The Candy brothers' $9bn property empire

In 1995 Nick and Christian Candy borrowed £6,000 to do up their first property. Twelve years on, they own a portfolio worth £9bn, including some of London’s most prestigious real estate.

In 1995, Nick and Christian Candy, then in their early twenties, borrowed £6,000 from their grandmother to do up their first property: a £120,000 one-bedroom flat in Redcliffe Gardens, Earls Court, which they sold for a £50,000 profit.

Twelve years on, they own a global portfolio worth £9bn, including some of London's most prestigious real estate. But how did two middle-class brothers trounce a market dominated by so many well-established players?

"In the bear pit that is London's property world, the brothers are viewed with a mixture of admiration and envy," says the Evening Standard. Many believe their success is down to talent, hard work and timing; others murmur about "mysterious" foreign investors (see below).

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But even their detractors agree they're a class act. The Candys are renowned for overpaying for sites. But they're even more famous for the prices they fetch for their luxury pads. A penthouse in One Hyde Park in Knightsbridge (currently a hole in the ground) will cost £80m, making it the most expensive piece of real estate in the world. But for that, you can expect the works: sumptuous decor and state-of-the-art gadgets, from swimming pools that turn into ballrooms to fur fridges.

Only the Candys will take the trouble to discover if you have a left-handed chef before designing a kitchen, or build a mirror with a built-in 360 degree camera so you can gauge how big your bum looks. They are a one-stop-shop for the oligarchs; employing a full-time "innovations" team and currently designing a floating runway so clients can land planes next to their super-yachts.

Their background is unexciting. They grew up in the Surrey commuter belt: their father ran an art studio and media production firm and their mother was a drama teacher. Neither brother excelled academically. Nick, 18 months older than his brother, studied human geography at Reading and went into advertising. Christian studied business management at King's College London before joining Merrill Lynch.

After making money from their first deals, they quit their jobs to focus on property, initially specialising in slick bachelor pads. Their genius, says Live magazine, lay in recognising that London was becoming the city everyone wanted to live in. "The influx of Middle Eastern royalty, Russian oligarchs and billionaire tax exiles... needed to be welcomed into a kind of billionaires boys' club."

The Candys knew just what to deliver. "They had a killer instinct not given to most designers," says Estates Gazette. "World class at marketing... they beat the pants off the old-school developers by mixing flats with offices and squeezing in 30% more floor space than traditional developments."

Now tax exiles themselves, the Candys remain "freakishly close", says The Sunday Times. Both unmarried, they share an apartment in Monaco and spend as much time as possible on their £11m yacht, The Candyscape. Temperamentally they are very different: associates say Nick's talents lie in networking, while the more reticent Christian is the financial brains.

But their joint ambition is "Dubai-sized" they plan offices in all the world's major centres and their attitude to critics is Bring it on'. "People are always trying to find a chink in our armour," says Nick. "They love to say it's all going to fall down around our ears. That doesn't bother me... it makes me work harder. So please keep saying it."

Could the property slump bring the brothers "crashing back to earth"?

The Candys' meteoric rise, and determination to say as little as possible about their business, has left them prey to speculation mostly about where they get their funds. Early connections with Russians (Boris Berezovsky is said to have been a client) have proved fruitful to rumour-mongers, but reports of funding are categorically denied. "We've never had any Russian money in the company," Nick Candy told Live magazine; neither is Candy & Candy part of some kind of Russian syndicate.

The main high-roller backing their developments is Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jaber al Thani. The Candys are outraged at any hint of murkiness, says the Evening Standard, but they don't make things easy for themselves: both Candy & Candy and the brothers' Guernsey-based investment firm, CPC Group, are backed by a complex network of 15 holding companies, mostly based in tax havens, and were the subject of a recent two-year investigation by Revenue and Customs.

Yet, given the brothers were barely out of short trousers when the property market last crashed, the more pressing fear is how they will fare in the coming downturn. As rivals point out, much of their £9bn empire consists of property as yet unbuilt and unsold and "they could come crashing down to Earth".

Does it keep them awake at night? "No," says Nick, with the expression of someone unfamiliar with self-doubt. "Anything under a million will be seriously hit because they rely on mortgages. But stuff over £10m? I don't think so. In the week after the credit crisis I sold three flats over £12m. So am I worried about global recession? No." Time will tell.