HE IS a ‘disorganised, inconsiderate, insensitive, demanding swine’.
And those are his own words. His recent quest for a new personal assistant led to one of the most extraordinary newspaper recruitment ads ever seen.
‘If you are a highly intelligent workaholic with a skin like a rhinoceros, then this could be just the job for you,’ it began.
For a whopping 100,000 tax-free salary, the successful applicant would flit between the Med, the Alps and the Caribbean, working all hours, every day.
‘If you are married and want the job – get divorced now, because you will never see your partner again,’ it concluded.
The swine in question expected a handful of replies. He received 1,000. So who is this mystery man and what on earth is it like to work for him?
I joined his team for a few days to find out.
The reality is not an absentminded ogre.
Instead, I discover Chris Matthews – a plaintalking, teetotal, somewhat shy 53-year-old British tycoon with an allergy to tax and no fixed abode. He is a businessman who devotes his nomadic life to expanding his fortune from the back of a luxurious, gadget-packed boat.
And if my time in his employ is anything to go by, then count me in. After all, how often does your boss take you water-skiing?
‘I suppose you might call me a bit of an entrepreneur,’ says Matthews, with profound understatement. ‘I can be a tight-fisted bastard. But if people are good, they stay with me because they can’t afford to leave.’ We are sitting in Matthews’s ‘office’ – a varnished table on the deck of Tosca III, his 115ft 5million superyacht which, for the moment, is moored in a sheltered bay off Palma, Majorca.
It is from this same deck that his new personal assistant must keep Matthews in touch with his hedge fund interests, his dating agency businesses, his aviation and yachting investments, his properties, his internet projects, his expensive toys. Oh yes, and his three children – plus their mothers.
It’s time to roll up my shirt sleeves. I’m to be his temporary PA. So what needs doing? Out comes a list. His dating agency ads needs monitoring, the vast 350,000 tender to his yacht needs a new widget, he wants his underwater scooter out of storage, his Porsche needs preparing for a breakneck dash to a beach volleyball tournament (in Austria of all places) and he needs hotels and helipads for an upcoming tour of British public schools for his youngest son.
The tender roars up bearing the chap who runs the Matthews property portfolio in Majorca. There are umpteen calls from his two senior permanent aides, a London-based accountant and a Manchester- based lawyer.
All his staff call him ‘Chris’ and all say the same thing about their boss: ‘What you see is In between all the calls, there are exquisite meals produced by his Scottish chef, James, and served up by two Filipino stewardesses. The day is soon so busy that lunch, scheduled for 2pm, finally appears during a lull in calls at 5pm.
Afterwards, Matthews asks if I fancy a turn on the waterbike. The crew hoist this monster into the sea and I enjoy a delinquent 15 minutes of wave-bashing before he takes the controls and drags me round the bay on water skis.
Do all the staff get these perks?
‘I want people to enjoy themselves when they’re not working hard.
Of course, my team can use the toys, but they must know where to draw the line. I won’t have people taking the p***.’ A previous crew were once lent the Porsche and clocked up 10,000 miles.
They now work elsewhere.
ON THE downside, there is not much in the way of holidays – ‘I don’t really have them,’ says Matthews. But he points out that his staff have nothing to spend their tax-free salaries on, except for the odd beer ashore.
The phone rings again and he is soon giving orders to a minion in a Polish shipyard where his pride and joy is taking shape.
Next year, Matthews will take up residence aboard Tosca IV, an Irish warship which is being converted into a 215ft floating palace, complete with helipad, grand piano and Jacuzzis.
He is soon deep into deal mode. ‘Can we do a deal?. . . Don’t spend too much on that . . . Is this tax-free?’ He speaks in a deep, classless voice which he never raises because he doesn’t need to. His calm demands are usually followed by the phrase: ‘If you see what I’m saying.’ What Matthews wants, he usually gets.
In the case of his new PA, he didn’t want someone just to answer the phone.
He wanted a business-savvy lieutenant to be his eyes and ears for his projects from Florida to Gdansk.
And that is why, having gone through 1,000 applicants, he has just selected Jim Beauregard, 27, a former U.S. Marines captain who speaks three languages, has dual U.S./UK nationality and has just completed a business degree. He is not your average secretary. But then this is not your average boss.
Matthews is the eldest of three sons of a Surrey statistician, who enjoyed an undistinguished private education at St John’s School, Leatherhead, before gaining a polytechnic degree in engineering. He rose quickly through industry, running a division of Marconi and then of the Courtaulds conglomerate, before setting up his own business.
He did not enjoy his first project, a problematic paper mill in Bury.
Separated from his wife, Marie-France, by whom he had two young sons, he was living in a caravan and desperate for the big idea. It came while talking to a successful career woman bemoaning her lack of a boyfriend.
‘I told her to join Dateline. She told me where to go and then I thought: “What about an agency for the talented, professional type?” ‘ So in 1992, he spent 16,000 on a large ad in a Sunday paper and his upmarket dating agency, Club Sirius, was born. Within two months, it was in profit. Within two years, it was making more than 1million (it went on to provide Margaret Cook with a new love after the errant Robin).
As the business expanded, Matthews needed costly new telephone systems to deal with the volume of calls, so he hired a bright young graduate to build them, which gave him his next idea.
Just as the internet age was taking off, Matthews used these systems to create a low-cost telecom service called Telinco and it soared.
