Three members of the Royal Family have business links to an entrepreneur behind a members’ club boasting of access to the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace, the Daily Mail can reveal.
The Queen’s grandson Peter Phillips has recently partnered with colourful Hong Kong-based investor and self-styled ‘Baron of Houston’ Johnny Hon, 47, on a horse racing venture.
He follows his sister Zara, who was a non-executive director of the businessman’s Global Group until last year.
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was a director of a media investment firm with Dr Hon which recently posted losses of almost £10 million and is on the verge of collapse.
The Duchess of Cambridge meets Dr Johnny Hon on the red carpet of a charity opening night event of West End hit 42nd Street
Last night the royals were facing questions over their links to the publicity-hungry millionaire after his firm bragged of helping wealthy investors meet Prince Philip, 97.
Last month Dr Hon claimed he was ‘working with’ Mr Phillips’ wife Autumn, 40, on ‘luxury lifestyle events’ for the Global Group Lifestyle and Sports Club.
The elite club promises its members access to ‘invitation-only gatherings’ such as ‘the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Christmas Dinner in Buckingham Palace’.
He posed for a picture with Autumn after another alleged business meeting in October and posted it on Facebook, alongside a picture of her in a carriage with the Queen.
Dr Hon with Zara Tindall (né Phillips) a granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II and husband Mike Tindall. Zara, who is facing questions over her links to Dr Hon, insisted that she met the businessman only because he has entered a £10,000 supercar trek across the Pyrenees which she is organising
But last night Mrs Phillips insisted that she met the businessman only because he has entered a £10,000 supercar trek across the Pyrenees which she is organising.
The claims of royal access for members of Dr Hon’s club were also quashed by a Buckingham Palace spokesman, who said they had ‘no knowledge’ of a ‘royal Christmas dinner’ and pointed out that Prince Philip has stepped back from public engagements.
Dr Hon’s business interests span gold mining, gambling, oil drilling and even the production of Hollywood films.
He regularly boasts of his contacts book, posting photos on social media of him with major royals including Philip, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge.
The Queen’s grandson Peter Phillips has recently partnered with colourful Hong Kong-based investor and self-styled ‘Baron of Houston’ Johnny Hon, 47, on a horse racing venture
He also lays claim to an array of titles he bought, including the Scottish ‘Baron of Houston’, the Lordship of Chesterton, Cambridgeshire, and the Barony of Carlingford Castle in Ireland.
The businessman has founded and invested in a string of companies in Britain. His latest venture, The Global Group Lifestyle and Sports Club, boasts of offering private members ‘exclusive access’ to some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.
According to its vice-chairman, anyone referred for membership could enjoy ‘private, one-on-one meetings with celebrities, diplomats, world leaders, captains of industry, fashion and sporting superstars’.
As well as perks including access to the royal enclosure at Royal Ascot, the company makes claims of a Christmas dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Last night Dr Hon said the offer of access to Prince Philip was related to his work with the Duke of Edinburgh Fellowship charity. He said investors could be referred to the charity and if they make ‘the required donations’, they could be invited to a palace dinner.
Last night Dr Hon said the offer of access to Prince Philip (left) was related to his work with the Duke of Edinburgh Fellowship charity
Last month Peter Phillips, 41, met with Dr Hon at the Global Group HQ in Hong Kong to finalise plans for a horse racing club. Mr Phillips – who faced criticism when he was paid £750,000 for organising the Queen’s 90th birthday party – will manage a portfolio of racehorses to be purchased by wealthy investors.
His role in the Global Group Premier Racing Club will run alongside his business City Racing, which aims to bring horse racing to city streets including in London. He is also managing director of the UK arm of sports management company SEL Ltd, of which his wife is company secretary and his sister Zara is one of its clients.
In 2017 Zara joined Dr Hon’s Global Group as non-executive director. He said the ‘accomplished entrepreneur … will prove invaluable to helping us to increase our exposure to high quality sports and media projects.’ She stood down last year.
Following his meeting with Peter Phillips in Hong Kong, Dr Hon wrote on Facebook: ‘We are also working with Peter’s wife, Autumn Phillips, on luxury lifestyle events for our Global Group Lifestyle and Sports Club. As we move steadily and progressively into a range of exclusive private members clubs, I look forward to sharing more updates in the future.’
