HEARD the one about the Chelsea fan who grew up on a council estate, then sold his business for £45million and now lives a life of luxury which includes watching his top racehorses?
It sounds too good to be true – but Alan Spence really does have, as one publication put it, a ‘lifestyle to die for’.
Make no mistake though, this business genius made his fortune through blood, sweat and a hell of a lot of hard work.
These days he can kick back and enjoy the fruits of his labour, which includes being a vice-president at the club he loves.
Watching his table-topping team from some of the best seats in the house at Stamford Bridge is just one of the ways Spence spends his down time since selling his travel business for £45m.
It was not always this way though, far from it.
Spence grew up on a Surrey council estate and as a teenager made the candy floss at Chessington Zoo.
Working every hour he wasn’t at school, he was also just a teenager – 19 to be precise – when he borrowed £50 from his dad and used it to set up his own business.
Spence‘s travel and shipping agency in Epsom made a name for itself at the same time package holidays started to boom.
He told Travel Weekly: “People were booking all these holidays so I thought ‘that sounds like a good idea’.
“I had a travel agency at the front of the shop and shipping was at the back. I had the leisure side of the business.”
Britannic Travel went on to stratospheric success, being sold to Australian group Flight Centre for £45m in 2003.
Spence stayed in charge until 2008, helping the company to a record £8.3m profit on £29.6m sales in 2006-07.
BEST DEAL WAS AT CHELSEA
The Sunday Times, who put Spence’s wealth at £45m in 2009, said he made £16.4m in dividends and salaries between 1997 and 2002.
But despite his success, Spence reckons his best bit of business was getting invited onto the top table at Chelsea by former Blues owner Ken Bates.
Spence, who owned two horses called John Terry and Super Frank, told the Racing Post: “When Ken asked me to get involved, I was very flattered.
“He's an entrepreneur, very much like me, but flamboyant and in the public eye.
“I had a lot of respect for him, but Chelsea got sold and that was great, too. You have to move on.”
Millionaire computer mogul Joe Hemani and serial entrepreneur Tony Reeves – the man who ‘can’t help making fortunes’ according to the Evening Standard – are also vice-presidents at Chelsea.
After thrashing Norwich 7-0 at the weekend, it seems Spence could have reason to cheer come the end of the season with Chelsea top of the league at the moment.
But his love of racehorses has also given him plenty of joy over the years.
That’s all the more remarkable considering he had no interest in them to begin with.
WASN'T INTO RACING… THEN BECAME BIG WINNER
Recalling how he got involved in the sport, Spence told the Racing Post: “I wasn't really into racing.
“But I met Arthur [Pitt, famous trainer] in a pub and thought he was a bit of a character and a bit of fun, so I bought a horse at the sales in 1971 called Starch Reduced for 1,000 guineas, and it won first time out in 1972 by four lengths with Lester Piggott up.
“Those were fun days. It's still fun now, but the operation's bigger and it takes more managing and, when I'm not doing consultancy work or on the phone or on the gallops or at the races, then I'm at the sales a lot with trainers.”
Perhaps no horse gave Spence more pleasure than Jukebox Jury, who carried his eye-catching red and white silks to victory.
The horse won at 14-1 on debut at Goodwood in 2008 and barely stopped winning after that, adding the 2011 Irish St Leger to complete a glittering career that brought in £859,084 in earnings.
Or maybe it was the aptly-named Profitable, who hoovered up five-furlong races including the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot before being sold to the billionaire ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed.
LIFE OF LUXURY
Whatever the answer, the winners continue now.
Spence has notched up earnings of £707,958 over the past five seasons from Flat horse races in Great Britain.
His most recent was Pinball Wizard, who won a six-furlong race at Kempton earlier this month.
Mind you, don’t expect to see Spence braving it out in the cold near the bookies this time of year.
As someone who made his fortune in the travel business, he said he wisely chooses to migrate to warmer climes this time of year.
He told Travel Weekly: “I enjoy going on holiday. I go to Barbados at Easter, Spain in the summer, Dubai in October and South Africa in the New Year.”
And quite frankly, with the life and success he’s had, who can blame him?
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