Dubai fund buys out Tussauds for 800 million

March 23 | Updated: Mar 24 2005, 05:30am hrs
Tussauds Group, owner of London's Madame Tussauds waxworks museum, will be bought by Dubai's government buyout fund for 800 million ($1.5 billion) as the emirate uses its oil wealth to build investments abroad.

Tussauds, which traces its roots to 1802 when Madame Tussaud brought her waxwork collection to London, draws more than 14 million visitors to its attractions annually, the company said in a statement on Wednesday. Its London museum is home to models of celebrities including David Beckham, Brad Pitt and Kylie Minogue.

Gulf oil nations reaped a windfall profit last year from record oil prices and are using that money to invest in other industries from leisure to property. Dubai bought a $1 billion stake in the German carmaker DaimlerChrysler AG in January. The emirate is also building 'Dubailand', a $5 billion tourist complex to help it double revenue from tourism in the next decade.

"It makes people take Dubai much more seriously than just a few hotels on a beach,'' said Anthony Harris, former UK ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 1994 to 1998.

"International banks will be more willing to listen in the future when Dubai wants to raise capital for big projects,'' he added.

Based in Chessington, southern England, Tussauds operates UK theme parks such as Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures. It also owns a stake in the British Airways London Eye, the Ferris wheel on the city's Thames River.

"It has a good fit with Dubai's strategy and focus on the leisure sector,'' Dubai International Capital chief executive officer Sameer Al Ansari said today in a telephone interview. "It has great assets around the world and excellent brandrecognition.'' Tussaud's is the fund's first buyout investment, he added.

Charterhouse Capital Partners LLP, a London-based buyout firm, bought Tussauds for 350 million in 1998 from Pearson.

The firm expanded Tussauds by developing attractions from New York to Las Vegas, and adding waxworks of celebritiesto boost the number of visitors to its London attraction.

Tussauds Chief Executive Officer Peter Phillipson will continue to lead the group, Al Ansari said.