In October Dr Hon posted a photo of himself and Mrs Phillips, with the caption: ‘I had a lovely meeting with Autumn Phillips to discuss her co-operating with our newly launched luxury lifestyle club, the Global Group Lifestyle and Sports Club.’
Last month it emerged that Dr Hon was a director of media investment firm Gate Ventures alongside the Duchess of York and former ITV boss Lord Grade. Despite investing in West End hits including 42nd Street, the firm faces collapse having lost almost £10million in the year to June 2018. Dr Hon stepped aside in December 2017.
Gate Ventures also owns half of Ginger & Moss, a tea company set up by the Duchess of York. A friend of the duchess said she had been brought in to Gate Ventures recently by Lord Grade to develop Ginger & Moss and is not involved with other aspects of the business.
Peter Phillips confirmed he was working with Dr Hon on the Global Group Premier Racing Club. He added: ‘When we are able to announce something, we will.’ A spokesman for Zara said she had not held a position at the Global Group for some time.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ‘The Duke of Edinburgh is not hosting a royal Christmas dinner. We have no knowledge of the event described.’
A spokesman for Autumn Phillips said: ‘Her involvement with Dr Hon is solely that he has signed up as an entrant on the 2019 Supercar GB Run. This is a driving tour organised by Supercar GB annually, which Mrs Phillips has been running as an enterprise for some years. There is absolutely no royal involvement within the Supercar GB events. Mrs Phillips has no involvement within Global Group Lifestyle and Sports Club.’
Last night Dr Hon said: ‘The Global Group Lifestyle and Sports Club is a VIP social gathering event management club (with interests of investing into the UK and European thoroughbred bloodstock industry) that we organise for our best clients.
‘One of the projects that we are promoting to the potential donors is to assist the good work of the Duke of Edinburgh Fellowship charity and if the clients or members make the required donations subject to strict due diligence on their background and the source of funds, they will be invited to join the Fellowship (at the charity’s sole discretion) and be invited to the functions organised by the Duke of Edinburgh Fellowship charity.’
He added: ‘As an Angel Investor I have a long track record of successfully investing in start-ups and other high-risk ventures. However, it is well known that Angel Investing does not always succeed. At all times I invest and conduct business to the highest ethical standards.’
RICHARD KAY: Meet Dr Hon, the ‘Baron of Houston’ who’s been in business with THREE royals
Any entrepreneur who promotes his acquisition of ten-a-penny lords of the manor titles by way of elevating his business credentials is entitled to have his motives seriously examined.
On the other hand, of course, ordinary people may assume that such a step merely marks out the individual as being rather eccentric.
Whichever way you look at it though, the willingness of so many members of the Royal Family to be photographed with a man who gives the term celebrity endorsement a whole new meaning is intriguing to say the least.
Even the most cursory of glances at Dr Johnny Hon’s website and social media outlets – which note his business links to North Korea – reveals a compendium of royals happy to pose with him.
There’s the Duchess of Cambridge in one and a grip and grin with Prince Harry in another; elsewhere there’s a black tie snap with Prince Philip and top hat and tails with the Countess of Wessex at Ascot.
Dr Hon regularly boasts of his contacts book, posting photos on social media of him with major royals including Philip, Prince Harry (pictured) and the Duchess of Cambridge
Prince Edward, whom he boasts of knowing for 13 years, features in several shots while the Duchess of York and her daughter Princess Eugenie, at whose Windsor wedding he was a guest, also feature. Both of Princess Anne’s children, Peter and Zara, are in the pictures as are their partners, Autumn Kelly and Mike Tindall.
Of course there is nothing new about royals cosying up to rich men. Indeed, they have often been drawn with a dizzying susceptibility to the very wealthy while displaying an extraordinary ability to suspend judgment on their background.
However, revelations that a company linked to Dr Hon offers the chance to dine with the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace is shining an uncomfortable spotlight on that judgment as never before.
Today’s Daily Mail investigation reveals that at least three members of the Queen’s family have worked with the Hong Kong-born businessman who is behind a private members’ club, with perks that he claims include that lunch with the 97-year old Prince Philip and entry to a private box enticingly described as being within the Royal Enclosure at Royal Ascot.
