Businessmen encounter many compelling stories and meaningful lessons as they pave their challenging and tedious way towards launching and expanding businesses. Years pass, and they forget their financial achievements, but these stories remain fresh in their minds. One of these is how I purchased “Yusuf Islam’s” house in London.
In 1980, I began expanding my advertising services in Europe, from the capital of business and finance: London. Initially I shared an office on Curzon Street. But, in early 1982 my assistant contacted me saying we needed to vacate it immediately as the owner had received a court order to completely restore the building. I asked her to search for another office, preferably nearby.
The Curzon Street location was ideal because of its proximity to commercial areas like Oxford Street, the prestigious Mayfair suburb, and Soho where we produced a lot of films. Within an hour, my assistant called back with good news; building No 27, adjacent to our office was for sale. Its owner was the famous singer Cat Stevens, who had converted to Islam and become “Yusuf Islam”. He wanted to leave the area, as he said, “it was very immoral”.
The very next day, I flew to London, arrived at six in the evening, and went directly to the building. I rang the main doorbell and a deep voice came through the intercom, “I’m sorry, if you are here to spend the night, the place is full, and there is no vacant bed.” I replied, “I’m here to purchase the building if you want to sell it”. The voice answered, “Welcome! Come to the fourth floor.”
The automatic door opened, and I went up the stairs. Every room was fully occupied with several inhabitants. I realised what he meant when he said the place is full. The owner provided shelter for all of them during the frosty, rainy nights.
When I ultimately got to the fourth floor, he opened the door. I looked at him with his white beard and white dress wearing a Pakistani shirt, with a small cap on his head. He looked like an angel; incredibly tolerant and loving, with innocent eyes.
He said, “Brother, come in, are you a Muslim? “I said, “Yes, thanks to God.” He asked, “You want to buy the building?” I answered, “I want to convert it into offices, how much do you want?” He said, “The price is £100,000.”
The building was a leasehold property with only 25 years remaining. I could not arrange a loan from the bank to buy it at such short notice.
I said, “I’ll pay £80,000 in cash and you can collect it in one day from the British Bank of the Middle East.” He looked at me carefully, saying, “I am not a good negotiator, but I must tell you that vice is everywhere, even in the mews house at the back, where a Swedish prostitute lives. Give me £80,000 and I’ll move out straight away.”
The next day we got a lawyer to draw up the contract in my name, went back to Yusuf Islam and informed him that he had two months to vacate the house, and he did. I asked him to sign the cheque as Cat Stevens, but he refused, saying “That person no longer exists.”
The next hurdle was to deal with the tenants, especially the Swedish woman, and her prostitution service. It took three or four years and £10,000 for her to leave. I spent another £300,000 to renovate the house and yard, and that became “Promoseven – London.”
Despite abandoning his status and former name, for years we continued to receive cheques addressed to Cat Stevens, and forwarded them to him. I met him once and asked about these cheques, “You’re still getting money as Cat Stevens, don’t you mind that?” He replied, “It’s part of the practical side of life.” Meanwhile, he purchased a home in Hampstead and continued to provide shelter as a youth hostel for Muslims from anywhere in the world.
I haven’t heard from Yusuf Islam for many years, but he still releases religious songs, is president of the Muslim Academics Foundation and offers charitable services both in and outside Britain.