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Blackstone on brink of clinching £300m Butlin’s sale to parent’s founders

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The owner of Butlin’s is on the brink of sealing a £300m sale of the holiday camp chain to one of its parent company’s founding families.

Sky News understands that Bourne Leisure Group and controlling shareholder Blackstone are expected to sign a deal to sell Butlin’s to a vehicle set up by the Harris family as soon as this week.

If confirmed, the sale will see the Harris family, which helped to establish Bourne Leisure in the 1960s, take control of one of the UK’s most prominent leisure brands.

Paul Harris, the family member understood leading the deal, is likely to become Butlin’s chairman.

The transaction will take the total proceeds from the sale of Butlin’s to more than £600m – a significant achievement in an economy being ravaged by inflation, soaring corporate energy bills and forecasts of a prolonged recession.

The Harris family’s interest bid to acquire Butlin’s comes just over 18 months after it sold Bourne Leisure to Blackstone, the giant American private equity firm, for more than £3bn.

As part of that deal, Blackstone said at the time that the Harris, Cook and Allen founding families were reinvesting in Bourne Leisure, although it is unclear how large a stake the trio now own.

An auction of the Butlin’s chain, which comprises three holiday camps, has been underway since earlier this year.

Bourne Leisure itself has owned Butlin’s since 2000, when it bought the business and its sister brands Haven Holidays and Warner Hotels in a deal reportedly worth £600m.

In July, the UK’s biggest private pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), confirmed a Sky News report that it was buying Butlin’s underlying real estate assets for £300m.

PA NEWS PHOTO 6/11/62 BILLY BUTLIN KING OF THE HOLIDAY CAMP "BUTLINS" RECEIVING A DUAL KISS FROM MISS AMERICA AND MISS CANADA AS THEY COMPETE FOR THE MISS WORLD TITLE.  *  11/4/01: The great British holiday resort Butlins celebrates its 65th birthday. Butlins, that has launched the careers of celebrities past and present, first opened its doors to holidaymakers in 1936 in Skegness, Lincolnshire. Their famous Redcoats have kept the work-weary entertained at resorts across the country.
Image:
Billy Butlin is pictured in 1962

The sale of its operating business is notable because of the number of failed auctions being triggered by turmoil in global debt financing markets.

Among the deals to have been pulled were auctions of Parkdean Resorts, another big leisure group, and Boots, Britain’s biggest high street chemist.

Butlin’s was established by its eponymous founder, Billy Butlin, in 1936, and rapidly became one of the most popular holiday destinations for staycationing Britons.

According to the brand’s official history, Mr Butlin “felt sorry for families staying in drab guest-houses with nothing much to do” during a trip to Barry Island.

In its heyday, Butlin’s operated from nine sites across the UK, entertaining 1m holidaymakers each year with knobbly knees competitions and glamorous granny contests.

The brand became such an entrenched part of Britain’s popular consciousness that it provided the inspiration for Hi-de-Hi!, the long-running BBC sitcom.

Its fortunes waned with the explosive growth of opportunities for Britons to holiday abroad, but has enjoyed a resurgence as the pandemic has fuelled a boom in domestic vacations.

Butlin’s sites are at Skegness, Minehead in Somerset and Bognor Regis, the traditional seaside town close to the South Downs National Park.

Rothschild, the investment bank, is advising Blackstone on the Butlin’s sale.

Blackstone declined to comment.

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