Sunday 21 January 2018

Self-pitying Simon thinks the recession's real victims should feel sorry for him

Tycoon's book is an insult to the many people who behaved properly but must now pay for bank blunders

Simon Kelly is obviously a superstitious man. Whenever the property tycoon had a business meeting in the boardroom of Anglo Irish Bank, he always sat in the CEO's chair which was normally occupied by Sean FitzPatrick.

As he explains in his new book Breakfast With Anglo, "I wanted to get the good karma."

When Seanie finally fell from grace, however, no amount of good karma could save Simon from going down with him.

Once among the richest young men in Dublin, today he is around €200m in debt and presumably in the process of dumping his portfolio into Nama.

Now he has written a memoir that promises to tell the inside story of Ireland's property bubble -- but unfortunately, its relentlessly self-pitying tone means that even the most kind-hearted reader will struggle to feel much sympathy for him.

Breakfast With Anglo is not exactly a page-turner.

It goes into excruciating detail about the finances of every major deal Kelly pulled off, from the Choice Hotel franchise to the Thomas Read chain of pubs.

However, it does provide an insight into the mentality of the builders and bankers who rode high during the boom -- as well as the greed and stupidity that landed us in the mess we're in today.

Simon Kelly was always destined to be a property developer. His father Paddy moved to Dublin in the 60s, became a self-made construction multi-millionaire and drove around in a Rolls-Royce to impress potential clients.

Simon boasts that while his friends worked in pubs for £1.20 an hour, he earned more than six times that by doing spreadsheets for his Dad on an Amstrad computer in the family home on Shrewsbury Road.

When Simon entered the business himself, he needed a bank that was prepared to finance his dreams by lending him vast sums of money.

He soon found out that Anglo Irish was tailor-made for the job. Like him, Anglo's executives saw themselves as underdogs taking on the establishment -- and just like him, they knew how to have a laugh.

Breakfast With Anglo makes it clear that Kelly enjoyed the social aspect of his job almost as much as he enjoyed making money. There are endless descriptions of lavish early-morning meals with bankers at the Shelbourne Hotel, Anglo's celebrity golf outings at the exclusive K Club and the offers of tickets to a Grand Prix race or Wimbledon final.

Like so many people at the time, Kelly operated on the assumption that the party would last for ever and the money would never run out.

He received a sharp warning from an old school friend, who told him that Anglo was "a shower of spoofers" whose only clients were "Paddies with no money" and had a balance sheet "full of shit". Simon was a bit taken aback, but decided this was sour grapes.

Along the way, Kelly also took advantage of the many tax breaks that the Government provided for him and his fellow developers.

At one point he even approached Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy and personally thanked him for all his good work. Champagne Charlie replied that he never liked to interfere with the market, apparently not realising that his reckless tax policies were doing exactly that.

The book suggests that even before the market nosedived, Kelly was starting to wonder if his job was really all worth the hassle.


He looked around a house in Foxrock one day and realised that he was building "perfect homes for plastic people".

One Christmas, he found himself staring at the Wicklow Mountains and wondering: "What is this bullshit? I should be enjoying myself and this is not fun any more."

When Kelly tried to sell up his assets, he found Anglo were not quite as helpful as before.

Even then, however, it was a love affair that he found difficult to break off.

"I felt warmth for the place," he writes touchingly at one point. "It was as though they were a concerned parent putting their arms around us in our time of need."

In 2008, Kelly narrowly avoided being found in contempt of court after he sent a threatening email to an insurance broker who had brought a legal case against his father.

He wrote that the action was "bullshit" and if it continued: "I am going to be forced to cause you loss and pain in other business arrangements... There are plenty of places that I can hurt you and you can hurt me."

In the High Court, the judge decided not to refer Kelly to the DPP on condition that he made a €20,000 donation to St Vincent de Paul. Strangely enough, this incident is only mentioned very briefly in Kelly's book.

Today Kelly is, by his own admission, completely bust. Instead of blaming Anglo for his downfall, however, he seems to think that the entire country must share the responsibility.

He even has the cheek to claim that Nama should not make any developers bankrupt because this "would merely serve to satisfy the public appetite for blood".

Kelly's book not only suggests he is badly out of touch with public opinion -- it's also an insult to the many people who behaved responsibly during the boom and must now pay for the blunders made by him and his banking buddies.

In the closing pages, he concludes that the property game is "a sad business full of sad people, running on treadmills to nowhere". Right now, it sounds as if he is one of the saddest of them all.

Kelly may have had breakfast with Anglo, but in business parlance they ended up eating his lunch. A lot of people in this country deserve sympathy for the way in which the recession has ruined their lives. This blinkered and self-serving book suggests he is not one of them.

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