Peter Cruddas lives the lifestyle you would expect of a financier branded the City of London’s richest man.
The former Conservative party treasurer and founder of trading giant CMC Markets lives in a £42 million ($76 million) town house in Mayfair, flies around the world in a private jet (he last flew economy in 1997, by accident) and spends long summers with his wife in the Côte d’Azur.
It is a life that couldn’t be more different to his upbringing in Hakney, east London.
Despite being in the 1 per cent of the population to have achieved the highest possible score on a Mensa test with an IQ of 155, Cruddas left Shoreditch comprehensive at the age of 15 with no qualifications.
He grew up on a council estate in East London, where his alcoholic father would drink up to 25 pints of Guinness and a bottle of rum per day, pouring “any money we had down the pub”.
“If you’re brought up in a dysfunctional household, you have no control over anything – you’re dreading your dad coming home, you’re dreading not having any money, and then when you go to work and get your own money, you realise you can start to do things,” Cruddas recalls from his white-carpeted office, decorated with large pieces of art and photographs of his wife and children.
“I realised very early on that if I wanted something, I couldn’t ask my parents. My mum supported us as best she could, but if you wanted anything in our household you had to go to work to get it.”
For the first 18 months of his career, a teenage Cruddas would give the wages from his 14-hour night shifts as a telex operator at Western Union to his mother, who worked in the City of London as an office cleaner.
He remembers some days working through the night, then meeting her on her way to work at 6am to help with her cleaning shift.
“From office cleaner to billionaire isn’t bad, is it?” says the 65-year-old entrepreneur, knowing what a rare story his is.
“Overnight the dynamics changed – instead of being a taker of money I was a giver of money.
“Next year I celebrate an anniversary which is 50 years of uninterrupted working.”
But the Brexit donor isn’t yet ready to retire for a life of holidays and golf, his third-greatest love after his family and CMC Markets – the online trading firm he set up aged 35 that has netted him an estimated £661 million fortune.
‘I’m not a workaholic’
“People think when you’re successful with a lot of money in the bank, the natural thing to do is retire, play golf, live in France and invest in property,” he says.
“What a boring life that is. I’m not a workaholic – I have two ski holidays a year, three weeks in the summer in the south of France, Christmas in London in a top hotel, we go away for Easter, golf every Saturday.
“I have to enjoy my life, otherwise what’s the point?”
Cruddas does not shy away from talking about his own wealth. He switches easily from talking about “buppy” – bread and butter sandwiches – to the luxuries his success has afforded him, such as his weekly visits to exclusive London restaurant Harry’s Bar.
He lists the number plates of all the cars he’s ever owned, starting with the peacock blue Vauxhall Viva and ending when he started to personalise his number plates after buying a Jaguar XJ-S.
He remembers the address of his first property, which he bought for £12,750 in Ilford, just as easily as he does his life in Monaco, where he temporarily joined a generation of super-rich commuters in a £10 million property.
“When I lived in Monaco, I was sitting on my balcony, with a cup of coffee and a bowl of fresh fruit, watching Michael Schumacher drive a red Ferrari round a Monaco racetrack and I thought ‘I’ve definitely made it’,” he says.
But life at the top of CMC is not all racing cars and members’ clubs.
Cruddas admits there are “tricky times ahead” as the online trading industry adapts to strict new rules which came into force last month, just after the sudden interest in digital currencies such as Bitcoin caused swarms of people to flock to online trading platforms in the hope of a big win.
The sudden demand to trade cryptocurrencies has seen the valuation of CMC’s rival Plus500 almost quadruple in the last 12 months.
‘Cryptocurrencies – a gambling product, not an investment’
“‘Kleptos’ I call them [cryptocurrencies] – I think they’re a gambling product, not an investment product,” says Cruddas, apathetic to the market that has made his counterpart a fortune.
“That’s not forever – possibly in the next five to 10 years they could become more of an investment-type vehicle.
“There is a future for cryptocurrencies, but I think they have to be controlled by central banks, not start-ups.”
Reforms introduced in August will make it harder for inexperienced clients to trade cryptocurrencies through so-called contracts for difference (CfD) trades, which allow people to speculate on price movements without owning the underlying asset.
The market was brought into sharp focus three years ago when a plunge in the Swiss franc left amateur investors, including trainee teachers and musicians, counting devastating losses.
“I just think it’s bad practice for any industry to exploit people’s lack of understanding of anything,” says Cruddas, noting that CMC has been focused on experienced, ultra-wealthy investors for some time.
“We’re going through a period of tidying up, of understanding where the industry is going to be, and there’s going to be a big shake-out in the next 12 months.”
He predicts that firms “exploiting low-value clients” will be the first to go, making the industry as a whole even smaller. CMC, Plus500 and IG Group are the main providers of CfDs.
“[The rules] will make the bigger companies stronger and the smaller companies weaker,” he says.
“I’m very supportive, but they’re making it harder for people to come into the sector. You’re not able now to open up a company on a shoestring.”
The clampdown includes strict wealth tests for new customers, limits on how much a client can lose on bets and a ban on selling ordinary investors highly risky binary options, where people can gamble on what will happen to the price of a stock in as little as 30 seconds.
It is now only Europe-wide and Cruddas thinks it will stay that way.
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and if you think the Asia Pacific region is going to roll over and say we want to be like the European Union, you’re wrong.”
Cruddas says the reason he became successful was that he spotted the opportunities the internet held before most others.
“When the internet came along it was a whole new ball-game,” he says.
“Do not challenge change – it will rush over you. I always say to people here, you must accept change. If you resist it you’re defying the inevitable.”
Brexit a good idea. Still.
Is that how he feels about Brexit?
Cruddas is a key Brexit campaigner who donated £1.5 million to the official Vote Leave campaign. He says he stands by his decision.
“We’ve got a concerted effort by the government and the whole Westminster machinery that want to dilute and confuse the exit from the EU,” he says.
“They’re trying to keep everybody happy all of the time when in fact, if you ask people outside the Westminster bubble what they want, it’s pretty clear.
“I have heard that people didn’t vote to become poorer, but people were prepared to take on the risks. They were told there would be an emergency budget, that it would cost every household, and the bottom line is people still voted to take that risk.
“When any politician starts to dilute and ignore the will of the people they are on that rocky road to disaster.”
This isn’t a dig at Theresa May, he says, but the whole Westminster establishment.
“I share frustration that we don’t know where we’re going to be [in March 2019],” he says.
“I’m not worried about the outcome, [but] as a business owner I want certainty. I’ve got no problem with Remainers running the process so long as they deliver on what was expected.”
He insists he’s not concerned about how Brexit might affect his business. He will deal with the challenges, and politically he’s excited about the future.
What really keeps him up at night is the thought of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. He’s also furious with the Electoral Commission, the UK election watchdog which claimed Vote Leave broke electoral law during the EU referendum but was found by the High Court to have misinterpreted the rules.
“We need an independent review of the Electoral Commission to see if they’re fit for purpose,” says Cruddas.
“I don’t see how [it] can carry on when it’s biased against the Brexiteers. How can it give an official campaign group advice that is deemed by the High Court to be incorrect? It’s scandalous.
“Someone needs to sort it out for the future democratic process of this country.”