Graham Kirkham, Baron Kirkham

Graham Kirkham, Baron Kirkham, CVO (born 14 December 1944) is an English businessman, the founder and chairman of sofa retailer DFS.

The Lord Kirkham
Graham Kirkham, Baron Kirkham 01.JPG
Born14 December 1944 (1944-12-14) (age 75)
Years active1969–present
Net worth£1.15 billion (April 2015)[1]
TitleChairman of DFS
Pauline Fisher (m. 1965)

Previously executive chairman of DFS Furniture Company Ltd, Kirkham is a strong political and financial supporter of the Conservative Party, and is one of South Yorkshire's richest men, with a personal fortune estimated at £1 billion.[2] After selling DFS in April 2010 he now has a large share in Iceland supermarkets.[3] He is also now involved in fish and chip shops having bought the Whitby chain.[4]

Early lifeEdit

Adopted at the age of three weeks, he is the only son of Edlington miner Tom Kirkham and his wife Elsie: "My whole life has been the luck of going to a good family."[5]

After passing the Eleven plus exam, he attended Maltby Grammar School (since 1967 called Maltby Comprehensive School) and hoped to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot. Failing to get the required five O levels, Kirkham got a job in a local furniture store.[5]


Northern UpholsteryEdit

In 1969, having visited a few manufacturers in his daily work, he decided that making furniture was relatively easy and that by cutting out the warehouse dealers in the middle of the supply chain, he could sell direct to the public at cheaper prices. Kirkham rented a room above a snooker hall in Carcroft, and started making furniture upstairs and retailing it downstairs.[5]


By 1983, Darley Dale–based Direct Furnishing Supplies had become one of Northern Upholstery biggest suppliers. When Direct Furnishing Supplies went bankrupt with debts of £900,000 on a turnover of £3,000,000, Kirkham bought it. Northern Upholstery now renamed itself DFS and at the time had a total of 63 stores employing 2,000 staff.[5]

In 1993, DFS was floated on the stock market and valued at £271 million, with Kirkham and his family trusts owning just over half of the shares. This brought the Kirkham family to the attention of thieves, who in 1994 broke into the family home at Sprotborough while they were on holiday. The burglars bound and gagged the housekeeper and made off with money and jewels worth £2.4m – later recovered, but still South Yorkshire's largest armed robbery.[5]

In 1998 DFS announced its first drop in profits in 28 years to the London Stock Exchange. In 2000 DFS announced a 79 per cent profit increase.[5]

But the revival was short lived, and in light of the continuing prevalence for private equity, Kirkham took the chain private again, leveraging his family's own 9.46% stake with £150 million of family funds[6] in an eventual £496 million deal.[7][8] Kirkham told the Yorkshire Post: "It's something that's caused me fitful sleep in the time I've been thinking about it. I've no hobby, this is my hobby – it's what I do. I'm an entrepreneur. It's almost as if I can feel the adrenaline running through my veins."[9]

On 23 April 2010, it was announced that DFS had been sold to private equity firm Advent International for a reported £500m.[10]

Conservative party donationsEdit

Kirkham is well known for his donations to the Tory Party which begna in the 1980s. By 1996 he had lent the party £4 million in an interest free loan,[11] and in the 1996 New Year Honours was given a knighthood.[12] John Prescott, then in opposition called it "the crudest example yet of honours given for financial services to the Tory Party". Kirkham responded that the honour was for his charitable work for The Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the Animal Health Trust.[5] In September 1996 Kirkham told The Daily Telegraph that his donations were not "anything at all like that sort of magnitude", and that the £4m had in fact been a loan to the party from his son Michael which was repaid a few weeks later.[13] Howevever, the general feeling is that Kirkham purchased his peerage like other Tory donors like his friend the Carpet King Harris of Peckham, and now a self-styled expert on secondary education.

Kirkham gave £200,000 to Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex's Ardent TV company in 1994 because he had "a burning desire to succeed".[5]

On 23 July 1999, Kirkham was made a life peer as Baron Kirkham, of Old Cantley in the County of South Yorkshire.[14][15] He was one of the working peers recommended by then Tory leader William Hague who had borrowed Kirkham's helicopter for electioneering.[5]

Lord Kirkham was appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the 2001 Birthday Honours.[16]


Kirkham has given generously to charity, allocating grants totalling £455,000 in 1998/99.[17] Among his charitable donations made mainly via the Graham Kirkham Foundation,[18] Kirkham gave £225,000 to help cancer research by Bradford University, had a gallery named after him at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley on Thames,[19] and is also Deputy Patron and a member of the board of Outward Bound trustees.[20] Lord Kirkham is also the Chairman of Trustees and a very active supporter of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award (DofE) in the UK.

