MT business lifeforms: The serial entrepreneur - David Jonstone, chief executive of Jonstone Holdings

David Jonstone, chief executive of Jonstone Holdings.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Dynamic and manic, media whoring (never boring), crazy guy (never wears a tie) and always bubbling over with enthusiasm for his next project, David Jonstone is a hard man to avoid. Here he is stepping into a soiree at Number 10. There he goes, garbed in extreme sportswear, off to ski solo across Antarctica. Now he's on the party pages of OK and Heat, 'Britain's billionaire bachelor', half-drunk, draped across a starlet half his age. He makes it his business to make his businesses your business.

But this embodiment of entrepreneurial zeal courts the press on his terms. He shies away from the sharper interlocutors: yes to Richard and Judy, no to Jeremy and Jon. Jonstone, you see, likes to present himself as a people's champion, a real rags-to-riches story. But the truth is, Jonstone is riches to more riches. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he merely turned it gold.

An only child, his early years were spent in middle-class comfort, but when he reached his teens, his father's career took off. Soon, Jonstone senior was at the helm of defence manufacturer BDE, the family traded comfort for luxury and junior moved from the local grammar school to Marlborough.

That he was viewed as a parvenu there may account for his fulsomely professed empathy for the man in the street.

After respectable but hardly dazzling A-levels, he found himself disenfranchised at Bristol university by 'the small horizons of the place'. He dropped out in his second year to found a 'yoof' magazine, starting, as he so often puts it, 'to take risks where others take care'. Successful at first, the magazine folded two years down the line, an event Jonstone cheerfully describes as 'my first and best business lesson'.

What he is less candid about, though, is that the person who cleared up the morass of red figures and bad debts was the indulgent and deep-pocketed (by then Sir) Rupert Jonstone. (Private Eye's 'Slicker' later characterised Jonstone's early career as 'taking risks where other people's daddies cannot take care'.) Ten months later, he was back with a limo service (this was the '80s), then a record label, then a chain of personal electronics boutiques, which had him taking several major high street names to court over price-fixing. Emerging victorious, he jetted off for a rare holiday in the Caribbean and returned three weeks later married to his childhood sweetheart. This, and his immunity to the blandishments of the Tory party, cemented his position as Britain's favourite maverick businessman.

The late '80s and early '90s saw the Jonstone empire grow. Car rental, beauty products, coffee shops, the inevitable airline... But, privately, things were less glossy. Jonstone's workaholism and love of the limelight took its toll on his marriage. His mousy wife was traded in for a sleeker model who knew how to act when he was out schmoozing the stars. They had a child, her figure went, then so did she. In both cases, Jonstone settled quickly, generously and out of court. Since then, there's been a series of flings with pulchritudinous things, but nothing serious.

In 1996 Jonstone floated the largest of his businesses. His relationship with the City was a fractious one, and two years later - after most of his investors had lost a fair wad - he took it private again, blaming a lack of dynamism and optimism in the Square Mile. For once the media didn't side with him. Articles pointed to his Byzantine network of companies headquartered in an archipelago of small states with opaque tax laws.

In a rare nod to popular culture, the FT asked: 'Will the real David Jonstone please stand up?'

In recent years a succession of biographies promised to blow the whistle on the real David Jonestone, but all fell short of the mark. One called him a latter-day Ozymandias, a media-inflated colossus staring out at the worthless shells of companies all around. He shrugs off these brickbats.

All this carping gets in the way of business.

And the real truth? Well, only the bronzed gnomes of Credit Santa Cruz d'Oro on the Caribbean island of the same name know this. For their institution is where all of Jonstone's roads ultimately lead. But all requests for information that come their way are logged on an answerphone and quietly forgotten.

JONSTONE IN A JIFFY

1961 Born 12 July, Esher, Surrey.

Educated locally, Marlborough College and Bristol University

1982 Drops out to found Look Out magazine.

1984 Look Out folds

1985 Founds Jonstone Records, Jonstone Limos

1987 Founds Caffiend, Jonstone Holdings, wins court action, marries

1991 Divorces

1992 Remarries

1994 Redivorces

1996 Floats Jonstone Holdings

1998 Takes Jonstone Holdings private

2004 Announces plans to redefine fast food for the 21st century

Clubs: Home House, The Mandrake, Adam Street

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