A millionaire businessman from an inner city council estate has told how he grew from rags to riches after starting his business empire from a – PHONE BOX.
Real life Del Boy Stephen Fear, who now owns 64 companies, started wheeling and dealing in the classic red booth just yards from his cramped council flat – aged 17.
He thrust an ‘out of order’ sign on the door, kept a chair on the pavement and paid his friend’s older sister to answer the phone and pretend to be his secretary.
The charmer even persuaded an operator to interrupt his business calls – under the guise of his PA – claiming he had a call waiting, as a signal his money was running out.
At the time Stephen, now 57, was sharing a bedroom with his dad and they did not have money for a phone, car or even a fridge.
He now turns over millions-a-year and owns houses in France, Florida and a penthouse overlooking the harbour in his home city of Bristol.
Down-to-earth father-of-two Stephen said: ”I lived with my father in a one-bedroom flat and we had nothing – we used to share the bedroom.
”He was a hardworking man and never had any debts but he was never interested in making money.
”He was happy earning enough money to pay his rent and buy his food and clothes.
”For me making money was about freedom. I wanted to have the freedom to go where I wanted and and make my own choices.
”If you have no money then that means you don’t have the freedom to choose how you live your life.
”I have always loved doing deals, I suppose that is what motivates me.”
Hardworking Stephen started earning cash at the age of 14 when he got a paper round.
Aged just 16, the young entrepreneur spotted a gap in the market after hearing that companies making food would have to follow strict new guidelines on cleaning ovens.
He then read about a new product in America which meant that large ovens could be cleaned safely without shutting them down for weeks.
Stephen, with the help of a telephone operator, then set about trying to persuade the company to sell to him – from the red phone box by his flat in Henbury, Bristol.
He said: ”I had no idea how to contact a company in America so I rang the operator from a phone box on the corner and got talking to her.
”She was an incredible woman called Joyce Thomson and she agreed to help me out.
”She told me how much money to put in the slot and then put me through to the firm – as far as they knew she was my secretary.
”Sometimes she used to interrupt the call, pretending to be my secretary – telling me I had another call waiting.
”When she did this I knew I had to put more money in – otherwise the embarrassing phone bleeps would start.
”Joyce was a lovely woman and we kept in touch for years – we became friends and I even went to her funeral.”
Incredibly, Stephen managed to persuade the American firm to do business with him and it became the first of scores of successful ventures.
He made up the formula for the ‘Easy Clean’ oven cleansing product in a nearby lock-up garage – before flogging it to big food companies.
The phone box then became his office for several years, until he sold the cleaning product firm for £100,000 in around 1972.
He said: ”I got an out of order sign and used to have a chair at the side of the phone box.
”I would pay my sister to answer the phone and she used to pretend to be my secretary.
”When I was waiting for a call I would sit in the chair, then run in and answer the phone when it rang.
”We tried hooking up an answering machine to it at one point – but it didn’t work.”
Stephen spent the 1970s buying up property and strategically snapping up land.
Then, under the Thatcher Government of the 1980s, he again spotted another gap in the market on which to capitalize.
He said: ”I remember watching Maggie Thatcher on the news being interviewed about the Channel Tunnel.
”At the time everyone thought it was never going to happen. After I watched her I just knew she was going to make it happen.
”I drove down to Kent the next day and bought a caravan park.
”When it became obvious work was going to start we started advertising in the local press in place like Liverpool and Ireland.
”There was a lot of unemployment at the time and we said to people we would get them accomodation and we got planning permission to allow the caravan park to be used all year round.
”I bought it for £100,000 and was making £300,000-a-year in rent.”
Stephen kept on buying land and houses over the next 30 years and at one stage he owned more than 2,000 properties across the country.
He owns 64 business across the property, manufacturing, mail order and hotel sectors and boasts a fleet of cars including Bentley’s and Mercedes.
He is trying to merge them all together under one name – Fear Capital Investments – which he runs with son Leon, 27.
The divorced multi-millionaire tycoon is unsure of his exact wealth – but reckons he might just make the Sunday Times Rich List if all his businesses were added together.
Stephen splits his time jet-setting between houses in Florida, France and Bristol’s exclusive harborside flats with new partner Elizabeth, 43.
He even found himself at Diana Ross’s wedding in New York after a business friend got hitched to the star singer.
The family man, who also has daughter Alexandra, 30, and grandson Roux, three, said: ”I have had an incredible life and met some incredible people.
”My business partner of many years married Diana Ross and I went to the wedding in New York.
”You have to remember she was this incredible icon at the time and it was then that it hit me.
”I actually stopped and asked myself if this was really happening to me, a boy from a council estate in Bristol.”