Dr Hon was a guest at the Windsor wedding of Princess Eugenie
Father-of-four Johnny Hon, 47, was educated in Britain from the age of 13, first at leading public school Uppingham, whose alumni include actor and television presenter Stephen Fry and the 1930s film star Boris Karloff, and then at King’s College, London, before completing a postgraduate degree in psychiatry at Cambridge University.
His website says he also has qualifications from Harvard and has been a ‘guest professor’ at a number of ‘well-known’ Chinese institutions. His home in Hong Kong is a £28million townhouse on ‘The Peak’.
But one of his proudest claims is that he never took money from his parents – his father is a banker and mother an actress – from the age of 18 onwards, boasting that he sold second-hand cars to fund his education.
It was while at Cambridge that he formulated his Global Group company, putting Chinese entrepreneurs in touch with students who could help them develop business ideas.
His business interests since have spanned horse racing, pharmaceuticals, gambling, gold mining, oil drilling and even the production of Hollywood films.
He was listed as a director or chairman of a number of businesses – one of which, Gate Ventures, which was behind a number of West End shows, has involved the Duchess of York.
Johnny Hon with Autumn Phillips
Rather than dwelling on such setbacks, he likes to tell his social media followers of his formidable networking skills by regularly posting photographs of his meetings with the Royal Family, politicians, diplomats and international stars of film and sport.
In recent times he has taken to styling himself on his website as ‘Baron of Houston’. According to Debrett’s there is no such barony, but he has claimed ownership of the title since 2016.
In fact it is one of a string of impressive-sounding titles he has taken ownership of. The others include the ‘Lordship of Chepstow’, the ‘Lordship of Chesterton’, and from Ireland the ‘Barony of Carlingford Castle’.
They certainly do not give him the right to call himself a lord. According to the College of Arms, it was very likely that all the titles had been purchased.
‘These titles are lordships of manors which are almost completely an extinct form of land ownership,’ says Peter O’Donoghue, York Herald at the College. ‘Normally, all land turned into another form of land ownership, so the manors cease to exist but the lordship carried on even though there is no land attached to the title.
‘It then became an idea to sell the titles so people could be “Lord this” and “Lord that”. They change hands for large sums of money even though they give absolutely no rights or benefits at all.’
And sure enough Dr Hon has a suitably extravagant coat of arms of a mythical creature and other heraldic devices. Naturally there is a motto too: ‘Ambition perseverance success.’
All pretty harmless, of course, but what about those royal links? Certainly, he has taken every opportunity that proximity to the royals has presented.
Take the picture he posted with the Duchess of Cambridge. The aforementioned Gate Ventures were investors in the West End hit 42nd Street and he was an executive producer. Kate was a guest at the opening charity night. Halfway down the red carpet, there waiting was the bespectacled Dr Hon.
As for those pictures with Philip and Edward, they appear to relate to Dr Hon’s role as ‘fellow’ of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award scheme. Doubtless this is all good for business in Asia, where closeness to people of influence is highly prized.
But it is where Peter and Autumn Phillips are concerned that matters become somewhat murky.
Only nine days ago he wrote of meeting ‘my friend Peter Phillips’ to finalise their plans to launch a horse racing club. This involves Mr Phillips managing a portfolio of racehorses to be purchased by wealthy investors.
The claimed involvement of Mrs Phillips begs more questions. In a post on his Facebook page, Dr Hon wrote: ‘We are also working with Peter’s wife, Autumn Phillips, on luxury lifestyle events for our Global Group Lifestyle and Sports Club.’ The invitation-only events are said to include Prince Philip’s ‘royal Christmas dinner at Buckingham Palace’.
Clearly he has been impressed by his encounters with Mrs Phillips. After one such meeting he recorded on Facebook: ‘I felt very much at home with Autumn … she speaks Chinese fluently.’
Last night a spokesman for Mrs Phillips flatly denied she had gone into business with Dr Hon, only confirming that he had signed up for a motor car race which she promotes.
And what of that invitation to Eugenie’s wedding last October? I understand he was invited because he was a client of Hauser and Wirth, the contemporary art gallery where she is a director.
Another social triumph for the supremely well-connected Dr Hon.