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From wheelbarrow pusher to property tycoon, Fergus Wilson tells all

Millionaire landlord Fergus Wilson has never been far from the headlines with his controversial actions and views.

But what do we actually know about the man who owns hundreds of properties across Kent?

Chief reporter Sean Axtell went to find out.

Fergus Wilson
Fergus Wilson

Fergus Wilson beat up other children for money when he was 11 years old.

Raised in an impoverished Essex family after the war, a young Fergus would take part in organised street fights, earning up to £2 a day back in the early 60s.

“We didn’t have a lot of money and I did like having a fight.

“So I entered these fighting contests involving children, they could get quite nasty and I got quite good at them,” he explained.

Fergus Wilson
Fergus Wilson

Mr Wilson, the son of a Ford car plant worker, got his first job on a building site pushing wheelbarrows at around the same age.

As a teenager he would become a mathematically-minded barrel of a man – a keen rugby prop-forward with a vociferous manner that would soon bloom into a booming voice.

Fergus, now 70, read mathematics at Goldsmiths, University of London, where poverty forced him to sleep rough for months in Greenwich Park, some 50 years ago.

To fund his studies, Fergus began a home-made T-shirt printing business.

“It would be subletting now and I wouldn’t be happy if any of my tenants did the same.”

Future wife Judith soon joined Goldsmiths to study mathematics and here she met Fergus while shopping for a T-shirt and happened on his stall.

“We were married about a year after that,” Fergus explained, “and I found a way where we could live rent free.

“It would be subletting now and I wouldn’t be happy if any of my tenants did the same.”

In the late 60s, the couple rented a four-storey home in Blackheath’s Kidbrooke Park Road and sub-let the lower three storeys to people at a price that covered their own rent.

Fergus Wilson - Enjoying a plate of fish and chips
Fergus Wilson - Enjoying a plate of fish and chips

With plans to buy a home of their own, in 1972 the maths teachers secured a home for £8,200 in Maidstone.

“We lived there for quite some time. I like Maidstone but we wanted to branch out from the place where we were at the time,” Fergus explained.

The chance to branch out came following the 1991 recession, caused by high-interest rates, falling house prices and an overvalued exchange rate.

“See, being a teacher means you’re recession proof, we could carry on saving while others were being laid off.

"I’m a land sniffer. We’ll be driving along and I’ll just shout ‘stop.’ I like to buy land. I like to have lots of money.”

“After the recession house prices started dropping even more and this is when we started building up our portfolio,” he said.

Indeed, in 1991 a house in Paddock Wood cost the couple £35,000 – today it’s worth £350,000.

They continued investing in properties on interest-only mortgages along the M20 corridor, reaching a portfolio of 1,000 at their peak.

And as travel links like Ashford International station, High Speed 1 and the Channel Tunnel were built, house prices soared, further fuelled by a national housing shortage.

Fergus said: “I’m a land sniffer. We’ll be driving along and I’ll just shout ‘stop.’ I like to buy land. I like to have lots of money.”

Fergus and Judith Wilson. Picture: Peter Edwards
Fergus and Judith Wilson. Picture: Peter Edwards

This year the Wilsons say they plan to sell 700 homes - 90 households have already received eviction notices.

Since becoming one of Britain’s biggest - and most notorious - buy-to-let landlords Fergus, unlike Judith, has never shied from the limelight.

Last year he announced tenants’ mass evictions shortly after Judith, 68 was fined £25,000 for failing to repair a wheelchair-bound tenant’s boiler.

But away from the limelight Fergus Wilson lives a rather modest and frugal existence, save for his fascination with race horses.

“See, being a teacher means you’re recession proof, we could carry on saving while others were being laid off"

He doesn’t drink alcohol, enjoys fish and chips and the music of Edith Piaf but avoids television because it makes him tired.

The pair’s Boughton Monchelsea farm houses six Doberman, horses, pigeons – Fergus used to race them – and Judith’s barn full of 12 rescue cats.

Disengaged from politics, his views on Brexit are: “I couldn’t care less - what will be will be.”

The only subject you can discuss with him at any length is housing.

He said: “For the housing crisis the country needs three million homes and I believe house building should be taken out the hands of politicians. There should be a non-political body in charge of house building and they will have to throw a lot of money at it.”

Ten times the controversial property tycoon has made the headlines:

1. Mr Wilson appeared in court in 2014 for punching an estate agent in Folkestone in a row over a boiler.

2. The same year, the property mogul announced plans to ban tenants with his surname after a number of cases of mistaken identity.

3. In 2016, his nomination to stand as an independent candidate to become Kent's next police and crime commissioner was rejected because his papers were posted and not hand delivered.

4. In 2017 he also offered to fight a Kent Messenger journalist for a £10,000 purse after becoming enraged by a report about one of his race horses.

5. In 2017 he banned single mums, people on housing benefits, zero hours workers, plumbers and 'battered wives'.

6. Later that year the controversial landlord tried banning "coloured" tenants because they allegedly made his properties “smell of curry.”

7. In 2018, Mr Wilson declared he was evicting single mothers after a row with Ashford Borough Council over boiler repairs.

8. Shortly after, he triggered a police response after throwing his fish and chip dinner on a restaurant floor during a row at a service area – because service took 20 minutes.

9. After wife Judith was fined for failing to provide a disabled tenant with hot water he announced hundreds will be made homeless after Christmas as the couple prepared to sell up.

10. In 2019, Mr Wilson said he had evicted four homes with Eastern European tenants who had become victims of hate crime, because he isn't a mediator. He added that they would likely have been evicted anyway, given his housing portfolio is being sold off.

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