George Walker, Boxer and businessman. Born:14 April, 1929, in Stepney, East London. Died: 22 march 2011 in Aged 81.
His encounters in the ring were almost as bruising as those in the boardroom. At times a quiet and reflective man, George Walker, in his youth was a boxer of note, a businessman who amassed a fortune through building the first out of town shopping centre - Brent Cross in North London - then descended into bankruptcy before witnessing his daughter marry a cousin of Prince Philip.
In between Walker acted as a bodyguard for an East End gang which resulted in a prison sentence and resuscitated the career of Joan Collins by financing the movies The Bitch and The Stud. After the bankruptcy Walker rebuilt his career and made a second fortune in the former Soviet Union. He was an undoubted maverick whose career was dramatic - as he once admitted, "I suppose looking back it's been a bit of a rollercoaster of a life, far from boring, but I wouldn't change it for the world."
George Alfred Walker was one of the three sons of a drayman and left school at 14. He worked at Billingsgate and was a successful amateur boxer - in the ring he was known as the Stepney Steamroller - and won the British Amateur Boxing Championship as a light-heavyweight in 1951.In a brief career as a professional he fought Denis Powell in a brutal contest leaving Walker with broken hands, a ruptured spleen and double vision. Wisely he quit boxing to manage his better-known brother Billy, known as the Blonde Bomber.
The money Walker made from that allowed him to invest in niche businesses. Throughout his career Walker had an ability to recognise a financial opportunity and capitalise on it. The first such enterprise was Billy's Baked Potatoes which was an early fast food outlet. In 1974 Walker built up commercial links with the company that owned a dog track in Hendon, north London. The area was developed into the vast Brent Cross Shopping Centre, one of the early suburban malls, and brought Walker many millions.
Walker was always keen to be associated with show business and some of the profits from Brent Cross were invested in cinemas, video recorders and films. The Bitch and The Stud proved hugely profitable and he also funded the filming of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Walker was rising high and his company, Brent Walker, received a bid but Walker turned it down and with typical panache simply privatised the company.
Undeterred Walker mounted a series of hugely adventurous takeovers. He bought the Brighton Marina and developed it into a viable commercial enterprise. In 1985 he returned to the stock exchange and as his shares went ever higher Walker bought Elstree film studios, WonderWorld theme park, the Le Touquet marina and the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus . In 1988 he paid 240m for Ellerman Holdings which owned over 800 pubs.. It was hectic and frantic commercial enterprise.
But in 1989 Walker over reached himself when he bought all the bookmakers owned by William Hill and Mecca for 685m. It landed him with a mountain of debt just as interest rates were rising. By 1991 the banks were called in and declared Brent Walker was no longer viable and Walker was ousted as chairman and chief executive: in fact he was escorted from his office at 4.30am. Two years later Walker was declared bankrupt with debts of 180m. The Serious Fraud Office charged him with theft and after a five month trial he was acquitted. It was a terrifying time for Walker - during the trial he was in much distress and broke down in tears.
With typical resilience he rebuilt his personal life - gone was the sumptuous apartment in Knightsbridge and the yacht - and his business career. As a bankrupt he could not set up a business in the UK so he relocated to Moscow and dealt in cigarettes, cosmetics and the like. He set up Premier Telesports in Cyprus and gained the rights to SIS the satellite channel that relays all the racing into the bookmakers. He made another fortune and lived a grand life in Moscow in a large dacha with tennis court and swimming pool.
Walker was a controversial character who was, for a time, the successful tycoon labelled by the press as charismatic and adventurous. When he re-established himself he displayed the same courage, charm, flair and unremitting determination He once explained this zeal,: "When I get into something new and it starts making money I look around for another place to do it. I'm like a squirrel on one of them barrels – the faster I run the faster the bloody thing goes."
George and Jean Walker were married in 1957. She and their two daughters and a son survive him.