Dame Mary Perkins, co-founder of Specsavers, is among 105 women to make it on UK-compiled Rich List

Dame Mary Perkins makes it to the top in a man's world, becoming the UK's sixth-richest person and its first self-made woman billionaire.

She is modest, hard working and now extremely wealthy.

Dame Mary Perkins, 67, the co-founder of the optician chain Specsavers,is the UK's first self-made woman billionaire.

She is the country's sixth-richest woman, with £1.15 billion (Dh6.85bn). Dame Mary shares that fortune with her husband Douglas, 68, with whom she started Specsavers in 1984, revolutionising the spectacles industry by selling fashionable frames at affordable prices.

Today they have more than 1,000 stores in 10 countries and a 30 per cent market share in the UK.

And yet for all the trappings, away from business she shuns the limelight and the high life, loving nothing more than choral singing and a walk in the countryside.

Dame Mary is one of 105 women who have made it on to the latest Rich List, compiled by The Sunday Times, which ranks the UK's 1,000 wealthiest people.

This is the first time women have passed the 10 per cent mark on the list. Seven of the 105 women are billionaires.

The UK's super rich have certainly rebounded from the recession, with their wealth increasing 18 per cent in the past year.

There are now 73 billionaires with a total fortune estimated at £395.8bn, equal to more than a third of the national debt.

The number is up from 53 in 2009 but a shade under the 75 in the pre-recession boom of 2008. The £155bn wiped from their collective wealth in the recession of 2009 must now be a distant memory, even as the rest of the country and the economy are still struggling to recover.

The Rich List, compiled by Philip Beresford, is based on identifiable wealth - land, property, assets such as art, or significant shares in publicly quoted companies, and excludes bank accounts. Among the 73 billionaires, 40 were born in the UK.

Xiuli Hawken, 48, is among those whose fortune has thrived since she first came to the UK from China to study English 20 years ago.

Married to a London teacher, she is the highest new entry on the list (seventh) with £1.06bn, wealth that has come from converting China's underground air-raid shelters into underground shopping centres.

The 105 extremely wealthywomen have a combined wealth of £45.23bn, led by Kirsty Bertarelli (£6.87bn), a former Miss UK, former songwriter for the band All Saints and wife of Ernesto Bertarelli, who made his money in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Other women to make it to the list include: JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books; the actress Emma Watson who stars in the Harry Potter films; Tamara Mellon, the co-founder of the Jimmy Choo brand; and Queen Elizabeth II, with a personal fortune estimated at £300 million.

For all of the criticism it receives, London's dubious reputation as the "divorce capital of the world" also contributes to the super-rich women rankings, thanks to a number of high-profile divorces that resulted in favourable settlements for the wives. Ten women have become millionaires from divorce, according to the list.

They include Slavica Ecclestone, the former wife of the Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone. She is now the 10th richest woman in the UK after an amicable divorce in 2009 puts her worth at £734m. Much of Mr Ecclestone's fortune was tied up in trusts in the former Croatian model's name.

Roman Abramovich's wife Irina is now worth £155m, according to the list, thanks in part to her £12m estate in the southern English county of Sussex, part of her divorce proceeds.

But with a fortune of £10bn, putting him third on the UK's rich list, it is but a drop in the ocean for Mr Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club.

His countryman, the Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has also put his wife Galina on the richest women list after their divorce in London last year.

She is said to be worth £80m and still lives in the capital.

For all their increased wealth, however, UK's women remain well short of the list's frontrunner, the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.

Despite the falls in ArcelorMittal's share price, which shrank his wealth by £5bn in the past year, he remains the UK's richest man for the seventh year running, with a fortune of £17.5bn.

But as Dame Mary has often been quoted as saying: "There is only a certain amount you can spend, isn't there?"

business@thenational.ae

Published: May 22, 2011 04:00 AM

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