Television presenter Noel Edmonds today sued a close former friend and business associate in court over a failed property deal which left him £500,000 out of pocket.
The Deal Or No Deal star, 62, claims house builder and designer Ulrik Lawson, 50, owes him more than £370,000 over the bungled venture on a £2.1million country estate.
Noel ploughed £572,000 into buying and renovating the large Devon mansion – supported by pal Mr Lawson and bank loans – to build houses on the site.
But planning permission was never granted and when the property was sold two years later, he took back just £52,000, while Mr Lawson received £300,000.
The quiz show host angrily told Bristol County Court he had been ”betrayed” by his friend and said he had been promised his original £300,000 lump sum back.
But lawyers for Mr Lawson argued that Noel had knowingly signed legal documents to the contrary and had ”made up” his version of events.
They claim he used the deal as a vanity project to revive his struggling telly career.
Mr Lawson has launched a £260,000 counter-claim against Noel for unpaid work on another home.
The former Telly Addicts star angrily told the court he had been ”betrayed” by his friend.
He said: ”I believed in my friend. It never occurred to me for a minute that I could be the subject of a betrayal.
”Ulrik and I were incredibly close friends and the trust between us was tangible. He said I will give you your money back first and I will take the hit.
”It was nothing but a financial disaster for me.”
The ex-Noel’s House Party presenter is seeking the six-figure sum from Mr Lawson over dealings on Wood House in South Tawton, Devon.
His former friend is in turn looking to recoup cash from Noel for building work on picturesque St Surf house, in Exeter.
The friends met in 2002 and Noel went to stay with the property tycoon after divorcing his second wife Helen Soby in 2004.
Bristol County Court heard that they both put £300,000 towards the purchase of £2.1million Wood House – with bank loans providing the rest.
Planning permission was to be sought by Mr Lawson to turn the site into houses.
Noel said they had a verbal agreement he would get his £300,00 back from the project first but claims there was no legal document setting out the arrangement.
Taking the stand, Noel, wearing a dark blue suit, crisp white shirt and purple tie, said: ”Mr Lawson put the project forward and suggested we put in £300,000.
”As the weeks went by I realised the vulnerability of my position, although I had total faith in my close friend.
”If he did not get planning consent within two years, I was powerless to recoup my money.
”But Ulrik said he was in control of the project and promised me I could have my #300,000 back first.
”The divorce settlement with my ex-wife had gone through and I had significant capital available. I had just signed a contract with Endemol for two years for Deal Or No Deal.
”But knowing the vagaries of executives I certainly did not want £300,000 taken up when I might need it in 2008.”
The court heard that planning permission was not gained within two years and Noel – whose name the house was registered in – sold the property.
But after the bank loans were repaid, the presenter got back just £52,000, while Mr Lawson recouped £300,000 he had contributed.
Noel is now seeking to recoup £370,000 of losses incurred on the project.
In response, Mr Lawson has launched a counter-claim for £260,000 of unpaid building works on another joint venture – St Surfs house in Exeter.
But Patrick Lawrence, representing Mr Lawson, claimed the whole deal had been a facade to help launch Noel Edmonds back into the public eye.
He cited financial blows the host had received during his six-year TV exodus following the axing of Noel’s House party in 1999, before the start of Deal Or No Deal in 2005.
This included the calling-in of liquidators to company Unique Group – of which he was an 80 per cent shareholder – which left him facing a £1.5million debt to a bank.
The court heard he had embarked on a number of ventures, including a video-conferencing business and even promotion of a Dutch fire extinguishing company.
Noel also confirmed he had sold his former 40-bedroom family home in Broomford, Devon, for #8.6million following his 2004 divorce.
Mr Lawrence said the housing project was an opportunity to gain favourable media attention.
He said: ”You were back in the public eye and it simply suited you to present to the public your position that you were ‘bouncing back’.”
Noel responded: ”No. This suggests this was a vanity project on my behalf and I totally refute that.”
But Mr Lawrence told the star: ”Mr Edmonds, you are not naÃ¯ve. You are an experienced man and a distinguished broadcaster – and have been for some time.
”You must know that if someone makes an original agreement that says ‘x’ and is invited to sign a legal document that says ‘y’, it is dangerous to sign that legal documentation.
”I say you are regrettably making up your statement about Mr Lawson promising you £300,000.
”You appreciated that because of the way the deal had been structured, that Mr Lawson was going to say ‘I get my £300,000 first’.
”You did not like that and you decided to create a negotiating position by turning it upside down and simply making up this statement about you getting your £300,000 first.”
David Holland, representing Mr Edmonds, likened the feud to a ”divorce”.
He said: ”Both parties accept they were very good friends. It has gone very sour and is almost like a divorce.
”It is Mr Edmonds’ case that he was wisely reluctant to join the venture agreement, but he was persuaded by the enthusiasm of Mr Lawson.
”Mr Lawsonâ€™s case was that Mr Edmonds was extremely keen to join the venture after bad publicity – to re-establish his career.”
The civil case, heard in front of His Honour Judge David Wilcox, is expected to last for eight days.