Cornish self-made millionaire defends his £7k-a-week St Ives holiday home


A millionaire entrepreneur who owns what must be Cornwall’s most controversial house has spoken out about the backlash he has received about his dream home.

Adrian Harris, 51, who left Cornwall to find his fortune setting up specialist marketing firm Opia in 2006 has come into criticism after buying a former council house, Sunset House, and replacing it with a glass fronted beach villa at St Ives’ famous Porthmeor Beach just a stones throw from Tate St Ives.

The property is so sought after it fetches £7,000 a week in rent to holidaymakers – and around £13,000 at Christmas.

But while the luxury glass and steel four-bedroom house is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work for the self-made businessman, Mr Harris has criticised naysayers who cannot believe that such a property could ever belong to a Cornishman.

He said: “I was embarrassed when I saw some of the comments saying that no Cornishman could possibly have made millions and buy this house. Where is their self belief? You have to work hard and if that means you have to leave Cornwall or the town where you were born to cease those opportunities then so be it. You need to believe in yourself. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did if I didn’t.”

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Sunset House first made the national headlines when it was put up for auction in London with a guide price of £600,000 by housing association, Devon and Cornwall Housing (DCH) – now called LiveWest. Chief Executive Paul Crawford said at the time that the proceeds of the sale would fund at least 10 affordable homes in Cornwall.



Sunset House on Porthmeor beach is St Ives was built in the place of a former council house that was bought at auction for £1.4million

The entrepreneur came across Sunset House when a friend pointed out that it was going for auction in London with a guide price of £600,000.

Mr Harris explained: “They expected the house to go for about £1.2m so I went to the auction house with a confidence level of £1.5m and I think I would have been prepared to pay £2m for it. It was going slowly and got involved when it reached £900K. It stalled at £1m but suddenly someone on the phone put in a higher bid so I ended up paying £1.4m for it, but with fees and stamp duty on top, the house cost me £1.6m.

“I had invested some of my money in this luxury Pagani sports car which I bought for 1.8m euro so I liquidated that asset for £1.8m and made money on the exchange rate and bought Sunset House with it.”

With a smile he added: “Suddenly I had this old house on the edge of a cliff and no planning permission. But then again it is the last house on Porthmeor beach. I’ve always believed that if there is no risk and fear, there is no reward. You have to feel that fear to get a big pay off. When the hammer went down at that auction, I was proud to be a Cornishman buying this house in Cornwall. But I felt those fears.”

Mr Harris is candid about his very own ‘hubris house’ and why he ploughed nearly £6m of his personal fortune into Cornwall to get his own dream home.

Born at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in 1970, he was raised in Newquay where his parents ran a guest house. He left school with three O-levels in English and maths, worked from a young age helping with his parents’ business and was given his first job as a car salesman by Wadham Kenning selling Rovers in Bodmin.

He met his first wife and they had a daughter. But being a northern lass feeling homesick in Cornwall, he decided to plough his small savings into a £350 car and drove up to Newcastle with a suitcase and started knocking on doors asking for a job. When he found one, his wife and daughter joined him.

During the seven years he lived up there, his marriage ended and he was offered a promotion that involved moving to London.

“I was very ambitious,” he said. “I went down there selling cars but when I was offered an opportunity to go into marketing I took that chance.

“I had no degree and no experience but they were prepared to give me chance because their best marketing person had a similar background as a car salesman. When I was made redundant, and not having much of an education, I decided to set up my own company.”

He set up Opia in 2006 and built it up to a massive £30m turnover global business employing 120 staff.

In 2015 he sold Opia to Village Road Show, a company which finances movies, for £30m and after giving most of his new fortune away to the taxman, shareholders, his staff and setting a trust fund for his family, he decided to turn his attention back to Cornwall.

“Throughout my life, my philosophy has always been that I would make my money and come back to spend it in Cornwall. Like Robin Hood. Taking money from other parts of the county and giving to Cornwall. In the last five years I’ve spent about £6m in Cornwall so I think I have done that.”

He currently lives in Yorkshire close to where his daughters and grandchildren live and plans to make Sunset House is permanent home.

But he insists that holiday homes are good for the economy, attracting people who spend money into local towns, restaurants, bars and shops.

But he argues that those with second homes should face higher taxation.

He said: “Imagine if there was no tourism to rely on. Cornwall would go bankrupt. However people who can afford to have a second home should be taxed more because those who dip in and out for the odd weekend don’t really add anything to the local economy. When it comes to holiday homes and second homes you have to remember that it was Cornish people who sold those houses in the first place.

“As for affordable homes, I did a search on Rightmove for houses for less than £150,000 and there were 500 in Cornwall while where I live in Yorkshire which has a city with as many people as in Cornwall, there were only 150.

“Moving away is a fact of life. People often have to move away to come back and afford the house they wanted then. Again it is about ceasing those opportunities and not being scared to work hard and go where those chances are.”

Mr Harris admits that five years ago when he acquired Sunset House his intention was to liquidate all his assets out of the county and move to Cornwall. But a pandemic which nearly crippled his latest business venture and the arrival of grand children has put a spanner in the work.

“I need to make Sunset house pay its way. I can make money work harder than the projected £150K it could bring a year but I am comfortable with the fact that the wealthy holiday makers staying here will spend money in the town and that’s good for St Ives. I agree completely it is a hubris house. But it’s everything I wanted and I am proud of it. I spent £6m in Cornwall in the past five years but I wouldn’t have been comfortable doing it the other way round. I am proud of my Cornish heritage so it did upset me when I read those comments that no Cornishman could do this. But sadly, and that’s life, I won’t be able to move down as quickly as I wanted. When I do I’ll probably continue to live six months away to be near my grandchildren. When that happens Sunset House will be another second home and that’s sad.”



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