Ian and Richard Livingstone: the brothers who built a $7.2bn fortune

As 20-somethings, Ian and Richard Livingstone began snapping up cheap London property. Their knack for spotting promising but underrated assets has served them well ever since.

Ian Livingstone with his wife Natalie © A Davidson/Shutterstock
Shrewd investor: Ian Livingstone with his wife Natalie
(Image credit: Ian Livingstone with his wife Natalie © A Davidson/Shutterstock)

Over the past 30 years, brothers Ian and Richard Livingstone have quietly amassed a multibillion-pound property portfolio spanning some of the finest hotels in the world. “But their shrewdest bet by far is a different kind of investment,” says The Daily Telegraph. The brothers’ stake in Evolution Gaming – a Swedish-based online gambling business that has surged during the pandemic – has delivered 5,000% returns since they became shareholders, jumping 200% in the last year alone. The brothers’ 8.6% stake is now worth almost $3bn, and Evolution has proved a crucial source of liquidity while many of the hotels in their London and Regional property empire have been closed.

This is the tech niche to be in

Plenty of the world’s richest have diversified into tech in the pandemic, says Bloomberg. But the Livingstones spotted Stockholm-listed Evolution’s potential much earlier. Since the brothers provided early seed funding, the fifteen-year-old company has grown to become the unseen presence behind live casino games run by some 300 operators globally, including Betfair and William Hill. And the real bonanza is still to come. Having recently signed partnership deals with Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts, Evolution is poised to clean up from the liberalisation of the huge US market. As analyst Martin Arnell of DNB Markets observes: “within gambling globally, this is the niche to be in right now”.

Raised in Ealing, west London – the sons of a dentist – and educated at St Paul’s School, the brothers, now in their mid-50s, have always displayed a flair for snapping up promising assets when underrated by others. The basis of their combined $7.2bn fortune is London West End property, snapped up in the recession of the early 1990s when they were still in their 20s, remarkable given that their training (Ian, pictured, as an optometrist; Richard a chartered surveyor) suggested other life trajectories.

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The funding of the Livingstones’ early investments is “shrouded in mystery”, said the London Evening Standard in 2012. But their ascent began in 1989 when Ian opened his first opticians shop, Optika, in Hampstead. Within three years the business was strong enough to buy the upmarket David Clulow chain out of receivership and by 1996 there were 40 outlets valued at £20m. Richard’s contribution, according to a friend, was a nose for property. “They cobbled together a bit of money somehow and started buying and selling flats. Gradually lots of small deals got bigger and bigger.”

A genius for persuasion

Between 1991 and 1994, the youthful wheeler-dealers set up 18 companies to buy commercial properties in central London. Richard’s “genius” appears to have been “his power to persuade lenders” – particularly Jacob Rothschild’s Dawnay Day – “to advance tens of millions to a young man with only the shortest of track records”. Key to this was the brothers’ reputation for decency. “They’re lovely people, really clever but really quite modest,” says one associate.

Over the years, the brothers invested in everything from fitness clubs to nursing homes and London cinemas. But they found their niche in luxury hotels – most famously Cliveden, the Grade I-listed Buckinghamshire pile made infamous by the 1960s Profumo scandal. Modesty is everything to the Livingstones. But, as Ian’s wife Natalie once observed, there’s a certain satisfaction that a house once run by the notoriously antisemitic Nancy Astor is now in the hands of “a self-made Jewish family”.

Jane writes profiles for MoneyWeek and is city editor of The Week. A former British Society of Magazine Editors editor of the year, she cut her teeth in journalism editing The Daily Telegraph’s Letters page and writing gossip for the London Evening Standard – while contributing to a kaleidoscopic range of business magazines including Personnel Today, Edge, Microscope, Computing, PC Business World, and Business & Finance.

She has edited corporate publications for accountants BDO, business psychologists YSC Consulting, and the law firm Stephenson Harwood – also enjoying a stint as a researcher for the due diligence department of a global risk advisory firm.

Her sole book to date, Stay or Go? (2016), rehearsed the arguments on both sides of the EU referendum.

She lives in north London, has a degree in modern history from Trinity College, Oxford, and is currently learning to play the drums.