For a man seemingly so keen to stay in the limelight, William Storey is one who is also misunderstood.
‘I don’t like being told what to do,’ he once said. ‘I don’t like clichés and I don’t like following the crowd. I certainly don’t do what is expected of me.’
A mathematician who once had a pet cheetah called Boy, a one-time professional gambler, a farmer in Zimbabwe, co-founder of an energy drinks company and he spent time on the books of Queens Park Rangers. Now he wants to buy Sunderland and bring them back to the Premier League.
Storey’s enthusiasm is infectious and as a personality he can be magnetic.
The beard, the sunglasses, the ambition, his confidence in himself as a brand, as well as total commitment to business, make him box-office.
But step back from comparisons to Game of Thrones characters or a modern-day viking and his sound-bite headlines and his story is fascinating.
Storey’s formative years saw him educated at the Russell School in Petersham before going on to the Tiffin Boys’ School a short distance away in Kingston.
From there he went north of the border to St Andrews University to read Mathematics.
His entrepreneurial spirit and opportunist nature was evident even then, fresh out of high school and making his way as a university student. He gambled to pay his way. His fascination for politics and his knowhow of mathematics saw Storey find a way to beat the system.
‘To supplement my income I developed a trading algorithm for horseracing using mathematics, which was my degree,’ he explained, as per River Tribe.
‘For two years I was a professional gambler and in recent years made significant bets on the outcome of the US elections and on the Referendum. This philosophy on risk undoubtedly informs my business strategy.’
The last thing a club like Sunderland need right now is an owner with the love of a punt but, for Storey it is no gamble, this has been months in the making. For now let’s press on with his voyage to Africa – via QPR – that followed St Andrews.
After the stint at QPR, Storey travelled out to Zimbabwe to work on a tobacco plantation and that was when he and his girlfriend got the cheetah.
‘I trained with QPR for about a month when Gerry Francis was the manager,’ he told Sportsmail. ‘It was round about 2000 with the first team. You had the likes of Iain Dowie, Peter Crouch was there at the time too. I trained for about a month and played a couple of reserve games as a trialist.’
Delighted to support the @rich_energy keepy uppy challenge in aid of @Shelter the homeless charity. They do amazing work for some of the most vulnerable in society. #homelessness a scandal in modern Britain. Please get involved.#keepyuppy #shelter #charity #challenge pic.twitter.com/h6c3OWOpW4
Political tensions in Zimbabwe had seen the value of land depreciate tenfold and for businessmen like Storey, he had found himself in southern Africa on what was essentially an open goal.
Land worth in excess of $30million was then capped at a figure closer to $2m, so Storey invested, soon made that investment back and flipped it before returning to the UK with cash burning a hole in his pocket.
Other businesses followed, longevity wasn’t a key consideration at this early stage, including an online fashion company and a boxing promotions company before then establishing Rich Energy, where awareness of Storey exploded.
The company has intrigued since its inception with some people claiming the energy drink cans are allegedly incredibly hard to find on the shelves across the UK, a claim wholeheartedly denied by Storey.
‘Like any business that comes from nowhere, there are a lot of detractors who may like to believe we aren’t successful but ultimately we have a brand and a product that is, in my opinion, the best in the market,’ he explained. ‘I built this from nothing and we are now ever-growing.’
Storey is typically active across social media, a voice box to share news of his life and updates on his businesses. In 2018 in an article shared on Linkedin, Storey revealed that West Ham co-owner David Sullivan ‘acquired a stake in Rich Energy’.
The two men posed for a photo and Rich Energy would go on to back the club’s women’s team as an official sponsor for more than two years.
‘David is a friend of mine and is a stakeholder,’ he told Sportsmail. ‘He has been a supporter of Rich Energy. I think David is one of the best entrepreneurs in Britain. He is a billionaire and started with nothing. I don’t think he gets the plaudits he deserves.’
Storey has a long association with sporting ventures that precedes Sullivan.
A keen West Ham fan, it is an area which combines two of his passions: business and sport. What sponsorship or even ownership, in the case of Sunderland, brings with it is celebrity but also the chance to revive the very embodiment right now of a sleeping giant.