In 2000, just weeks before the dotcom crash, Matthews sold it to a Dutch business and pocketed more than 100 million. A keen sailor since childhood, he could finally achieve his dream of selling his Cheshire home and sailing off into the sunset.
‘I didn’t want to pay tax on it all so I went to see a guy at KPMG [accountants] and he gave me a very simple solution: ‘Don’t come back for five years.’ That was three years ago.
I can go back in two – but why go back to sit in the rain and pay tax?’
Doesn’t he miss anything at all about Britain? ‘Branston Pickle – and I can get that out here anyway.’ His yacht does not even fly a British Red Ensign, but the colours of St Vincent in the Grenadines. ‘For tax reasons,’ he explains. Not a great sentimentalist, evidently.
So who are his heroes? ‘Nelson and Sir Richard Branson’. Reading?
Mainly thrillers – ‘nothing intellectual’. Politics? ‘Sack the lot.’ Women?
‘Who would want an old git like me?’ His motto: ‘Aim for the stars and you might hit the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you won’t get off the ground.’
After selling Telinco, Matthews immersed himself in toys. Already an aviation nut, he could now buy the hardware (he has choppers, planes and a Lear Jet he has never flown).
He went to the Boat Show and bought the biggest motor yacht he could find.
‘It was about 2million and I said: “I’ll have that – right now.” ‘ THREE years on, he is still at sea in an even larger boat. But the entrepreneurial flame burns ever stronger. ‘Now I make money out of my hobbies.’ So, he has bought Cavair, the Florida flight school which taught him, and is developing a brand new, low- cost turbine helicopter which could net billions.
He has also bought Seastream, the Cornish boatyard which rebuilt his first yacht, and is launching a brand new line of 65ft luxury vessels.
Appalled by the private client advice he received from London investment banks he started looking at hedge funds (complex financial instruments for the superrich).
He created two for himself – both did very well, he says – and he is planning one for ordinary investors with more than 10,000 to spare.
‘I don’t want silly risks and volatility.
All I want is a nice 15 per cent annual return on my money.’ Don’t we all?
I ask him what he is worth. ‘I haven’t a clue.’ The latest Rich List puts him at number 232 with 140million. ‘More than that,’ he mutters.
And in the midst of all this, he remains mustard keen on the dating agency game. He is still chairman of OneSaturday, the group which merged Club Sirius with Dateline and other firms to produce Britain’s biggest agency, with a combined database of 50,000 names.
He admits he took his eye off the ball and the business is worth just a few hundred thousand. But he wants to register the company offshore and give it the full Telinco treatment.
‘It is tantamount to criminal stupidity not to make money in this business.
Dating works and we have more people than you could ever have dinner with.’
He plans to pioneer a new direction in the introductions market with Gorgeous Get Togethers, aimed at successful people in the 25- 35 range who do not have a shortage of admirers – only of time.
‘It’s huge and you wouldn’t believe some of the famous names on our books.
I’ve been to some of their speed-dating evenings. The girls were gorgeous and the blokes looked like Brad Pitt, except me, of course.’ He is even offering a bespoke introduction service for 25,000. ‘It would be the same personalised service as a private bank. A senior executive will sift through thousands of candidates, seek out suitable people and talk to them in advance.’ Clients will even be offered a private jet to the Matthews yacht to discuss their progress with the chairman.
So what of Matthews himself? For a man so delightfully frank about his money, he hates talking about his private life. When pressed, he says it is ‘complicated’. Officially, he is still married to Marie-France, by whom he has Alexander, 22, a biochemistry graduate, and Charles, 16, at boarding school in Britain.
They join him for holidays and remain on good terms. ‘She’s been down here and I’ll always look after her, whatever happens.’ AFTER the split he ended up in a 12-year relationship with Virginia Halliwell, a stockbroker, by whom he has a sixyearold son, James. That foundered after the Telinco deal. ‘I had my dream and wanted the whole tax exile thing but then she said she wanted to stay in Britain with her job.’ Her loathing of boats did not help.
So, he set sail alone and admits to one subsequent indiscretion. ‘I was royally dumped,’ he concedes. ‘Then Virginia saw the light and she moved out to Majorca with James to be a tax exile herself.’ She lives on the island which is why he chooses to moor his yacht in this bay for several months each year. ‘We get on very well indeed and my crew call her “She who must be obeyed”.’ So might there be a reconciliation for the emperor of introductions. ‘Why would she want me back?’ he asks coyly. But is he happy?
‘Do I look miserable?’ he replies with a big smile, and is saved by the mobile phone.
For most of the time, his family is his crew of six – led by his French skipper, Jacques Pierard, 50, who is also a helicopter pilot – plus five cats. Matthews likes to invite friends to stay in small groups.
Earlier this year, he unearthed two friends from primary school on the Friends Reunited website and invited them down to stay. One can only imagine their reaction on seeing their old chum’s set-up.
Life on the Good Ship Matthews, I conclude, would be an experience rather than a career. I have no doubt he will inundated with applicants when he places another eye-popping advert, tomorrow, for a computer programmer to share this peculiar existence (‘Salary: Outrageous’) and develop a new internet venture.
As for future plans? ‘I want to learn the piano properly,’ he muses after dinner as his overheating laptop plays the theme to the Incredible Hulk.
‘But it’s hard to find a teacher.’ Musicians form an orderly queue.