Keith Shaw: Norfolk businessman was successful hotelier

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obit scans - Credit: Archant

A 21-year career in property development and running hotels made a multi-million fortune for Norfolk businessman, Keith Shaw, who has died aged 75 at his home in Majorca.

A 21-year career in property development and running hotels made a multi-million pound fortune for Norfolk businessman Keith Shaw, who has died, aged 75 at his home in Mallorca.

His £5m gamble to build the Airport Ambassador Hotel in 1990 paid off when it was sold just four years later. It was a stepping stone to more success and proved hotel trade experts wrong.

Then the family invested to create a four-star hotel and golf course on the outskirts of Norwich at Dunston Hall. In April 1999, it was bought by Greenalls Group as the 16th in the De Vere Hotel chain for £16.5m.

A Yorkshireman – born on July 8, 1937 in Doncaster – he was one of five children. His family moved to Great Yarmouth when he was 16 years old and his father, who had been in the family building trade, bought a boat business at Cobholm.

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His first business venture after two years' National Service in the army, was a shop in Regent Road. While out dancing at the Floral Hall, in Gorleston, he met, and later married, Heather and they were together for 47 years until her death in 2003.

After teaching his sister-in-law, Molly, to drive, he trained as a professional instructor, which led to his next venture. Soon, he had six Austin 1100s and instructors, based at the Drudge Road Garage in Gorleston. Later, he took on Suffolk Road Garage and brought the Renault car agency to Norfolk.

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He was also a musician, who entertained for 12 seasons at Great Yarmouth's Imperial Hotel, and also played at holiday camps and venues throughout Norfolk. Earlier in his musical career, he had played saxophone at the Royal Hotel in Yarmouth but then learned the drums and sang.

In 1978, he bought the Magpie Hotel, Harleston, where his infectious personality transformed the business. A beach bar, Oakwoods, in Lowestoft, was next and then he bought the nearby Wherry Hotel in Oulton Broad. Broadlands completed the Lowestoft portfolio.

But in 1990, as he told the EDP, he sold the profitable Wherry Hotel and sank everything into the 108-bedroom luxury Ambassador at the airport – now the Holiday Inn. The inside was decorated with a Victorian or Edwardian theme with glass-domed entrance hall, antique bar, carved swans and statues.

It was bought by casino and leisure group Starkis in a £6m deal in July 1994 when Mr Shaw, said: 'I sold the Ambassador with the intention of retiring.'

He had already identified the potential of a crumbling mansion three miles south of Norwich, Dunston Hall, which was bought in January 1991. Built in 1859 by Robert Kellett Long, it was to be transformed into 72 bedrooms, nine conference/banquet suites and health, beauty and fitness facilities.

They had spent £5m on Dunston Hall when it opened in June 1993. Although a dozen bedrooms were ready a year later, a block of 60 more luxury bedrooms would be finished by early spring 1995.

The business was a family affair. His eldest daughter, Karen, was general manager while son Martin ran the building side, which involved restoring virtually every brick.

His eldest son, Mark, designed and planned the 18-hole golf course, which was spread across 130 acres.

Mr Shaw and his wife retired to Spain to enjoy the fruits of their success in the hotel chain. As he told the EDP, if he had gone back into business, it would have been something different, perhaps connected to his love of cars and helicopters.

He had four children, Karen, Mark, Martin and Liza, and six grandchildren, Kristen, Leanne, Jacyn, Sadie, Greg and Harrison.

He was due to marry Sheila next month.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary and St Margaret's Church, Sprowston, on April 11 at 11am followed by burial at Sprowston Cemetery.

Michael Pollitt

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