Stuart Wheeler: The Granddaddy of Spread Betting

By any standards, Stuart Wheeler has led an enviable life. He made millions as the pioneer of spread betting in the early Seventies and gave £5m of it to the Tories (although he has now switched royalties to Ukip). Wheeler now lives in the magnificent Chilham Castle in Kent with his wife, a society photographer, and three glamorous daughters...

To most observers, Wheeler wants for little. Yet in this story of such success and privilege, the opening chapter has always been missing.

In the spring of 1934, probably in Margate, Stuart was conceived in circumstances that remain a mystery. His mother fled to the Mitchells in London to have the child and he was later given up for adoption - it was the only way she could maintain her respectability.

Stuart Wheeler, now 75, has known since he was a child that he was adopted but didn't even know his mother's name.

He had no idea whether he descended from riches or abject poverty and spent 30 years on a poignant search to discover where he came from, before finally finding out that he was born with a club foot on January 30, 1935, in a hospital in Harrow, North-West London.

Stuart Wheeler

Family man: Stuart celebrates his 70th birthday with his wife Tessa and their three daughters

He was adopted just before his second birthday by Alexander Wheeler, a 55-year-old former Army officer and heir to a banking fortune, and his young wife Betty, daughter of a baronet, Sir John Gibbons.

The couple also adopted a little girl, Susan, on the same day - January 4, 1937.

'My adoptive mother was going into the Adoption Society to find suitable babies,' says Wheeler. 'Her husband was too busy to go with her so she took along her sister Vera.

The couple also adopted a little girl, Susan, on the same day - January 4, 1937.

'My adoptive mother was going into the Adoption Society to find suitable babies,' says Wheeler. 'Her husband was too busy to go with her so she took along her sister Vera.

'She saw a very good-looking baby and was considering adopting that one when Vera saw a child standing up making a bit of nuisance of himself and said to my mother, "That one might be more interesting in the long run."

'That child was me. So I'm indebted to Aunt Vera.

'My memory tells me I learned to walk with my new family, but that sounds unlikely. I would have been nearly two by then and presumably should have taken my first steps a bit earlier. Perhaps it may be true because of my club foot.'

Due to the wealth of their adoptive parents, Stuart and Susan initially enjoyed a privileged upbringing, living in a country house in the village of Manaton, Devon, where the family employed five servants.

But Alexander, who originally came from Pennsylvania, was a spendthrift who frittered away his inheritance before dying of leukaemia in November 1942.

'Alexander was American but so loved Britain that he became naturalised,' recalls Wheeler.

'He was very much a man of those times. He hunted, shot and fished and never did a day's work in his life, unless you count fighting in the First World War. He got a Military Cross for that.

'I barely remember him but I do I recall going to visit him in hospital and then one day, after Betty had read me a story, she told me that he had died.

'His will said, "My two adopted children must be treated in every way as if they were my own offspring except that no adopted son of mine should have my pair of Purdey guns." What was behind that thought I have simply no idea.'

After Alexander's death, the family had to downgrade to a suburban house on the outskirts of Oxford. Vera, married to the head of the Oxford University Press, lived in the same road.

It was while Wheeler was a pupil at St Aubyns prep school that Betty told him he was adopted. She gave him precious little information about his birth mother, though he remembers her mentioning he had come from a 'respectable' family.

He sensed Betty might have known more but did not press her. 'Funnily enough, it didn't really strike me as anything amazing,' he says. 'It just made me feel important.'

Although Wheeler downplays the impact of the news of his adoption, it is perhaps significant that he seized the first opportunity to investigate his origins, and then made strenuous and repeated efforts to uncover more information, with varying degrees of success.

In 1975, when the Children Act gave adopted adults the right to get a copy of their birth certificates for the first time, Wheeler applied for his own.

By then, he had graduated from Oxford with a degree in law and had worked as a barrister and merchant banker. In 1974, aged 39, he had taken out a £5,000 loan to set up the company IG Index, which allowed investors to speculate on the price of commodities.

