Society

Chips and peas, not caviar

British husband turns his back on Chinese billionaire spouse

Dai Xiuli w

Billionairess: Dai Xiuli

There’s no evidence that Deng Xiaoping ever uttered the immortal line ‘to get rich is glorious’ any more than Rick really told Sam to ‘play it again’ in the film Casablanca. Of course, plenty of Chinese have taken Deng’s maxim to heart by spending lavishly on luxury lifestyles. But for Tony Hawken, the former husband of Dai Xiuli, all that money has become too much. Hawken says he chose to leave his wife after becoming uneasy. His problem? He was a “reluctant billionaire” who doesn’t like spending money.

Britain’s The Times was one of a number of newspapers reporting on the divorce between the female Chinese tycoon and the former maths teacher. After 21 years of marriage, Hawken received a divorce settlement of less than £1 million ($1.66 million) from a partner worth an estimated £1.1 billion. But he doesn’t sound too devastated. “I’ve got a settlement which isn’t great, but it’s enough for me because I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle,” Hawken told the newspaper. According to the Sunday Times, examples of Hawken’s simpler lifestyle include sporting a beard, buying second-hand books from charity shops and liking lunch at his local Wetherspoons pub, which advertises sturdy fare such as scampi with chips, or gammon, eggs and chips.

The couple met when Dai came to England to study the language. Until recently their British address was a semi-detached, three bedroom house in South Norwood in Croydon, hardly the most imposing of postcodes. Hawken says the couple finally decided to move to a £1.45 million house in Surrey, Britain’s stockbroker belt, but only because his book collection was spilling into every room.

“Money is always an indicator of success, but it is not the most important one,” he told the reporter. Apparently he now spends his time providing free tuition to underprivileged students.

Hawken’s wife, meanwhile, continues to be the major shareholder of Hong Kong-listed Renhe Commercial Holdings. Alongside her brother, Dai Yongge, she built her fortune converting former military bunkers into underground shopping malls and the group now has sites in over 30 Chinese cities. Dai also owned football team Guizhou Renhe for a while, before selling it to drinks company Moutai in 2011.

Reaction in China to the news was largely incredulous.

“He only asked for £1 million? Poor people in Britain have such high integrity!” opined one. “Money is an excuse. Might it be the guy can’t stand that his woman is more capable than him,” another suggested snidely. “Why ask for £1 million at all if you don’t like being rich?” chided another netizen, while one wondered simply what the majority probably had on their minds: “Is he dumb?”

Another female property tycoon did not get off so lightly in her own recent divorce, however. China’s richest woman Wu Yajun lost top billing last year after ceding her husband of 20 years a 29% stake in Longfor Properties, the company that they co-founded.

The payment was worth $2.6 billion, according to the Hong Kong Economic Journal. This ranks it as the biggest payout yet from a woman to a former husband, and one that would keep Mr. Hawken in Wetherspoon’s ham and chips for an eternity. n


© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Exclusively sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.