Prince Charles honoured tycoon Lord Brownlow who bailed out his failed eco-village
Heir to the throne ignored aides advice against close ties with Tory peer
The Prince of Wales gave an honour to a controversial Tory peer who spent 1.7 million bailing out his failed eco-village in a string of secretive deals being investigated by the charity watchdog.Prince Charles presented Lord Brownlow with the award during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace after accepting millions of pounds in donations from him.
His flagship charity also opened up Dumfries House, his 18th-century country estate in Scotland, for Brownlow’s 50th birthday a black-tie event involving fireworks, bagpipes and a performance by a celebrity magician and awarded the businessman’s company a 1.2 million construction contract.
Lord Brownlow was made a Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO), an elite honour approved by the Queen
Brownlow, a recruitment tycoon, is best known for his role in funding the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat and was also recently reported to have been considered as a potential donor to pay 150,000 for a treehouse for the prime ministers son.
Charles became close with the peer, whose fortune has been estimated at 271 million by The Sunday Times Rich List in 2020, after ignoring the advice of one of his most senior courtiers. The palace insider was concerned Brownlow, 58, was using Charles to burnish his reputation, felt he had myriad conflicts of interest and believed his judgment was wayward. They shared their views with the prince.
In 2013 Charles, 73, appointed Brownlow as a trustee of the Princes Foundation, which manages Dumfries House.
Charles had bought the mansion from the Marquess of Bute by taking out a 20 million loan six years earlier.
He also acquired a nearby piece of farmland, Knockroon, at a cut-price rate. Charles saw the construction and sale of faux-Georgian homes there as an ideal way of repaying the Dumfries House debt. The development was also supposed to bring jobs and homes to a depressed former mining community and exhibit his values of traditional and sustainable architecture in practice.
There was a severe shortfall in demand: just 31 of 770 homes were built and its value was written down from 15 million to 700,000. By 2015 Hope Homes, the princes developer, had withdrawn from the project and a leading Scottish architect, Professor Alan Dunlop, described the princes vision as an imported pastiche and a curious mix of relatively expensive homes dropped into a rural setting that should have never been built.
Today plans to complete Knockroon have been abandoned. Residents complain it is a ghost town that Charles rarely visits despite routinely spending weekends entertaining donors and relaxing and unwinding at his nearby estate.
Brownlow incorporated his own property company, Havisham Properties, and started buying homes at Knockroon from a subsidiary of the Princes Foundation. Between 2012 and 2017 he spent 1.7 million purchasing 11 properties and converting them into buy-to-lets and a cafe according to official documents. The charity did not declare any of the purchases as related party transactions. This is a standard measure used to guard against perceived conflicts of interest and to demonstrate that trustees knew that money was going to someone who had existing ties to the charity.
It is unclear whether Brownlow paid for the use of the estate for his birthday in 2013
During this period the foundation also awarded Brownlows company a series of contracts. In 2015 it gave him an estimated 1.2 million worth of work to build three properties on the estate, which a source said were cottages for staff. In the same year the charity seconded charitable staff to run Da Vincis, his companys cafe housed in what was supposed to be Knockroon visitor centre. It also purchased an item of home furnishing on behalf of Mr Brownlow which he later repaid, and paid him 8,590 in rent. The following year, accounts state that his company received 715,668 for building the staff homes. The foundation would not say if there was an open competition or tender exercise to award the contracts.
As a trustee, Brownlow had oversight of the sale of properties and awarded contracts to his own company. Trustees retain ultimate responsibility for all expenditure by a charity and have a legal duty to ensure payments offer value for money and further the charitys goals.
The inquiry by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has confirmed for the first time that it is investigating Brownlows decision to buy up unwanted properties at Knockroon. We can confirm that the work of Havisham Group [Brownlows company] and property transactions relating to the Knockroon development in Ayrshire forms part of our overall investigation, work on which is ongoing, a spokesman said.
In September 2013, months after he started bailing out Knockroon, Brownlow hosted his 50th birthday party at Dumfries House, which is only partially open to the public through 60-minute paid tours during the summer. Some of the house is available for private hire, but only when the prince is not using the premises. It is unclear whether Brownlow paid for the use of the estate and, if so, whether he was charged at the normal commercial rate. There were performances by Dynamo, the celebrity magician, Alfie Boe, the prominent English tenor, and Cirque du Soleil acrobatic fire-dancers.
Lord Brownlow with the Prince of Wales, the Queen and Prince Harry at the Chelsea Flower Show
Shortly after Brownlow completed his purchase of the properties and quit as a trustee, in 2018, the prince personally gave him a royal honour at Buckingham Palace. He was made a Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO), an elite honour approved by the Queen.
The investiture in which Brownlow was made a CVO was apparently not disclosed on the court circular, the official list of royal engagements. The entry for that date states: The Prince of Wales this afternoon attended an Accounting for Sustainability Forum at St Jamess Palace and afterwards held a reception at Clarence House. The honour means Brownlows formal title now ends with the initials CVO. He uses the style on his parliamentary and business websites.
The CVO is conferred for extraordinary, important or personal services to the royal family and is one of the awards bestowed at the sole discretion of the monarchy rather than one the advice of politicians. Brownlow was appointed to the order as part of the Queens Birthday honours list in 2018, with the official notice describing him as the former chairman of Charless foundation. The following year, Brownlow was knighted and Theresa May nominated him to the House of Lords in 2019.
The disclosures come a week after The Sunday Times revealed that Charles accepted a suitcase of cash from the former prime minister of Qatar.
They pose fresh questions of the princes judgment. Charles had welcomed Brownlow into his circle of trust even after an adviser expressed reservations about his motivations. Brownlow was very influential, but it was felt that he was not an entirely benign influence on the prince, a palace insider said. Of Brownlow, who was a trustee, donor and commercial partner of the charity at once, the source said: He had myriad conflicts of interest. His judgment was wayward. This certainly came up in conversation with the prince.
According to the royal source, Charles was expressly told that Brownlow seemed more interested in the psychic reward of being close to the prince and being invited to dinners at Dumfries House. I think it just sort of gave him a kick that he could talk to his friends and say, I just had another dinner with the Prince of Wales. I mean, I think more about that [than money], to be honest, the source said.
Charles first became involved with Brownlow through his Foundation for Integrated Health, a controversial body that championed alternative medicine and lobbied for pseudoscientific treatments to be made available on the NHS. Brownlow chaired the body briefly but it was closed after the conviction of an official for stealing from the organisation in 2010. A year later he was invited to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton and received a prime seat at Westminster Abbey.
Brownlow attended the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011
Brownlow is not the first Dumfries House donor to get an honour from Charles during a private event at the Queens home. Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz, a Saudi billionaire, who had given 1.5 million to Charles’ causes including the estate, was appointed CBE. That honour is the subject of a Metropolitan Police investigation under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.
A Princes Foundation spokeswoman said: Lord Brownlow was appointed CVO in 2018 in recognition of his role of chair of the charity The Princes Foundation for Building Community.
Brownlow was made a CVO as part of the Queens Birthday honours list in 2018
Asked if Brownlow paid to use the estate and, if so, how much she said: Dumfries House is a beautiful country estate which has for many years been available to members of the public to hire for special events. She added: The proceeds are ploughed back into the princes foundation to support its charitable work.
A Clarence House spokesman said: Chairpersons of charities closely associated with the royal family are often appointed to the Royal Victorian Order to thank them for their public service, on completion of their tenure.
Brownlow did not respond to a request for comment.