The man with the Midas touch
Although he’s now a wealthy man, Derek Pullen’s “West End” accent betrays his growing-up years in a tough urban neighborhood: Aldershot, England, a small city of about 35,000 people, 30 miles southwest of London, that is famed as “The Home of the British Army.” His dad, George Pullen, had been a paratrooper in the British 1st Airborne Division in World War II and took part in their renowned unsuccessful drop at Arnhem, Netherlands. (Their story was dramatized in the book and movie, “A Bridge Too Far.”) After the war George returned to Aldershot, where he worked as a painter and decorator. He and his wife Beatrice had two children, Derek and his younger sister Beryl.
Derek went to infant school, grammar school and Secondary Modern School in Aldershot. “Secondary Modern was a tough place,” Derek remembers: good sports teams that beat up on the other teams in their league. “I was a good footballer (soccer player) and boxer. And I was a rebel. I was money orientated even then. I had two paper routes, and a grocery route every night. Then I’d fall asleep in the classroom the next day.”
This behavior didn’t suit him for schooling very well, and Derek quit school at age 16. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, so I got me a job as a plumber’s apprentice,” he says. A short time later he also got himself married to “an absolute star” named Jill and went to work as a machine operator in a fiberglass factory in nearby Camberley. He and Jill lived in a tiny house that could, with a stretch of imagination, be called a mobile home. Derek stayed at it for seven years, while continuing to do small jobs as a subcontractor in the plumbing business.
In 1972, when he was 29, his fortunes began to take an upward swing. In his work as a plumbing subcontractor, he came across an opportunity to buy an 8-bedroom house in need of repairs for a price of 4,500 pounds (about $9,000 in U.S. currency), and he took it. Thus began a series of events which indicated that young Mr. Pullen might actually have something of a Midas touch.
What did he do with such a big house? “I rented out the bedrooms at 12 pounds a week. I had 16 roomers at a time,” which brought in about $1600 a month, and he was able to pay off his mortgage in jig time.
Along the way, he met David Agar, a surveyor who became a good social friend and soon a good partner. Through David’s connections they landed a lucrative three-year subcontract with D.C. Howes, a construction firm that was working directly with the national government, and Derek began buying more houses with rooms to let. “These were big houses,” he attests. “One of them had 20 bedrooms.” Big, indeed, and Derek’s fortunes continued to rise. In 1979 D.C. Howes got into financial troubles, and the two D’s, David and Derek, scrounged up the money to buy them out, becoming the main national government contractor themselves and dealing directly with Parliamentary representatives. “Now I had 200 workers,” Derek says. “Only six were full-time employees, and the rest were subcontractors,” so he wasn’t responsible for all their benefits under the government’s restrictive labor laws. Smart move.
In 1983, Derek was able to branch out even further. With some of his D.C. Howes profits, he bought a hotel and pub, “The Emerald Lady,” in nearby Reading for $140,000. He hired a manager for the properties, and when the manager was arrested and jailed on a DUI charge, Derek and his longtime friend (and wife-to-be) Trudy took over the reins. Soon “it became the place to go to. It was a big hit. We had celebs, politicians, actors coming there.” Derek cashed in further by selling the place in 1987 for almost four times what he paid for it.
What then? “I bought the Dorchester Hotel in Salisbury,” Derek says with a smile. That property had no relation to the famed Dorchester Hotel in London, but it did well enough that he doubled his money when he sold it year or so later. Good reason to smile, for all his ventures were turning into gold. “That’s when I decided to go to the Isle of Wight,” he says. The Isle, in the English Channel due south of England and separated from the mainland by a 20-mile-long strait called the Solent, is famous mostly for the fact that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert lived there, at Osborne House, for most of her 64-year reign. It’s a beautiful, mountainous spot with great summer weather that has made it a destination for pleasure-seekers. Derek bought a hotel, pub and nightclub there in 1988, and the picture looked rosy indeed.
Well, not this time. “It was a big mistake,” he confesses. The business was strictly seasonal, and the Isle’s permanent population was not big enough to sustain it in the offseason. And in 1993, his son Ricky died from a viral infection at age 30. That brought Derek to rock bottom. “It was the end of me,” he says. “I felt I hadn’t been a good enough father, and now I had lost him. He was everything to me.” Derek was to regain his golden touch with openings of a hotel/nightclub (“Frisco’s”) in Portsmouth, on England’s south coast, and a hotel/nightclub (“Buster”) in the city of Farnborough, a stone’s throw from Aldershot. (That hotel later became the highly regarded Alexandra Hotel.) But something was missing from Derek’s life.
Things improved when Derek married Trudy in 2007. It was a safe bet: They had known each other for over 40 years. In 2016 they sold most of their holdings in England for $2 million, keeping a place on the Isle of Wight as their summer residence. “I started coming to Florida in 1991,” Derek says. “My accountant had recommended that I take a look at the West Coast of Florida. I came, I saw, and I bought.” He bought, indeed: two places in Rotonda, a condo in The Hammocks in Englewood, a property in Orlando and a house in Tarpon Springs. “I fell in love with The Hammocks,” he says. “I’ve had some of my happiest years here, especially with the good friends we’ve made here over the years.” He takes walks every day, travels back and forth to England at odd times, like all Brits seem to do, and revels in his time with his grandkids. He has six to keep him busy: Sam, Joe, Matt, Luke, Blake and Danielle. “They are my life,” he says, “and I tell myself that I’m going to be the best grandfather there ever was.”
With close friends and family to share his time with in his retirement years, it seems that this is where Derek Pullen really had a Midas touch.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.