British tycoon makes splash in Ogden, but not mysterious big tipper

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:57 PM

Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner Staff

Most folks love a good mystery. And this mystery just keeps getting better and better.

The case of the unidentified big tipper — who got tongues wagging after visiting two bars on Ogden’s Historic 25th Street on a recent weekend and leaving monstrous tips of $5,000 and $1,000 — has taken another fascinating turn.

The latest rumor, according to the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail newspaper, is that famed British tycoon Sir Richard Branson was the mysterious patron who left the generous tips on the weekend of Aug. 16. The founder of the Virgin Group, with more than 400 companies worldwide, certainly has the wherewithal to leave 2,000-percent tips.

But Jared Allen, co-owner of Alleged, one of the bars involved, is quick to squash the Daily Mail rumor about the tips.

“Everyone is asking me, ‘Is it Richard Branson? Is it Richard Branson?’ ” Allen said. “It wasn’t him.”

Since the initial story broke, Allen has been flooded with calls from the media.

“I’ve been getting so many calls I don’t know who’s calling,” Allen said Tuesday. “I’m getting the tabloids calling now.”

He estimates he’s fielded between 20 and 30 media calls over the tipping incident.

The bar owner has his own theory as to why so many people are interested in the identity of the mystery tipper.

“He seems like an obviously interesting fellow,” Allen said. “It’s just the concept of the mystery, the random generosity.”

Although multiple sources have confirmed Branson was not the mystery tipper, he was in town briefly that same weekend.

“I was with him that day,” said public relations consultant Jodi Holmgren, of South Ogden.

According to Holmgren, Branson flew in to the Ogden Airport on Aug. 16, then went to Huntsville for a “whirlwind” tour of The Sanctuary, a 500-plus-acre private heli-ski community development in the Ogden Valley. He then did a quick stopover at Powder Mountain before heading back to the airport for a short flight to Salt Lake City. From there, Branson drove to Park City for the wedding of an employee who works for him at Virgin.

Holmgren, who is friends with that employee, said Branson stayed at the wedding and danced until midnight, before heading back to the airport for the flight out, reportedly to Nigeria.

Tim Charlwood, the Park City man who owns The Sanctuary, hosted Branson at the planned development. Branson spent two hours touring the area, and Charlwood was grateful for the time from the fellow Brit.

“Two hours with us on a wedding day is unreal,” Charlwood said. “He’s a big-hearted, fun-loving guy that has fantastic humor. We were honored to have him up here.”

Charlwood particularly appreciated Branson’s first words upon seeing The Sanctuary: “Oh, wow.”

“I’ve spent nine years creating this thing, and for Richard Branson to come out and say, ‘wow,’ that says it all,” Charlwood said.

Branson is mulling over a proposition involving the Ogden Valley property, according to Charlwood.

“He’s considering, at the moment, being involved in The Sanctuary,” he said.

For her part, Holmgren calls Branson “amazing.”

“There’s nothing the man hasn’t done,” she said.

Charlwood was equally impressed with Branson’s bigger-than-life personality.

“Speaking as an Englishman, he’s as big in our part of the world as the president is in America,” he said.

Adds Holmgren: “He was so charismatic, polite — a complete gentleman. I would love to sit down with him, have a Coke and pick his brain.”

“And,” she added, “he’s a good dancer.”

But not necessarily an over-the-top tipper. Holmgren said Branson couldn’t have been the tipper.

“It’s just common sense,” she said. “If Richard Branson was at a bar on 25th Street in Ogden, don’t you think a picture would’ve shown up somewhere on social media? Hell-o?”

As for the identity of the mega-tipper? Allen won’t dish, but did say: “It’s a guy who has a home out here, but he’s not originally from here. Luckily, he’s a little more incognito.”

Allen described the tipper as “a successful business-type.”

“It seems like he’s a nice guy,” he said. “He wasn’t trying to show off, he’s just a generous guy.”

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