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Dame Mary Perkins – Britain’s First Woman Billionaire

Dame Mary Perkins, founder of opticians Specsavers, is Britain's first self-made woman billionaire
Dame Mary Perkins, founder of opticians Specsavers, is Britain’s first self-made woman billionaire

Dame Mary Perkins, the woman behind the Guernsey-based Specsavers empire has become Britain’s first female self-made billionaire. Dame Mary, who set up the High Street opticians with husband Doug Perkins in 1984, has seen their wealth grow to £1.1 billion this year, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.

Born in Bristol, the businesswoman was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2007 as a recognition for her work. Now, several decades after opening her first store in the 1960s, Dame Mary heads a business which boasts more than 1,500 stores across 10 countries. The 42% increase in their wealth from last year, when the couple’s fortune stood at £810 million, makes Dame Mary Britain’s first self-made woman billionaire, the list suggests.

And the number of billionaires is increasing, too: there are 73 billionaires in this year’s list, compared with 53 last year. There are now 108 women among the 1,000 richest, the first time the proportion has surpassed 10%. The highest new entry is London ­teacher’s wife ­Xiuli Hawken, 48, who made £1 billion ­converting air raid shelters in China into ­shopping malls.

Top of the Rich List remains steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, but his fortune has fallen by nearly £5 billion (22 per cent) in the past year, now standing at £17.5 billion. The falling share price of his business ArcelorMittal made him the highest faller in the list in terms of total wealth.

Another steel magnate, Alisher Usmanov, saw the biggest increase in wealth, moving up six places in the list to number two after adding £7.7 billion to his fortune which now stands at £12.5 billion. Usmanov, 57, holds a 47 per cent stake in Mettaloinvest, Russia’s largest iron ore producer.

Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich is just behind in the rankings, with the Duke of Westminster, who added £250 million to his fortune but falls out of the top three in the Rich List for the first time since 1999 – fourth.

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