Isle Of Man / Ellan Vannin

Manx billionaire Albert Gubay keeps 'pact with God'

Albert Gubay
Image caption Albert Gubay's frugality means he makes more than one cup of tea from a single tea-bag

When Albert Gubay was a penniless young man in post-war Wales, he made a pact with God: "Make me a millionaire and I'll give you half."

Now aged 82, he is a billionaire and is leaving his entire business empire to the Roman Catholic Church, keeping only £10m for himself.

He started out as a sweet-seller on the streets of Rhyl, struggling to earn a living to support his young family.

"I was at my wits' end thinking what on earth am I going to do," he said.

"I was desperate and didn't know where the next penny was going to come from."

His father ran stalls in North Wales in the 1940s and growing up there has had a lasting impact on him.

"I had a very hard father. I had two sisters. He was soft on them and hard on me," he said.

"I was always made to work at a very early age. I finished school at 4pm and by 5pm I was working. It was seven days a week."

Frugal 'little rules'

Mr Gubay, who admits to being a workaholic, founded the first Kwik Save store in 1965, going on to sell the supermarket chain for £14m in 1973.

He then founded the Total Fitness network of gyms, which were sold in 2004 for £70m, and has since built a vast property empire, which he still runs from his home in the Isle of Man.

He puts his success down to a "lot of luck" and applying frugal "little rules" to cut costs.

Image caption Albert Gubay was made a Papal knight in a ceremony last month

When the BBC visited him at home in the Isle of Man, he used one tea-bag for two cups of tea.

"Why would you want to waste anything?" he asked, squeezing the bag.

And this is how he has lived his life, wasting nothing and living as frugally as he can, so that he could give away as much money as possible, in particular to the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1998 Mr Gubay's cash helped fund a church built in Onchan in memory of his Roman Catholic mother.

He has given millions to churches in the Liverpool Diocese and pays for the city's archbishop and staff to fly to Lourdes every year.

On 23 February, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols presented Mr Gubay with a Papal knighthood - the highest award a Roman Catholic lay person can receive - for his charity work.

'Rare generosity'

After the service held at the church Mr Gubay built for his mother, the archbishop said: "I think it would be true to say that Mr Gubay feels overwhelmed.

"I only know of one other person in the British Isles, who is not a Catholic, who has the same award.

"This is very rare but Mr Gubay's generosity is also very rare."

Mr Gubay says he has no intention of retiring and will continue running his companies until he dies.

He hopes to push the value of his empire to more than £1bn.

After his death, the newly-founded Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation will distribute his money to the Church and other charitable causes.

When asked what his great achievement in life is, Mr Gubay replied: "To be able to keep the promise I made to God, I think that keeps me going.

"No matter how much the money had been I would have always fulfilled my promise as that's the way I am."

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