Money makers: George Clooney’s home-brew tequila

Rande Gerber and George Clooney © Getty images
Rande Gerber and George Clooney started out making tequila for friends

Hollywood actor George Clooney and restaurateur Rande Gerber were both building villas in Mexico’s Baja California in 2013 when they started making small-batch tequila for friends and family. It proved popular. As Gerber explained in a CNBC interview last November, they got a call from their distiller, who told them they needed to get a licence for the amount they were producing. “Either you’re selling it or you’re drinking way too much,” he said. “Either way, we can’t keep calling it samples.”

Clooney and Gerber got together with property developer Mike Meldman, and by 2016, they were selling 120,000 cases of Casamigos – a brand British-based drinks giant Diageo offered to buy for $700m this month, with a further $300m in the offing depending on how well Casamigos sells over ten years. “The deal – Diageo’s fourth largest, according to Capital IQ — underscores the revival of tequila and mescal as trendy spirits, which is seeing companies in the sector command lofty prices,” says the Financial Times. The trend shows no signs of slowing. Casamigos has seen compound annual growth of 54% over the past two years, and this year, expects to deliver more than 170,000 cases.

Hummingbird takes flight

Tarek Malouf developed a taste for American-style baking while studying at the American School in London. “American baking was looked down on back then [in the early noughties],” he tells Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph. “The desserts were seen as fake, of inferior quality and a bit trashy.” So the idea of selling US sweets in the UK seemed unlikely – especially since a lively street-food scene did not yet exist over here.

Malouf took a six-week cookery course in New York, staying with his sister. Once back in London, he hit the laboratory – his kitchen – and began testing his recipes. In 2004, he opened The Hummingbird Bakery in Notting Hill, London. Since then, the business has grown to employ 129 people, with six bakeries in the capital, and three located in the Middle East as part of a franchising deal. Turnover came to £6.6m last year, and the first British bakery outside of London is set to open in Guildford, Surrey, this August.

The brand’s steady, organic growth has been deliberate, says Caines. Malouf, who was recently awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, doesn’t want it to grow too fast and risk losing its personal, family feel. As Malouf puts it, “only expand when you’re ready”.

Riding the waves to profits

After nearly three decades of riding the waves around the world, windsurfing champion John Hibbard hung up his wetsuit in 2008 to become an entrepreneur, says Laura Onita in The Sunday Times. His friends had taken up stand-up paddleboarding, but found the boards too cumbersome for their small cars. Hibbard teamed up with Roger Tushingham, a former international dinghy racer, and Olympic windsurfer David Hackford to set up Red Paddle Co, selling inflatable boards from the Devon village of Halwell.

“We didn’t invent it, but we refined it”, says Hibbard of their efforts to “fine tune” their design. The money they got from selling the Chinese-made boards went back into buying more stock, and business slowly grew. In 2015, Mobeus Equity Partners bought a £4m minority stake, helping the business, which now employs 30 staff, to lift exports to £5.7m last year, when pre-tax profits came to £914,000 on overall sales of £11.3m. Switching from windsurfer to businessman wasn’t easy, Hibbard admits, but taking on more staff and working with the same partners over the years has helped. The key is to stay focused, he says. “Don’t get distracted and don’t try to do a million different things.”

A boom in fake Donalds

Playing Donald Trump is a lucrative business. So much so that Alec Baldwin said in an interview with CNN this week that he would reprise his well-loved impersonation of the US president on American late-night sketch show, Saturday Night Live, this autumn. A cabinet member told him “that’s exactly what he’s like when you do it”, the actor once claimed. Anthony Atamanuik’s Trump send-up was deemed good enough for the actor and comedian to host his own show called The President Show on television network Comedy Central, which first aired in April.

US television host Jimmy Fallon and Oscar winner Meryl Streep have also both won plaudits for their Trump impressions. On stage in New York this month, an impersonation of Trump filled in for the lead role in a controversial production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Central Park. Meanwhile in Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was getting into trouble for an “off-the-record”, “light-hearted” impression of the president he performed at a dinner for the country’s media. In Turnbull’s defence, it seems everybody is at it.

Still, for American impersonator John Di Domenico, who has been playing the Donald for 13 years – longer than anyone else – television and radio is fun, as is doing the odd advert and spoof film. But it is at corporate events, trade shows and private parties that Di Domenico makes his living, says Jordan Kisner in The Guardian. At the peak of the presidential campaign last year, when Di Domenico’s career “exploded”, “that one impression earned him as much as $40,000 a month”.

Americans are so caught up in “the power of celebrity to make life feel entertaining and meaningful” that they are thrilled by a “mere facsimile of a famous person, so long as he conveys a hint of the same magic”. When they see Di Domenico dressed as Trump, it’s not always clear if they know the difference between real and fake, or that they even care, says Kisner. But then again, it is in “this hall of mirrors… where Trump thrives”.