time and Dragons' Den.
That last programme returns her interest - at one point she was approached to appear as one of the Dragons.
She has a strong regard for Middle Eastern culture and admits that she is drawn to Islam.
With her current boyfriend being a Muslim she doesn't rule out the idea of bringing up future children as Muslims.
But what's it like being a woman in the Arab world?
After all, in Saudi Arabia women must wear a veil and are not allowed to drive a car on their own.
Ms Staveley says: "I think women are treated in the Gulf with a huge amount of respect."
She makes clear that her gender has never been a barrier to doing business there and she is happy to wear a veil when appropriate.
As for her business heroes? Not for Ms Staveley, the Richard Bransons or Jack Welchs of this world: "I'm very grateful to Emir of Qatar and his prime minister. They deserve a huge vote of thanks for supporting us (the UK) over a difficult few years."