Forbes ranks Duke as UK’s richest man

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The Duke of Westminster has emerged as Britain’s richest man in a list of the world’s wealthiest people.

Also ranking among the 538 billionaire elite are businessman Sir Richard Branson and motor-racing boss Bernie Ecclestone, who are listed among Britain’s 12 billionaires in the latest annual survey by business magazine Forbes.

Top of the cash pile was Microsoft chairman and co-founder Bill Gates, who despite establishing a philanthropic foundation to distribute funds to educational causes, has remained in poll position for the seventh year running with a personal fortune of 41.9 billion - down seven per cent from last year’s 45bn.

Americans dominated the list. There are 271 US billionaires on the list, accounting for more than half the total.

The total wealth of those on the list is 1.214 trillion - more than the gross domestic product of France.

The average billionaire is aged 62, male and worth 2.285bn, according to Forbes.

The magazine said Britain’s highest-ranked billionaire and the only one to make the top 100, was Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, who at No. 45 and with a string of high-value property holdings had a personal wealth of 4.6bn.

The second wealthiest Briton and 172nd overall was Bruno Schroder of merchant bank Schroders with 1.93bn.

Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One guru and Britain’s third richest, was listed overall at No. 182 with a fortune of 1.8bn, while Sir Richard Branson, with 1.3bn, is the UK’s sixth richest and No. 272 on the world stage.

Falling profits at his Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains divisions have helped wipe 1.1bn off the fortune he had last year. A crash in the telecoms sector has also dented his wealth and hit his Virgin Mobiles venture hard, according to Forbes.

He said: "These valuations have always been amusing. One year I’m up a billion, the next year I’m down a billion. Often the only thing that’s changed is that we’ve grown a business or started one.

"Growing businesses with private money means that building long-term value is more important than short-term profit."

Others on the list include Kenneth Morrison of the supermarket group, with 1.2bn.

However, compared with the Americans, Britain’s well-heeled have a long way to go.

International financier Warren Buffet, known as the sage of Omaha for his investment nous, was the world’s second wealthiest billionaire. He was worth 23bn.

Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer which owns Asda, also spawned a lot of billionaires, with five of the Walton family in the world’s richest 11.

But the action does not just take place in the States.

Greece’s Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the 34-year-old entrepreneur who founded no-frills airline easyJet in 1998, shoots in at No. 336 with 1bn.

Other famous international billionaires include Italy’s Giorgio Armani and Miuccia Prada, of fashion fame, who enter the list for the first time.

And while America accounts for the bulk of wealth, it also accounts for the bulk of those who are no longer billionaires, such as Yahoo’s Tim Koogle and Priceline’s Jay Walker.

Others who have fallen out of the list include German media mogul Thomas Haffa, whose conglomerate owns the rights to the Muppets, while stock market and currency volatility bumped 14 Japanese from the list.

The Forbes billionaire ranking also shows that just seven per cent of its 538 members are women.

A total of 37 women made the list and only one new woman from outside the US made the Forbes ranking - Sweden’s Antonia Johnson.

The richest women in the world are Alice and Helen Walton, descendants of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, weighing in with 13.21bn.