Devonport Yachts has an odd slogan. They claim to be responsible for some of the least known vessels in existence. So they’re not saying who the customer is for “Project 55” – one of the biggest and most technologically sophisticated superyachts ever built.
But ask anyone around Devonport Yachts’ Appledore dockyard and they’ll tell you that the customer is none other than Ernesto Bertarelli, Italian-born sailing-mad billionaire, one of the richest men in the world, and husband of Staffordshire-born Kirsty Bertarelli, who holds our number one spot for the second year running.
Kirsty – formerly Kirsty Roper from Stone who was crowned Miss UK in 1988 – married the biotechnology tycoon in 2000 after meeting him three years earlier at a party in Sardinia.
Kirsty Bertarelli, her husband, and their three children, Chiara, Falco and Alceo, now live on the shores of Lake Geneva. They also own a house in Knightsbridge, where the couple can often be seen drinking in the local pub, and a chalet in the Alpine resort of Gstaad, where the family own the legendary winter sports hotel Grand Hotel Park.
Kirsty went to St. Dominic’s Catholic School in her home town of Stone before attending Howells Boarding School in Denbigh, North Wales where she was a member of the school choir and enjoyed sports.
Kirsty, now aged 37, left school and entered modelling, becoming Miss UK a years later at just 17. She went on to come third in the Miss World competition.
Her father, Michael Roper, and his two brothers ran the family pottery company in Stoke-on-Trent, AIM-listed Churchill China, which is still controlled by the family. Churchill employs 1200 people at four sites in Stoke and is one of the world’s major manufacturers and distributors of ceramic tableware, tracing its origins back to 1795.
Kirsty’s ambition was to make a career in music. She wrote her own songs and secured a record deal with Warner Records. In 2000 she co-wrote the All Saints hit Black Coffee which made No.1, and she has since made an album.
She now designs fashion clothing and jewellery and has created her own fashion line. Her charity work includes serving on the committee of Swiss charity Smiling Children which helps underprivileged children in developing countries get education and employment and fights against child labour.
Ernesto Bertarelli ran the family company Serono – the biggest biotechnology company in Europe and a leader in reproductive treatments, as well as drugs for multiple sclerosis. He sold the company in 2006. He is a passionate yachting enthusiast and owner of the Swiss team which won the America’s Cup twice in succession. Kirsty created a clothing and jewellery range based on the winning team, and designs jewellery for renowned watchmaker Audemas Piguet.
Ernesto’s businesses now include Kedge Capital, an investment management group with bases in London, Jersey and Geneva, and Ares Life, a private equity company.