When American F1 team Haas unveiled little known Rich Energy as their title sponsor for the 2019 season, more than a few eyebrows were raised.
There was team principal Guenther Steiner, drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean and the happy-go-lucky Storey, his beard as striking as ever. There were lots of smiles, and the car’s livery had changed to the black and gold to mirror Rich Energy’s brand colours.
But there were more than a few doubts in the F1 press corps and also among the sport’s legion of fans. Who was Storey? Was he credible? Is it all far too good to be true?
A quirk in Rich Energy financials showed their bank balance to have risen from £103 (that’s pounds, not millions) in 2016 to £581 in 2017 and so questions were being asked.
Companies House, the UK website for limited companies producing end-of-term accounts, details that the business is six months late on their latest accounts. That is not totally uncommon, on balance.
In fairness to Storey, one of his biggest strengths is availability, particularly to media.
After his introduction with Haas was overshadowed, he wasted no time in likening allegations the business did not exist to ‘saying man never walked on the moon.’
Speaking to motorsport.com in February 2019, Storey added: ‘Ultimately we’ve just produced 90million cans. As far as I’m concerned anyone who says it doesn’t exist it’s like saying man never walked on the moon, or Elvis is still alive. It’s just fantasy.’
Amid the questions, Storey was excited, this was bringing huge awareness to Rich Energy and it allowed him into the rich and powerful world of F1.
Rich Energy’s Twitter account even boldly declared itself to be #BetterThanRedBull – their key energy drink rival – after finishing the first day of testing ahead of them.
A tweet in July, just four months into the 2019 season, Rich Energy’s Twitter account dropped a bombshell in 140-characters. Storey and the business were pulling out.
Rich Energy explained, ‘poor performance’ and the ‘politics and PC attitude of Formula 1’ lead to their disassociation from Haas.
From having been keen to dethrone Red Bull as the best energy drink-backed team on the grid, it was all over before it really began. He had gone from praising the ‘fantastic product’ at Haas to likening them to a ‘milk float’ just months later in one of the more intriguing sponsorship’s in recent F1 history.
There were rumours suggesting Storey may have sold his majority stake in the company, now officially under the name Lightning Volt, but current activity on social media as of May 17 still has him listed as the CEO.
He explained the quirk, which showed him stepping down in July 2019 and reinstated in August 2019 was done ‘to protect’ the company but could not elaborate further.
And so now to Sunderland, a project Storey has ‘been working on for four to five months’. Both his own personal account and the company’s Instagram account detailed that he has made a formal bid for the League One club.
Stewart Donald is desperate to sell and recoup some of the £37.6m he paid Ellis Short – who Storey has consulted in the planning process – in 2018 and Storey has pulled together a group of ‘world class backers who have very deep pockets’. The plan is to also have high-profile Sunderland fans forming part of the executive board if the consortium’s bid is successful.
‘We think with the right people and right investment, we can enjoy a renaissance,’ he explained to Sportsmail. ‘They have got one of the best fan-bases in the world to my mind. The fans of Sunderland deserve a team in the Premier League playing world class football.’
‘A £50million investment, above and beyond the acquisition, would be a minimum commitment,’ he added to the Sun.
‘The fans need to be excited and I want to make a statement with big names, both on and off the pitch. I’ve been working on this for around four months and have already got four big-name Premier League players in mind that we could get quickly.’
There is natural scepticism on Wearside but this is a tale that could run and run. Storey’s heart appears to be in the right place. He is even already taunting Newcastle fans – who are looking at the prospect of their lucrative takeover collapsing.
He tweeted: ‘6 top flight league titles (50% more than @NUFC) 2 x winners of FA Cup & winners of charity shield. A giant of English football & the pride of the North East with some of the most dedicated fans in the game #RokerRoar’
And so it seems fitting that Storey, who stole the show with his cameo on Netflix as part of F1’s Drive to Survive series, is after a club that has provided some of the best drama the streaming platform has seen in years.
Should he take control, another series could be the most outlandish yet.