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Laura Rauch  /  AP
Charterhouse acquired Tussauds for 352 million pounds in 1998 from Pearson Plc. It has since expanded its number of waxwork museums to include sites in New York, Las Vegas (shown here), Amsterdam and Hong Kong, alongside the flagship operation in London.
updated 3/23/2005 4:24:13 PM ET 2005-03-23T21:24:13

Tussauds Group, home to the famous waxwork museums, was sold for 800 million pounds ($1.51 billion) to a private equity firm owned by the government of Dubai, the companies said on Wednesday.

Charterhouse Capital Partners, the buyout firm which owned Tussauds, agreed the sale to Dubai International Capital after its first attempt to sell the group fell through last year when bids came in below its threshold.

Charterhouse acquired Tussauds for 352 million pounds in 1998 from Pearson Plc, the media group. It has since expanded its number of waxwork museums to include sites in New York, Las Vegas, Amsterdam and Hong Kong, alongside the flagship operation in London.

It also owns some of Britain’s biggest theme parks, such as Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, and has a stake in the London Eye, the giant wheel on the bank of the Thames.

Chief Executive Peter Phillipson, who will retain his position along with the rest of the group’s management, is credited with modernizing its image.

It hit the headlines in 2003 after unveiling a new model of Britney Spears, equipped with heaving breasts that beat in time to music, and one of Simon Cowell, the infamously niggardly judge on TV series “Pop Idol.”

“The plan is to do more of the same,” Phillipson told Reuters in an interview.

He said the current management team came together about four years ago and in that time it had more than doubled Tussauds Group’s profit, before items, to 70 million pounds in 2004 from 31 million in 2000.

“So going forward an important part of our goal will be to continue and accelerate the rollout of our proven strategy,” Phillipson said.

He said the aim was further to develop the company’s 1,600 freehold acres of land, as well as eye opportunities in Europe, particularly in the theme-park sector which he said was still highly fragmented.

“We would consider ourselves to be a candidate to lead the consolidation of the European theme-park industry in the coming years,” he said.

For Dubai International Capital, the deal is the second investment the private equity firm has made in 2005. In January it bought a $1 billion stake in DaimlerChrysler AG.

Sameer Al Ansari, chief executive of the group, which was set up last October by state-owned Dubai Holding, said it planned to continue the spending spree.

“You will see a lot more of us,” he said. “We’re an active investor company that’s looking for value all over the world, so we will seek value wherever we find it.”

Al Ansari declined to comment on the size of the group’s fund or to say whether the money came directly from the Dubai government. Dubai Holding is owned by the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Dubai is a trading hub in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

Its entrance into the private equity sector comes as buyout firms have raised billions in funds and are aggressively competing over deals.

But Al Ansari said the aim wasn’t to compete with the big firms, such as Permira or U.S. giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. Rather the aim is to work with them, he said.

“We believe we are very complimentary to them, we see ourselves as a partner to them, especially for secondary buyouts,” he said.

He was referring to the practice of private-equity firms selling companies to one another. Investors, who pump money into the buyout firms, have criticized this strategy in recent years because often they can pay fees twice on the same deal.

Al Ansari said the aim was to have 60 percent of the group’s investments in North America and Europe, with the remainder in the Middle East and Asia.

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