Daily Telegraph (UK): Wildcatter who came in from the cold: “Cairn bought out Shell's half for £4 million and increased the drilling. By Christmas of last year, the Rajasthan field still wasn't looking good. Cairn had spent £56 million - a fifth of the then value of the company - and still not found major strikes. Then in January, Cairn struck black gold - a billion-barrel oil lagoon.”: “If you're searching for the glue that sticks Tony Blair to George W Bush, look no further than the Prime Minister's old Fettes classmate and school debating partner William Gammell, the man who shared a childhood with the Prime Minister and the President." (ShellNews.net)
By Harry Mount
If you're searching for the glue that sticks Tony Blair to George W Bush, look no further than the Prime Minister's old Fettes classmate and school debating partner William Gammell, the man who shared a childhood with the Prime Minister and the President.
Chief Executive of Cairn Energy, the whizz-kid oil company that has boomed over the past year, and a former Scottish rugby international, Bill Gammell, 51, has just been crowned Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. As if all that wasn't enough, not only is Tony Blair a childhood friend, but so is George W Bush.
The President used to visit Gammell in the school holidays because Gammell's father, James Gammell, was also in the oil business and was a friend of George Bush Senior. James Gammell is the founder of the Scottish fund manager, Ivory & Sime, which in 1950 backed Bush-Overby, Bush Senior's fledgling oil and natural-gas business. Their sons struck up a friendship and spent childhood holidays together at the Bush family compound at Kennebunkport, Maine, and the Gammell family farm in Perthshire.
And so, when Bush became President, his first words to Blair were, "I believe you know my old friend, Bill Gammell."
The links between the three men have multiplied and strengthened since their childhood. When Cairn Energy opened a new Edinburgh office overlooking the Castle and Princes Street in 1997, the new Prime Minister was there to open it.
When the Queen invited President Bush to stay at Buckingham Palace last November, Blair and Gammell both came to the reception. Gammell's receptionist is forever taking calls from the President wanting to talk oil with his childhood friend.
The loyal Gammell is rigorously discreet about his two famous friends, but he has acknowledged: "I learned a lot about the oil business from George W Bush."
Gammell consulted Bush when he was looking for investments early in his career and Bush attended Gammell's wedding in 1983. An early promotional video for Cairn is endorsed by Bush, who introduces himself on screen as "president of Bush Exploration Company".
Last year Cairn Energy struck the mother lode of oil fields in India, with four oil strikes in seven months in the western province of Rajasthan, leaving the company worth £2.4 billion, and turning Gammell into a multi-millionaire.
The graph of the share price looks like a long flat road that suddenly leaps up a steeply raked staircase when those Indian oil strikes were made. In less than a year, Cairn Energy's share price has more than tripled.
Last month, the firm entered the FTSE-100. This year Gammell will earn £4 million, making him Britain's second-highest paid oilman after Lord Browne, head of BP. The latest conservative estimate of his fortune is £30 million.
And the Gammell millions are going to multiply if the oil market continues its exponential rise. This week, BP announced £2.1 billion quarterly profits, just behind Shell, which made an eye-watering £2.4 billion - that's £1.1 million an hour or £18,000 a minute. Oil prices have soared by two thirds this year to $51 a barrel and, with oil reserves limited and consumption rocketing, there's no sign of that changing.
Despite this glamorous childhood, steeped in the heady world of oil and money, Bill Gammell prefers to live in unflashy style in his native Edinburgh. Happily married to an accountant, with two sons, he lives in South Queensferry, a quiet town on the edge of Edinburgh in the shadow of the Forth Bridge.
A tall, rangy man with a passing resemblance to Frank Bough in his prime, Gammell lists his interests as "rugby, squash, football, golf" and is keen on classical music and the film Dead Poets' Society.
According to Neil Collins, City Editor of the Daily Telegraph, this squeaky clean image is the real thing. "He's the nicest man you'd ever wish to meet. Oil exploration has a huge element of luck, depending on how you read the seismic and what concessions you get. But he certainly drilled a brilliant well and he's been hitting oil ever since."
In the mid-1960s, Gammell spent five years with Tony Blair at the "Scottish Eton", Fettes - a French Gothic palace of a school on the green fringes of the centre of Edinburgh. Sir Eric Anderson, now Eton's Provost, taught Blair and was Gammell's housemaster. "Bill was in some ways the ideal schoolboy who had everything going for him: clever, good-looking, with no adolescent angst.
"He was also a very good sportsman. When he made his rugby debut for Scotland, I sent him a telegram, saying 'Score two tries. If not, one will do.' He scored two."
After Fettes, Blair headed for Oxford, while Gammell studied at Stirling and Strathclyde Universities, before embarking on his rugby career.
His sporting days ended due to injury in his late 20s - he won five caps on the wing for Scotland in the 1970s. He first set up an insurance brokers before becoming a "wildcatter", as oil prospectors in remote corners of the world are known. He founded Cairn Energy in 1980 and began with small investments in the North Sea and Texas before hitting it big in India.
Cairn had been in a 50/50 joint Indian venture with Shell but the oil giant pulled out when the nodding donkeys failed to suck any oil from 2,000 square miles of Rajasthani desert.
Gammell, though, kept on wildcatting, against his better nature.
"I learned two golden rules, double what you are told are the technical risks, and halve what you are told about the upside," Mr Gammell said.
Despite this pessimism, in 2002 Cairn bought out Shell's half for £4 million and increased the drilling. By Christmas of last year, the Rajasthan field still wasn't looking good. Cairn had spent £56 million - a fifth of the then value of the company - and still not found major strikes.
Then in January, Cairn struck black gold - a billion-barrel oil lagoon.
Anthony Seldon, Tony Blair's latest biographer, acknowledges that fortunes like this, running into telephone numbers, get the Blairs' hearts thumping. "The Prime Minister's got a track record of flattering the rich and wanting to be close to well-off people. He's dazzled with wide-eyed admiration about business - which he knows nothing about."
Cherie Blair, paid £40,000 for a lecture to the Women's Economic Club of Detroit earlier this week, shares that admiration.
She'll have to up her fees if she wants to match Gammell's pay grade. At current prices, his Rajasthani oil lagoon is worth $51 billion. With valuations like that, Bill Gammell can be sure that the phone calls to his Edinburgh villa will keep on coming from Downing Street and - if there's still an oilman in the Oval Office this Wednesday - from the White House, too.