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We've survived death threats and serious illness and just missed
[September 20, 2006]

We've survived death threats and serious illness and just missed

(The Mail on Sunday Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) He stood up to the thuggish print unions, began the new technology revolution in newspapers and became a household name and multimillionaire in the process, so it might be assumed Eddy Shah can afford to relax. Yet for the onetime 'Shah of Warrington', where his Messenger Group of local newspapers was based, even semi-retirement becomes a business opportunity.

After selling his newspaper group 20 years ago for GBP25million, Eddy, 62, and his wife Jennifer, 59, sampled jet-set life in Florida, got bored and settled in Essex. Here, his favourite hobby, golf, led him to setting up, and subsequently selling, a string of country clubs in East Anglia - The Essex, The Suffolk and The Norfolk - and even pocketing a sizeable slice of a GBP132million stake in the prestigious Wentworth Golf Club.

Now Eddy, or rather Jennifer, is venturing into property, next month launching a GBP15million development of New England-style wooden holiday lodges at The Wiltshire Golf and Country Club at Wootton Bassett, just west of Swindon, which they own.

Jennifer - who as Jennifer White was a top model and actress who appeared in the spoof 1967 Bond movie Casino Royale - is the inspiration for the project which will see 44 three and four-bedroom eco-friendly lodges built by next summer.

'I just thought it would be a perfect opportunity for golfers and their families to make a weekend of their trip to the golf course, and enjoy a bit of time in the country,' she explains.

Although she and Eddy are working closely together, the project gives her another focus: she is recovering from cancer and its complications, an illness she has faced three times, once being given just weeks to live.

For Eddy, Jennifer's illness has given him a new perspective on what is important. 'If it was all about ambition and money, I'd be a billionaire by now, flying round on private jets,' he says.

'Jennifer was extremely ill the year before the Warrington print disputes in 1982. Supporting her in her fight definitely made me stronger about standing up for what I believe in, but also underlined how my family was the most important part of my life.

'Besides, Jennifer has never let me back down. When, at the height of the union dispute, five coffins - two for us and three little ones for our children Martyn, Tamsyn and Alex, now aged 33, 28 and 26 - arrived at the house, I asked Jennifer if I should stop. She said, "If you do, I'm leaving".' The newspaper pioneer's love - and gratitude - for his wife surfaces frequently in conversation. When they met in 1968, he was a jobbing studio manager at Granada TV on GBP1,000 a year, while Jennifer was a leading lady on GBP10,000.

'I married a rich woman and she gave it all up for me and to bring up our children,' he says.

The Shahs did more than their fair share of moving home over the years - more of which later - before buying their Wiltshire home twoand-a-half years ago for GBP1.15million.

It is a sprawling seven-bedroom Victorian house in 15 acres, which had the attraction of being just a short drive from The Wiltshire Golf and Country Club which they bought in 2001.

Despite their new venture into the holiday-home business, Eddy cheerfully admits he has been plagued by disaster with his own properties.

Their previous home, a beautiful mill house near Colchester, which they extended over a river, was bought in 1994 for GBP375,000. 'We put it on the market ten years later for GBP750,000 and were confident it would sell quickly,' says Jennifer.

'One night there was a flash flood and Eddy went down to find our carpet floating off the floor,' she recalls.

'We had dehumidifiers in for months and the place was completely redecorated, including a new kitchen. Luckily, when we put it back on the market it was pristine and sold in a week. But we had spent a fortune on it by then - I'm sure it's worth a lot more now.' Blight of a different kind affected the house they sold to buy the mill.

A ranch-style bungalow in Mobberley, Cheshire, bought for GBP137,000 in 1989, was given a GBP200,000 transformation, including a huge extension, tennis courts and indoor pool. It was valued at GBP1million in 1993 - until the second runway at Manchester airport was announced. Overnight, property prices in the area plummeted.

'It was the uncertainty more than anything that made people nervous,' says Eddy. 'It sold for GBP750,000 after a year, but would now be worth at least GBP1.5million.' Possibly the biggest missed windfall was the holiday home on the 18th green at St Andrews, bought in 1988 for GBP270,000. But Eddy never visited and sold it ten years later for GBP650,000. It was valued recently at GBP3.5million. 'We keep seeing the houses we used to own doing much better for other people,' he says.

'Luckily, neither of us is that bothered.