Personal lifeEdit

Kirkham married Pauline Fisher in 1965. The couple have two children.[5]

Kirkham has two houses in his native South Yorkshire, one in Cadeby Road, Sprotborough; and Grade II*-listed Georgian mansion Cantley Hall which he bought in 1990 from motor dealer John Carnell. Neighbours have complained about both a wall Kirkham built to protect his privacy, as well as the noise from a 1998 fireworks party at which the singer was Elaine Paige.[5]

Kirkham furnishes his homes using DFS sofas, as well as old master paintings including John Constable's View of the Stour (bought for £6.7m[21]) and Thomas Gainsborough's Peasants Going To Market (bought for £3.5m). In 1997 Kirkham lent works by Édouard Manet and Orazio Gentileschi to the Getty Center in Brentwood, Los Angeles.[22]

Kirkham has long been interested in dogs, and owns Dalmatians.[23] He has been a Kennel Club member since 1995 and while he owned DFS, it was the main sponsor of Crufts for its show in 2010.[24] He is President of Driffield Agricultural Society[25] and is always present on the last day of the championship dog show to make all the main presentations.

With Lord Harris of Peckham, he is co-owner of the "Hello" horses: Hello Sanctos, Hello Mr President, Hello M'Lady, Hello Sailor, Hello Unique and Hello Boyo who are ridden by Scott Brash.[26]

In April 2008, Kirkham was involved in an altercation with another motorist in an alleged road rage incident. Charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm were subsequently brought against him. In court in December 2008, Kirkham denied the charges, and claimed that while he was "not proud" of what had happened, it was he who had been the victim of a road rage attack.[27] Kirkham was cleared of all charges after a three-day trial.[28]


Styles and Titles and ArmsEdit

  • Mr Graham Kirkham (1944–95)
  • Sir Graham Kirkham (1995–99)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Kirkham (1999–2001)
  • The Rt. Hon. The Lord Kirkham, CVO (2001–present)


Coat of arms of Graham Kirkham, Baron Kirkham
A Coronet of a Baron
A Dalmatian sejant Argent semy of Roundels Vert gorged with a Plain Collar attached thereto a Chain reflexed over the back and grasping in the sinister paw a Horseshoe reversed Or
Argent on each of three Chevronnels interlaced their apexes terminating in a Trefoil Vert a Chevronel Or
On either side a Chameleon that on the dexter Vert eyed and gorged with a Plain Collar attached thereto a Chain reflexed over the back and terminating in a Ring Or and that on the sinister Or eyed and gorged with a Plain Collar attached thereto a Chain reflexed over the back and terminating in a Ring Vert
Per Laborem Ad Honorem


  1. ^ "Sunday Times Rich List". The Sunday Times (page 32). 26 April 2014.
  2. ^ "Rich list suggests UK richest seeing funds recovering". BBC News. 7 May 2011.
  3. ^ Milmo, Dan (22 June 2012). "Iceland reports record profits". London: the Guardian. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  4. ^ Harrison, Nicola. "DFS founder Lord Kirkham set to batter fish and chip market". Retail week. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Sofa king sitting pretty on £315m pile". Sheffield Star. 22 October 2002. Archived from the original on 16 August 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  6. ^ "Graham Kirkham – Increased and final offer – FE InvestEgate". Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  7. ^ "Outlook: Just say no to Kirkham's insulting DFS bid – Independent, The (London) – Find Articles at". Archived from the original on 15 January 2008.
  8. ^ "World Business Briefing – Europe: Britain: DFS Accepts Founder's Bid". The New York Times. 23 July 2004.
  9. ^ "Doncaster News and Features: Famous Doncastrian: Graham Kirkham, on Donny Online". Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  10. ^ "DFS sold to private equity firm". BBC News. 23 April 2010.
  11. ^ School, Head of; "Welcome to the School of Politics & International Relations". School of Politics & International Relations. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  12. ^ "No. 54537". The London Gazette. 27 September 1996. p. 12875.
  13. ^ "Briefing notes: 'Paying the parties' by Martin Rosenbaum – Prospect Magazine February 1997 issue 16". Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  14. ^ "No. 55565". The London Gazette. 28 July 1999. p. 8127.
  15. ^ "House of Lords – Minute". Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  16. ^ "No. 56237". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 June 2001. p. 3.
  17. ^ The Charities Information Bureau – Fit4Funding | Regional | Bradford – Local Trusts Archived 17 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Kernow Education Arts Partnership Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 1 April 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ The Trustees Archived 30 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 October 2006. Retrieved 1 April 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ Riding, Alan. "British Museum News – The New York Times". The New York Times.
  23. ^ Scougall, Bonnie. "Driffield Show". Dog World. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  24. ^ "Sofa giant DFS takes over as Crufts' main sponsor". Dog World. Archived from the original on 1 June 2014. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  25. ^ "Driffield Champ Show". Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  26. ^ "The team". Graham & Tina Fletcher. Archived from the original on 1 June 2014. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  27. ^ DFS boss 'was road rage victim', BBC News, 19 December 2008
  28. ^ "Lord Kirkham cleared of 'road rage' attack". The Daily Telegraph. London. 22 December 2008. Archived from the original on 16 August 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013.

External linksEdit