Esporta sold…to that man in the corner with a very large cheque book!

So Esporta with its 54 health and racquets clubs was finally sold today to Ironzar Trust, one of several trusts controlled by Simon Halabi for an undisclosed sum following competition from Archie Norman, the former Asda boss. Norman was bidding through his private-equity vehicle Aurigo Management. Bids were also expected from Whitbread and the Livingstone brothers who recently acquired Next Generation. The winning bidder will have probably paid more than £475m (or £8.9 million per club). Ironzar will come as a surprise winner to many as their UK leisure assets only seem to include Mentmore Towers Golf and Country Club (controlled through Mentmore Towers Ltd). Other interests of Simon Halabi, the Syrian born property magnate (ranked 18th in the 2006 Sunday Times Rich List) includes the Shard of Glass, the 70-floor £400 million development at London Bridge and the proposed `six star`, hotel, spa and club in Piccadilly. I hear that Halabi is a keen tennis player, so he now has the choice of 54 clubs!

So what next? Perhaps, the next move will be the merging of Whitbread’s David Lloyd clubs with Esporta to create Europe’s pre-eminent health and racquets business. Watch this space – I’ll be breaking the news first, ahead of the Financial Times!