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Richard Desmond buys Channel Five for £103m

By Anna Doble

Updated on 23 July 2010

Media tycoon Richard Desmond has bought Channel Five from RTL for £103.5m. Channel 4's Who Knows Who profiles the mogul who left school at 14 and made his fortune in newspapers and top-shelf magazines.

Richard Desmond (Reuters) has bought Channel Five (Getty)

Richard Desmond has sealed the deal on the latest addition to his media empire, acquiring Channel Five for £103.5m.

He bought the 100 per cent shareholding in the channel from European entertainment network RTL, which became its sole owner five years ago.

RTL's chief executive Gerhard Zeiler confirmed he had signed an agreement for the sale of Five Group to Desmond's Northern & Shell firm and that the deal is now closed with immediate effect.

Mr Desmond said: "Channel Five has proved itself to be a credible and competitive British broadcaster with some of the most sought-after programmes from home and overseas.

"I'm delighted to have taken ownership of the network and I know that, with the right investment, drive and leadership, it can go from strength to strength as a competitive broadcaster and a modern player for the digital consumer."

Dawn Airey, Five's chair and chief executive, said: "We now move forward under the ownership of a successful media company that wants to grow our business and has exciting plans for the development of Five.

"We very much look forward to working with them."

Who Knows Who: Richard Desmond

Mr Desmond, who is thought to own a fortune of £950m, has said he will transform the station's schedule with more reality and celebrity material. This pulls in the possibility of a new home for Big Brother, which is in its final series on Channel 4.

Former TV executive and media commentator Steve Hewlett told Channel 4 News: "If I was paying the sort of money he pays to get celebrities, to put them on the front of OK! magazine, he knows what happens there.

"Get the right face, Posh and Becks or whoever it happens to be this month, get the right face on the cover and up goes the circulation. I'm sure he thinks if you get the right people on your channel more people come and watch.

"It may well be true. If over time you can keep on doing that, you begin to make some commercial impact. It's tougher than perhaps he imagines but I wouldn’t say it is impossible."

Britain's fifth terrestrial channel, which launched in 1997 with a blend of films, football and chat shows, had a 5 per cent share of TV viewing in the UK last year.

Desmond, who left school at 14 and had opened two record shops by the age of 21, is a high-profile tycoon, not least because his Northern and Shell media network has branches in pay-per-view adult TV channels, such as Television X, as well as several top-shelf magazines.

He is a former Labour party donor but switched his allegiance to the Conservatives after an apparent fall-out with Tony Blair over Europe policy in the mid-2000s.

The 58-year-old is president of Norwood, which helps people with learning disabilities, and his charitable work has led to several meetings with the Queen.

He counts fellow businessman Gerald Ronson, the man behind the City's Heron Tower project, among his close friends and was recently spotted at Rupert Murdoch's summer party.

He works from a luxury office in the City and is said to have a butler who, amongst other duties, brings him a banana on a silver tray twice a day.

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