Czech refugee who rose from the grave

When he arrived in the UK, Jan Telensky had just £2 and had to sleep in Dunstable cemetery. The property tycoon now owns hundreds of flats in London and Prague - and the world's most environmentally-friendly resort.

At first, it seemed that Czechoslovakian Jan Telensky had his life set out for him. Born under communist rule in 1948, he was banned from following his religion, and was told, at the age of six, to "forget about school" and concentrate on earning money as a miner or bricklayer. Telensky, however, had other ideas. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Prague uprising, and fought against the Soviet invasion of 1968, flinging stones at tanks and Russian army officers as they passed. Within months, however, he was forced to flee. Facing a bleak future, he acquired a forged passport under an assumed name and got on a flight to Britain. As it turned out, that was a good move. He now presides over an empire of his own, stretching from the UK to Slovakia.

When he landed on these shores, however, he had just £2. "I couldn't speak English, I had nowhere to live. So I slept for two weeks in the cemetery at Dunstable." At least, he says, "I had extremely quiet neighbours". Through a family friend, Telensky eventually landed a job on the assembly line at the Vauxhall car factory in Luton, and then a job as a security guard at the town's airport. His aim in these jobs was always to improve his English. Then in 1973 came an opportunity to buy a delicatessen on Barry Road in Luton, catering mainly to Italians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans. "The old boy who owned the shop was going to retire and there was nobody to take it off him, so I bought it." Telensky built up the business, selling it in 1976 for £200,000.

Then, aged just 28, he decided to retire but rapidly became bored. "I didn't realise that retirement is a state of mind." So he put the money from the sale towards buying four houses for £10,000-£12,000 each. He did them up and rented them out it was his first move into property development, a business he's been involved in ever since. But it still wasn't enough. "After four months I was so bored, I took a part time job at Scheideggers", then the largest secretarial training institute in Europe. He eventually became the company's UK sales manager. Telensky "liked the product so much that I started the competition", as he puts it. He raised £20,000 to set up his own commercial training firm in 1981, eventually putting his former employer out of business when he bought Scheideggers for £50,000 in 1989.

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All the while he was also buying property he owns 300 flats in Dartford, Luton and southeast London. When the Iron Curtain fell, he bought another 500 apartments in Prague. His current focus is on what he says is the world's most environmentally friendly resort. Aqua City, which he first established in the Tatras mountains in Poprad, Slovakia, back in 2002, uses geo-thermal energy from an underground lake to keep the resort's pools and saunas warm all year round. It certainly helps keep Telensky from getting bored his chain of businesses now turns over in excess of £70m a year. Not that this is his main priority. "I never work for money I began to make money when I stopped counting it I'm interested in the result, the idea."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.