Sir Tom is first Scots billionaire

SIR Tom Hunter has joined the league of the super-rich by becoming Scotland's first home-grown billionaire, it emerged last night.

The founder of the Sports Division retail chain now has a fortune of 1,050m, according to an annual list of Britain's richest, which ranks him 60th equal in the UK.

The 45-year-old entrepreneur from Ayrshire made his first serious money in 1998 from the sale of Sports Division to JJB Sports for 290m.

A spokesman for the Hunter Foundation said Hunter was as stunned as anyone by the news: He said: "We have never added up Tom's wealth. I think he is pretty stunned. It's a huge privilege but a huge challenge to use the money in a responsible way."

He added that the business tycoon, who goes to Africa three or four times a year on charitable business, drew his real inspiration for making money from philanthropy, which he "stumbled upon" when he sold his first business in 1998.

"He didn't know what to do with his money and then he stumbled upon philanthropy. His new billionaire status means hundreds of thousands more pounds will flow into Scottish education and poverty alleviation in Africa."

Along with his wife Marion, the tycoon established The Hunter Foundation in 1998, which has donated millions to supporting educational and entrepreneurial projects in Scotland and the developing world.

He now devotes about a third of his time to charitable activities.

Hunter's acquisitions this year have included strengthening his property empire with a takeover of house-builder Crest Nicholson as well as agreeing a 30m takeover deal for the ten-strong Blooms of Bressingham garden centre chain. He also owns Wyevale Garden Centres and has a minority holding in Midlothian-based rival Dobbies. Amongst his recent acts of charity was a 1m donation to Comic Relief last month.

This year's rich list, which profiles the 1,000 richest people and families in the UK, contains four more Scottish entries than it did last year and names Hunter as just one of 68 billionaires who have been born, live, or make their money in Britain. It adds that the number of billionaires living in Britain has trebled in the past four years.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling and Stagecoach co-founders Brian Souter and Ann Gloag have also seen their estimated wealth increase. Souter, 52, and Gloag, 64, saw their wealth virtually double over the past year to 770m, leading to a five-place rise in the Scottish top 10.

The brother and sister team bought two second-hand buses financed by their father's redundancy payoff.

This led to the birth of the Stagecoach transport company, which now employs 31,000.

Souter recently hit the headlines for donating 500,000 to the SNP's election war chest.

In the early years of devolution, he led an unsuccessful campaign against plans to scrap legislation which prohibited councils from promoting homosexuality in schools.

Meanwhile, JK Rowling's wealth rises slightly to 545m, ahead of this summer's publication of the final instalment in her Harry Potter series of seven books.

She slips a place in the Scottish rankings, but with the movie of the fifth Potter book also due out, her fortune seems set to rise sharply next year, the list compilers said.

Elsewhere in the study, publisher D C Thomson of Dundee has created a near doubling of wealth for its principal shareholders.

The Thomson family saw their value rise from 320m last year to 634m this year on the back of increased profits at the publishing house behind the Beano comic.

Rangers chairman David Murray is still the fifth richest person in Scotland with 750m. And Tory donor Lord Laidlaw is sixth on the list with 730m.