In doing so, Wheeler had created the new industry now known as spread betting. This allows people to bet not just on a fixed result but on a set of variables that can include anything from the price of gold to the number of corners awarded in a football match.

It was at this time that Wheeler, who was becoming increasingly successful, met Tessa Codrington, a society photographer, at a dinner party. They married on July 14, 1979 and would go on to have three daughters - Sarah, Jacquetta and Charlotte.

The CV


1935: Johan Stuart Wheeler was born in 30 January 1935 in Harrow, north-west London. His mother, Chrissie Cleland, 42, puts him up for adoption.

1937: Alexander Wheeler, a 55-year-old former Army officer and banking heir, and his young wife, Betty Gibbons, adopt Stuart and a girl, Susan, on the same day, 4 January.

1942: His adoptive father dies of leukaemia, and the family moves from Devon to a suburb of Oxford.

Education and Career

1957: After attending Eton and doing national service with the Welsh Guards, he graduates from Oxford with a second-class degree in law.

1974: After stints as a barrister and in merchant banking, Wheeler establishes IG Index, a company that permits people in the United Kingdom to speculate on the price of gold, at a time when you couldn't buy it, except at a premium.

1993: IG launches a sports spread betting division, which goes on to become a sizable industry.

2000: Flotation of IG Index nets Stuart Wheeler £90m in shares.

2001: Donates £5m to the Conservatives' election campaign (which is the biggest single donation to a political party in British history).

2002: Sells shares worth £7.3m to help buy Chilham Castle, a Grade-I listed mansion near Canterbury.

2008: Brings legal case against the Government over its failure to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

2009: Expelled from the Conservative Party after donating £100,000 to Ukip, in protest at Cameron's stance towards the European Union.

2011: Appointed treasurer of the UK Independence Party.


His wife is the photographer Tessa Codrington, and they have three daughters, including the model Jacquetta Wheeler. Presently, he divides his time between Mayfair and Chilham Castle, a Jacobean jewel in Kent that he bought nine years ago.


Stuart Wheeler researched his real mother only late in life, once she was dead, at the end meeting his surviving relatives in a poignant reunion in Edinburgh. A film of Chrissy, his mother, has been recovered, displaying her walking bolt upright with her hands behind her back - in a similar manner to her son. It turned out that she too had been a lifelong bridge player.

Known since 2001 one of the largest Conservative Party donors (he is recorded of having donated £3,933,300.90 between 2001 and 2008 to the party), Stuart Wheeler is an ardent eurosceptic and he has openly criticised David Cameron's stance towards the Lisbon treaty and the European Union. In fact, in 2008 he went to far to launch a legal challenge agains the government's failure to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. This delayed the ratification of the treaty although his challenge was later defeated in the High Court. His anti-EU stance ultimately led to his final rift from the Conservative Party which he once so fervently supported. In fact Stuart Wheeler was expelled from the Conservative party in 2009 for donating £100,000 to UkIP. He joined UKIP in 2009 becoming their Treasurer in January 2011. In 2010 he established the Trust Party as a response to the expenses scandal and put himself as a parliamentary candidate in 2010, although he failed to get elected and the party was de-listed from the register the following year.

Gambling remains one of his hobbies and Wheeler takes a keen interest in card and risk games whether it is online poker or bridge weeks in Tangier, where his wife inherited a house. Curiously, Wheeler puts his wealth down to good luck. In fact, he's not that good at managing his finances; his fortune is down from £90m to £40m after some ill-timed share sales, and the purchase of his 'so-called castle'. He says the cost of running Chilham means his income is less than half his outgoings. 'I completely underestimated the cost of refurbishing and furnishing it, and the 23 per cent capital gains tax. So I don't feel rich, because it's eating into my capital the whole time. Not that I expect anyone to shed a tear for me.'


Regular player of online poker and bridge.