With his twin brother, Frederick, he built a media and business empire that included the Ritz Hotel in London and The Daily Telegraph.
David Barclay, a British billionaire who with his twin brother, Frederick, built a media and business empire that includes the influential conservative newspaper The Daily Telegraph, died on Sunday. He was 86.
The Telegraph reported his death, saying it came unexpectedly after a short illness, but did not specify the cause or say where he died.
David and Frederick Barclay, identical twins, overcame a harsh childhood during World War II and left school at 14 before going on to establish a vast portfolio of companies and seven billion pounds (about $9.6 billion) in wealth, according to The Sunday Times Rich List.
For decades the brothers lived and worked together, owning, among other things, the conservative magazine The Spectator, the delivery company Yodel, the online retailer the Very Group and, for 25 years, the five-star Ritz Hotel in London.
Despite owning several publications, the brothers tried to keep out of the media spotlight.
“Privacy is a valuable commodity,” David Barclay reportedly once said. But that privacy was shattered last year by a succession drama.
A family fight over the inheritance of the business empire and the sale of the Ritz burst into public view in a court case when Mr. Barclay’s sons were caught spying on their uncle Frederick and his daughter, fraying the relationship between the brothers.
“It was a great journey in everything that we did, the good, the bad, the ugly,” Frederick Barclay said in a statement after his brother’s death. “We experienced it from being bombed out of our beds in Coventry to the deals that we made and the ones that got away.”
The Barclay brothers, as they were known, received knighthoods in 2000 for their charitable services. They wore matching outfits to the ceremony — light gray waistcoats and bright purple ties in their formal morning dress — and knelt together before Queen Elizabeth II in what was called an unusual “double dubbing.” So reclusive were the twins that there have been no known published photos of them since that ceremony.
Whether for reasons of privacy or eccentricity — or whether simply to make the most of the luxuries afforded by their wealth — the brothers lived in a castle they had built on a small island in the English Channel, off the northeast coast of France, purchased in the early 1990s. A BBC reporter was sued for breach of privacy in 1996 for trying to reach them on the island.
“Farewell with respect and admiration to Sir David Barclay,” Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, who had twice worked for The Telegraph, as a Brussels correspondent and as a political columnist, said on Twitter. The newspaper was founded as The Daily Telegraph and Courier in 1855.
Mr. Johnson lauded Mr. Barclay as someone who “rescued a great newspaper, created many thousands of jobs across the U.K., and who believed passionately in the independence of this country and what it could achieve.” Mr. Barclay supported Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
David Rowat Barclay was born on Oct. 27, 1934, in London 10 minutes before his twin brother. The family was a large one; different accounts put the number of children as high as nine. David was evacuated several times as a child during the Blitz. His father, also named Frederick, was a traveling salesman who died when the twins were 13, The Telegraph said. Their mother was Beatrice Cecilia (Taylor) Barclay.
After leaving school, Mr. Barclay held jobs in the accounts department at General Electric and as a decorator, and ran a corner shop. In 1961, the brothers set up an estate agency in West London.
They began buying hotels in London in the late 1960s and a decade later began branching out into other industries, purchasing the shipping company Ellerman Lines. Over the next four decades the brothers built their wealth by buying and selling breweries, shipping companies, media groups, retailers and hotels, including Claridge’s, which led to a bitter ownership battle about seven years ago.
Their first foray into media was in 1992, when they bought a new weekly newspaper called The European; it went out of business six years later. They bought The Scotsman, based in Edinburgh, in 1995, and owned it for 10 years; two years later they bought the financial newspaper Sunday Business, which closed 11 years later.
The brothers’ initial attempt to buy the Telegraph Group from its Canadian owners, led by Conrad M. Black, in a private deal in 2003 was blocked by U.S. courts. But in June 2004 they secured the company at auction for £665 million.
Mr. Barclay was said to be close to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, supporting her policies of small government, lower taxes and free markets. Ms. Thatcher died in 2013 at the Ritz Hotel, where she had been living after undergoing surgery.
The brothers’ secretive lives have not been without controversy. The brothers have been accused of avoiding British taxes on some of their companies, including the Ritz, and one company has been in legal battles with the government, which seeks to claw back hundreds of millions of pounds in tax rebates.
Mr. Barclay left the country and took up residency in Monaco in 1990, stopping his day-to-day management of the brothers’ companies, which are run by offshore trusts. Majority control of the businesses was passed on to Mr. Barclay’s elder sons, Aidan and Howard, from his first marriage, to the ballerina and model Zoe Newton in 1955. That marriage ended in divorce in the 1980s, The Telegraph said.
In addition to those sons and his brother Frederick, his survivors include his second wife, Reyna Oropeza; another son from his first marriage, Duncan; a son from his second marriage, Alistair; and several grandchildren.