Everything you read about multi-millionaire Alfie Best shouts “excess” – the thousands he’s spent on cars, holidays and fitting out his luxury homes, the fact that he once bought a restaurant chain because he enjoyed a meal in one. He even appeared in a programme called “My Big Fat Gipsy Fortune”, for goodness sake.
So I’m slightly taken aback to be introduced to a low-key, smiling Alfie in a hotel bar. He’s wearing a grey cardigan, blue T shirt and jeans – nothing flashy in the slightest. He’s charming, quietly spoken and very, very polite.
“Lovely to meet you,” he says, extending a hand. “First of all, I’d like to say thank you for sparing the time to chat. It’s very much appreciated.”
Then follows an hour of intense Alfie, fixed by those brown eyes which must have charmed many clients and associates over the years. It really is hard not to like him.
- He is widely reported for his excesses in spending, including a £12,000 copper bath tub for his £6 million house in north London (on which he spent £2 million in renovations), his £180,000 custom-built kitchen, £165,000 Mercedes G Wagon, £290,000 Bentley and £185,000 Ferrari. Yet he describes himself as “frugal”
- He once so enjoyed a steak at the Rare Cow at Billericay that he bought the restaurant chain
- He appeared in Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gipsy Fortune in 2013 with his son Alfie Junior, then aged 15, and showed off his 23-room home to viewers
- He is very concerned about the effect of social media on society, believing it destroys human interaction
- His most precious commodity? Time. “There are 86,000 seconds in a day. Why waste any of them?”
- He is vehemently anti-drugs, saying he gets his kicks “doing what I do, making people’s lives better”
- He reveres the Prime Minister and her efforts to forge a Brexit deal for the country: “I could kiss that woman’s feet”, he says
- He is passionate about the UK – “British through and through” – and thinks we will be better out of Europe
There have been many who have tried not to, however. Hardly surprising, perhaps when he’s so much in the forefront of business life and has had such an extraordinary rise in fortunes.
Alfie, 48, is not ashamed of his roots – in fact he revels in them. He was born in a caravan on a gipsy site in Leicester to a father who ran his own Tarmac business (and still does, in his 70s) and a mother who held several jobs. As an only child, Alfie began work aged eight helping his dad and by the age of 14, he was buying and selling vans, then moved into the emerging mobile phone business.
“I saw there was potential, got a job as a tea boy and worked my way up,” he says proudly. “By the age of 20 I virtually collapsed. I had a £40,000 overdraft and several mortgages. I slept in my car for months.”
With hard work and determination, Alfie pulled himself out of trouble and moved into the mobile home business which has made his fortune. Today, Wyldecrest Parks are the largest in Europe and he is valued on the Sunday Times Rich List at £140 million. Now he wants to use some of that fortune to help improve the lives of those who have not found the route he did, by creating a network of private gipsy sites across the country.
Despite all these trappings of wealth, Alfie seems surprised to find himself in the fortunate position of being able to afford anything he wants.
“It’s unbelievable. I am the real deal gipsy, born to a gipsy family in a caravan. I’ve been called all the names under the sun, yet here I am in this privileged position. Amazing. I often have to pinch myself to believe how blessed I’ve been, to put it mildly.”
Yet if there’s one thing Alfie is keen to make me understand, it’s that he’s not here just for the ride. He desperately wants to make a difference, to leave his mark on the world. “I want to change the way we look at housing in this country and to enhance the lives of those living in my parks. That will be my lasting legacy.”
Naturally, there have been critics but Alfie is used to dealing with controversy. An internet search of his name will reveal many instances where his parks have sparked rows with housing authorities and tenants. There’s one brewing in Chichester at the moment. However, he’s confident he can ride the storm and achieve his aim of moving into other countries with his retirement parks.
“I’m breaking the mould. I’m making history, changing the face of housing. You don’t achieve that without a struggle,” he tells me confidently, before taking his leave with another warm handshake and a flash of those determined eyes.
Like him or loathe him, there’s no denying Alfie Best is a unique character.
Photo: ©Oyster Bay Photography