The author of the Sunday Times' famed 'Rich List' this afternoon cleared up one of the week's biggest mysteries – why alleged would-be City saviour Peter Cullum was notable only by his absence from the 2009 Rich List that was published in the newspaper on Sunday.
As every one begins to conduct their own, bitter post-mortems as to why the Canaries look all-but certain to be playing third tier football for the first time in nigh-on 50 years next season, Cullum's name has again been prominent.
Ever since making that apparent “?20 million” offer – for team-strengthening in return for control of the Carrow Road club – Cullum's name and that ?1.7 billion fortune has haunted the Norfolk club and, in particular, its owners Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones whose alleged intransigence in doing a deal with 'the deal-makers deal maker' has been cited as one, major reason for Norwich's downfall.
It was implicit in the front page story in the Eastern Daily Press on Friday as Towergate revealed its 2008 year end highlights – income up 13% on 2007 and its banking covenants successfully renegotiated.
John Tilson, chairman of Norwich City Independent Supporters' Association, told the newspaper: “Because of the way this whole scenario was handled, it was never going to go away.
“We are now on the brink of relegation and this could reopen the whole debate among Norwich fans about the rights and wrongs of the Peter Cullum affair.
“The last thing a lot of people expected was for a company like his to be doing so well at the moment. But if we do get relegated, our need for new investment will be greater than ever, and this debate now threatens to come back like a boomerang.”
And yet consult this year's Who's Who of Britain's richest 2,000 individuals – published in an online format yesterday – and the words 'Peter' and 'Cullum' fails to produce a match in the Rich List search box. Both the Turners, Sharon and Andrew, and Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans are still in the intriguing list of the country's wealthiest individuals.
It was, of course, the publication of the 2008 Rich List that launched a million message-board rumours and at least a dozen, front page newspaper stories as the City faithful discovered one of their own at No40 with a reported ?1.7 billion personal fortune at his disposal.
This weekend, however, and Cullum's entry had disappeared – prompting more questions as to the financial health of Towergate. Cullum himself had described his business as being 'under the cosh' in an interview at Christmas.
This afternoon, however, and the author of the eagerly-awaited 2009 Rich List explained Cullum's mystery absence.
In short, Cullum's entry was deleted because he couldn't work out just how well his business was doing. And he wasn't about to take a guess.
“As we stated clearly in the rules, because Towergate were engaged in talks with its bankers over its debts we took the decision – as we have with previous Rich Lists and with others in a similar position this year – to take them out of the 2009 Rich List as we couldn't assess their wealth,” explained Rich List author Philip Beresford.
“It was impossible to gain a fix whilst those talks were on-going – talks to which we were not party.”
Unfortunately, Towergate's discussions with both its lenders and debt management specialists KPMG only reached their successful conclusion after the print deadline for this year's Rich List had come and gone.
So the man who had rocketed from almost nowhere to equal 40th in 2008, disappeared back to nowhere in 2009.
Beresford maintained that they had no choice; that in the current 'vicious climate', the level of uncertainty surrounding Towergate and many other credit-crunched businesses was such that he was not prepared to have even a wild stab in the dark at where Cullum's personal fortune now stood.
He had, it was clear, read Cullum's comments at Christmas; that his business was likely to be 'under the cosh' going forward into 2009. And with that in mind – and the sheer level of volatility and uncertainty in the financial world – he decided that the safest bet was to leave him out of the list entirely.
Both the Financial Times and The Guardian have reported before that the privately-owned insurance giants were in danger of breaching their banking covenants.
“Towergate, an insurance group backed by HBOS and Lloyds, has breached covenants and is struggling to repay its debts,” was the line from The Guardian in February.
According to the firm's annual report published last autumn, Cullum's many-headed insurance giant reported a turnover of ?268.9 million for the year ended 31 December 2007, up 12% on the previous year producing a group operating profit of ?38 million.
However, according to the Insurance Times, “interest payments and finance costs” of over ?59 million ensured that the company actually returned a ?14.7 million loss after tax. A year earlier in 2006 and Towergate had reported a ?4 million profit for 2006.
Last Friday's 2008 'highlights' failed to include an overall profit/loss forecast for the year. Nor any news as to where its current level of borrowings stood.
The Financial Times last year had Towergate enjoying a “?580 million facility led by HBOS and Lloyds TSB” which, according to the FT's sources, was in place “to help it expand by acquisition”.
A further ?100 million 'facility' was agreed with the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB last July to enable Towergate to continue its buying spree in the “independent financial adviser” arena.
Together that amounted to a ?680 million debt facility. And as the financial sector found itself in unprecedented difficulties through the autumn and winter, so it was to KPMG that Towergate turned in a bid to renegotiate the terms of that debt with its lenders, prinicpal of whom is now the UK tax-payer.
The point, however, is not to deny that Peter Cullum is a richer man than either Delia Smith, her husband Michael Wynn Jones or, indeed, their fellow director Michael Foulger. Or, indeed, than all three together.
Or that he might not have made a better owner had he arrived at the helm at the time of his first reported ?20 million “offer” in the autumn of 2007. Who knows?
He is, undoubtedly, a 'proper' millionaire; right up there with Marcus Evans of Roy Keane fame.
But, as the man himself admitted, he too finds himself in some stormy seas and 'under the cosh'.
The case of the 'white knight' versus the 'culinary queen' has never, ever been as black and white as one or two continue to claim; as ever, there are large shades of grey to contend with.
As the Sunday Times Rich List discovered this weekend.