THE  DAVID THOMPSON  PHENOMENON

That's a bit rich

David Thompson is seriously rich. According to the number crunchers at the Sunday Times, he and his family have assets worth £400 million, and the newspaper has awarded him joint 101st place in the 2004 edition of the Rich List, their annual league table of the wealthiest people in the UK.

From humble beginnings as a meat trader on Smithfield market, David Thompson went on to co-found the Hillsdown Holdings group in 1975. Hillsdown became a hugely successful business, despite owning a bewildering ragbag of different companies. Familar consumer brands - including Typhoo tea, Maryland cookies and Chivers jam - were part of the Hillsdown empire alongside interests in timber, house-building and insurance. David Thompson made the bulk of his fortune by selling his stake in Hillsdown in two deals that earned him an estimated £300 million.

He has invested much of his wealth in racehorse breeding. In 1975 he and his wife, Patricia, bought Cheveley Park Stud, a 1,000-acre thoroughbred horse farm near Newmarket, and have since purchased four other neighbouring studs. Newmarket is of course the historic centre of English horseracing and it is believed that racehorses have been bred on the Cheveley site for more than a thousand years. Party Politics, the 1992 Grand National winner, was one of the Thompsons' horses.

David Thompson has also helped to set up his son in business. Richard Thompson appears to share his father's fondness for a curiously diverse range of business interests; in his case it covers designer clothing, meat packing, TV production and football.

As is traditional when thinking about enormously rich people, we have to ask ourselves, 'but is he happy?'. Well, one thing David Thompson certainly wasn't happy about was falling victim to £30 million fraud.

In November 1999 Peter Leonard admitted 15 charges of fraudulent trading, forgery and false accounting. Leonard had been the director of Muirpace, a commodities firm dealing in grain, which David Thompson acquired in 1987. Muirpace had been making huge losses and Leonard had attempted to disguise this by forging 127 grain warrants. These documents purported to show that the company owned over 300,000 tonnes of wheat; in fact the warrants weren't worth the paper they were printed on. Leonard was sentenced to 3 years 9 months imprisonment and disqualified from acting as a director for 7 years.

The Sunday Times Rich List
The ultimate guide to the UK's fattest wallets

Cheveley Park Stud
It's all about breeding