I am very tough when it comes to money in business, but I definitely lack the killer instinct when it comes to my own.' When Eddy and Jennifer met on the set of TV show The Caesars - Eddy was floor manager, Jennifer was playing Caligula's sister - they rented until 1973 when they could afford GBP4,000 for their first house in Sale. It was sold three years later for GBP14,000 so that Eddy could launch his newspaper business.

'I was made redundant by the Manchester Evening News and decided I was never going to work for anyone else again,' he says.

'I also wanted to launch free newspapers with proper news in them, many of which I would write myself.

Jennifer just said "OK, let's do it", so we sold the house and the business took off quickly.' Over the next decade, Eddy set up newspapers all over the North West, while Jennifer set about finding homes to accommodate their growing family, eventually paying GBP40,000 for a huge Victorian house in Lymm, Cheshire, which had once been a hotel but had been empty for 25 years.

'It was a lovely home by the time the builder finished, but we'd spent so many hundreds of thousands on it that we knew we'd never recoup it,' says Jennifer. 'We were very happy there, though, so we didn't mind.' This was also their home at the height of the union dispute.

'As well as the coffins arriving, which was terrifying, our phone would ring constantly, taxis would arrive at the dead of night and items for sale at stupid prices were always appearing in the classified ads.

'One day Eddy rang to say they'd just announced our home address over the Tannoy at work and that I should be careful. I told him not to worry as I had 500 police taking up position on our front lawn.' As Eddy was becoming known as the man who defied the bully-boy tactics of the print unions, he was already planning to create a national newspaper that made use of new technology.

Today, Britain's first colour national newspaper, was launched in 1986, though it later ran into difficulties and he was forced to sell.

Eddy then started another paper, The Post, which he now acknowledges was his only misguided business venture. 'I did it for all the wrong reasons - to prove myself and to prove everyone else wrong. It didn't work and by then I'd started to feel I'd had enough of the newspaper industry. A week after it closed, the 60 Messenger newspapers were sold and I was a retired man.'

Eddy's retirement lasted three weeks, then he began looking for new directions. He wrote four thrillers - including Ring Of Red Roses and Manchester Blue - and swapped the Lymm house for GBP500,000 to buy the Mobberley bungalow.

He and Jennifer then moved to Florida, sampling the jet-set life - private plane and vast penthouse with ocean views in Fort Lauderdale. But it didn't suit them.

'Eddy was playing golf and I was shopping, but there's only so much of that you can do,' says Jennifer. 'We did invest in a small development of four GBP2million villas on a golf course, which went very well until our business partner decided he wanted to go to Hollywood to make movies instead.

'The final straw came when our son Martyn arrived unannounced for a visit and found Larry, who did our maintenance work, stark naked sprawled on our sofa watching TV.

Martyn said he'd never sit on that sofa again and, in fact, we decided to sell not long afterwards. We'd bought the property for GBP250,000 in 1989 and sold it for GBP750,000 five years later, but prices have gone up so much that it's now worth more than GBP2million.' Their experience of the golfing property sector in the US, plus their portfolio of country clubs acquired in the Nineties, helped hone their ideas for the development at The Wiltshire.

The holiday lodges will be two and three storeys and feature eco-friendly Japanese heating systems which should save up to 75 per cent on electricity and heating costs. They will have good insulation and recycled water will flush the lavatories.

Prices range from GBP198,000 to GBP265,000, but it is a planning consent condition that the houses are only occupied for 11 months of the year.

The first show home will be ready next month and with the development due for completion next summer, Eddy is already making new plans.

'We are very much aiming at the middle of the market and at families,' he says. 'The country club will cater for everyone, and we're encouraging the whole family to use the golf course, which is also being overhauled and improved.

'I hope we'll be able to build more than 100 homes and create a fantastic place for people to relax. It's not the money, but the next new idea that interests me. That's how I am and it's what keeps me in business.' .

Stepping stones on the road to riches

WATERWORKS:This beautiful mill house, left, near Colchester, cost GBP375,000 in 1994. The couple extended it over the river.But a decade later,a flash flood hit their plans to sell.It took months to dry it out and redecorate, including a new kitchen. However, it then sold in a week.

RUNWAY BLIGHT: Their bungalow, left, in Mobberley, Cheshire,cost GBP137,000 in 1989.

After GBP200,000 of improvements, in 1993 it was valued at GBP1million. But prices fell on news of a new runway at Manchester. A year later,the property sold for GBP750,000.

Copyright 2006 The Mail on Sunday.

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