I sold my company for £150 million – it was the worst decision I ever made, says theater impresario Paul Gregg

Winning smile: Paul Gregg at the 2023 Icon Awards, where he won for his contribution to entertainment

Impresario Paul Gregg is the founder of the Apollo Leisure Group, which he has transformed into one of Britain’s leading live entertainment companies, writes York Membery.

The 82-year-old grew up on a council estate in Yorkshire but later became the boss of a company with iconic locations such as London’s Lyceum and the Dominion theatres, where hit shows such as The Lion King and Grease were staged.

The father-of-four, who sold the Apollo Leisure Group for more than £150 million in 1999, was co-owner of Everton football club from 2000 to 2006.

Gregg, who has just published a memoir, lives in South Kensington with his third wife, Yoshiko.

What did your parents teach you about money?

I was a war baby and didn’t meet my father, Kenneth, a corporal in the Green Howards, until I was almost five, in 1946. He spent a few years as a prisoner of war.

On his return to Civvy Street he was an engineer and although he was fairly paid, money was tight.

I grew up in social housing in Scarborough and Hull, one of three (my siblings are now dead) and close to my mother, Joan. My parents instilled in me the determination to be the best at whatever I did, whether it was a garbage collector or a postman.

Sadly, my mother never recovered from giving birth to a stillborn baby in her late 30s and died of kidney failure at the age of 42.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

I used the £500 deposit on a house I bought with my second wife, Nita, to finance a concert in Sheffield.

Ticket sales were terrible, but we were legally obligated to go through with the concert, so we lost the deposit.

Luckily the Midland Bank agreed to lend us the £500 we needed to complete the purchase, otherwise we would have been in real trouble.

Have you ever been given stupid money?

My fellow Apollo directors and I, along with the concert producer, shared in a seven-figure dividend after promoting Michael Jackson’s Bad tour in Britain in 1987.

He played seven sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium and more than a million people saw him on the UK leg.

But my biggest payday came after Nita and I sold Apollo Leisure Group to US giant SFX for more than £150 million in 1999.

I now consider that my worst business decision ever: if we had held on to all our assets for ten years the company would have been valued at around half a billion pounds.

What was the best year of your financial life?

The year I look back on with most pride is 1996, when Prince (now King) Charles visited the newly restored Lyceum Theater to see our first show, Jesus Christ Superstar.

I had bought the site for £1 million in 1993 and we had spent £14 million renovating it.

Some people said we (Apollo Leisure Group) were angry because we were spending so much, but The Lion King has been hosting The Lion King for 25 years. Every time I walk past the building I feel a sense of quiet satisfaction.

The most expensive thing you bought for fun?

I’ve owned a few Bentleys over the years, but the bike I’ve enjoyed the most is my used Porsche Cayenne, which cost £30,000 in 2014.

It’s safe to drive, but it has real ‘oomph’, and I can leave it outside our apartment – ​​it won’t get stolen because it’s ten years old.

Beat it: Michael Jackson on the Bad tour in 1987

Beat it: Michael Jackson on the Bad tour in 1987

What is your biggest money mistake?

Performance of Camelot at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, London, early 1980s.

Richard Harris demanded £40,000 a week (£175,000 today) to appear as Arthur, but the critics hated the show.

Ticket sales declined and we had to close the show after ten weeks.

Our losses amounted to £750,000. It was also a bumpy ride being one of Everton’s co-owners, but I still came out with a profit on my £7.5 million investment.

Best money decision you’ve made?

The purchase of our first location, the Apollo Manchester, in 1977.

The money flowed in and allowed us to buy a range of other venues such as the Hammersmith Apollo.

They previously booked Morecambe and Wise – who insisted on separate dressing rooms – to appear at the Southport Theater in the mid-1970s.

They may have demanded 95 percent of the box office revenue, but I’ve learned that if you spend a lot on talent, you usually make the money back.

Do you have a pension?

Only a state pension, but we sold the Apollo Leisure Group for a lot of money so I’m not broke.

Do you have property?

A three-bedroom apartment in South Kensington, which I bought for £4.5 million in 2012. The neighborhood has changed over the years, but it is close to the West End and safe.

If you were Chancellor, what would you do?

Introduce a tax on online purchases. The internet is destroying the high street: people see a product in a store and then simply buy it online.

What is your number one financial priority?

To ensure that my wife, when I am gone, enjoys the same standard of living as she does now.

  • Paul Gregg’s Backstage Without A Pass is published by White Fox on April 25, priced at £24.99.

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