Jack Dellal: the enigmatic property dealer who walks away unscathed from crashes

'Black Jack' Dellal was a leading protagonist in the 1973-1974 fringe-banks crisis. An enigmatic, secretive man, he is the grand old man of UK property speculation.

The most you hear about "Black Jack" Dellal these days is when his name crops up in connection with other people's property deals, or when a family member hits the gossip columns. The latest is granddaughter Alice Dellal, a 20-year-old "babe" who has just been signed up to replace Kate Moss as the face of Agent Provocateur. Yet Dellal, who earned his nickname on the gaming tables, was "one of the most amazing money-making machines to pass through the City since the war", says The Sunday Times.

Black Jack was a leading protagonist in the 1973-1974 fringe-banks crisis arguably the closest British historical parallel with the current mess, says the Evening Standard. The run-up to the crisis is horribly familiar. It had its roots in the Heath government's cheap money policy, aimed at strengthening UK industry prior to entering the EC.

But it was property developers who took advantage of the low interest rates, borrowing heavily from banks to finance new schemes, believing rising property values would see them through until their investments paid off. Then in 1973 the oil price quadrupled, causing inflation to rocket and forcing the Government to raise rates. "The market collapsed like a pack of cards," says The Guardian, "causing some of the most spectacular bankruptcies in history."

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Dellal, already an established property speculator, made a £58m fortune in 1972 when he sold his bank, Dalton Barton, to Keyser Ullman, the City finance house that bankrolled Jimmy Goldsmith's "string of brilliant deals", says Forbes. He went on to become the bank's deputy chairman. There's little doubt that Dellal, whose private firms continued deriving finance from the bank, was "a prime culprit" in the near disaster at Keyser Ullman, which made the largest loss in British history and had to be rescued by the Bank of England.

Astonishingly, he walked away virtually unscathed, having disposed of a major property holding just before the crash. Within a few years he was in New York, where, together with David Shamoon, a "mysterious" Iraqi who was a former Keyser Ullmann client, he began dealing in Manhattan property. By the early 1980s, he was again being hailed as one of Britain's richest men.

Little is publicly known about his roots (some sources claim he is of Jewish-Iranian extraction), but his colourful family life since has more than made up for the deficit. He had six daughters and a son with his first wife, a former Israeli air hostess. In his late 1970s, he fathered two more children with second wife Ruanna (pictured), a former South African beauty queen. He lives in some luxury in Holland Park, with homes in France, Monaco and Cape Town.

The family mixes with the international jet set, says the Daily Mail: links with the Jaggers, in particular, are strong. Guy Dellal is a former escort of Jerry Hall; his son, Alex, went out with Lizzie Jagger. Meanwhile, the "young, hot and loaded" Alice Dellal is said to be dating Pierre Casiraghi, son of Princess Caroline of Monaco.

At 85, Black Jack is still doing deals via his property company, Allied Commercial Holdings, which he runs with Guy Dellal. Indeed, many of his most spectacular deals came fairly late in his career (see below). He remains enigmatic and never gives interviews to the press. He is the grand old man of British property speculation the great survivor.

How Black Jack' clawed his fortune back

If Jack Dellal goes down in history for any one deal, it will probably be for the fast buck he made on the BBC's Bush House in London, which he bought for £55m in 1987 and sold to Japan's Kato Kagaku two years later for £130m. Has Dellal called the top of the market, wondered The Sunday Times at the time. He had. He pulled off the same trick last year when he shared a £150m cash profit with the Reuben and Tchenguiz brothers after selling one of London's most striking river landmarks ­ the Art Deco Shell-Mex building to a US private equity firm for £490m.

Dellal is undoubtedly a "property genius" and it is perhaps little wonder that he is held up as a role model by contemporary property men, such as Robert Tchenguiz, who have lost a fortune in the current bust, says Anthony Hilton in the Evening Standard. The latter will no doubt be hoping to replicate Black Jack's amazing recovery in the 1970s. He may be in for a long wait. The main lesson from the fringe-bank crisis, exacerbated then, as now, by "opaque financial institutions, cross-guarantees, offshore vehicles and faked valuations" is that it is the slow dribble of bad news that really does the harm: it "destroys morale and makes people think it will never get better".

In the 1970s it took two to three years before all the bogeys were uncovered. There's no reason to believe this time will be any different. The labels have changed, but the "underlying activities", which fuelled the boom and hastened the bust, "are the same today as they were a generation ago".