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Stephen Hill of S Hill & Co

Stephen Hill of S Hill & Co

Stephen Hill of S Hill & Co

Lights, confit and action, as Joris Minne invites Stephen Hill, of S Hill & Co, to Aldens in Ballyhackamore to explain how the movies can transform tax money into investment

The movie industry is soaked in glamour, staffed by Oscar winners and central to the dreams of millions of people desperate to escape the drudgery of daily life. It’s also a sector with a huge appetite for investment. Films are multi-million pound projects and production studios rely on investors to fund them. Universal, Fox and Summit are all highly visible brands whose credits grace the opening sequences of hundreds of films. All this is a million miles away from the Newtownards Road, of course. Except for one man.

For straight-talking, sharp-suited Stephen Hill, these studio names are as familiar as Ormo, Harland and Wolff, and Moy Park might be to us. For him, the movies are not so much bathed in mystery and magic as they are robust and reliable methods of transforming tax money into investment.

“It’s about using money efficiently to support a sector which creates jobs and employs thousands of people, a sector which otherwise would flounder and which provides my clients with a better investment option,” he explains.

Stephen Hill is a financial wizard at his Newtownards Road firm S Hill & Co who describes his business as more like a private banking department, and himself a boutique investment adviser. His clients are high-net-worth individuals, and Hill delivers a very tailored service.

He and I meet for lunch at Aldens in Ballyhackamore, a classy, modern restaurant which has shone a beacon of culinary quality in these parts for more than 10 years. For all Hill’s success, he is remarkably modest and unassuming. Interested in making money ever since he was a teenager buying, doing up and selling Vespa scooters, Hill’s feet remain firmly planted. “I grew up in Dundonald, spent 10 years in London with Hill Samuel merchant bank and am glad to be back,” he says.

As we look through the menu, I suggest that his service is about coming up with tax evasion or avoidance schemes, and that the movie business is always desperate for money. Graciously he explains that, on the contrary, what he does brings investment into areas of economic activity which would otherwise rely on hand-outs or close down. As long as 75% of a film is made in the UK, then it provides a tax vehicle.

“Without my clients, it would be unlikely that developments such as the Paint Hall on Queen’s Island, such a major movie-industry asset, would have happened,” he says.

Hill’s real beef is with today’s financial regulators. He becomes animated about Gordon Brown as treasurer. “There was no need or sense in setting the Bank of England free back in ’97 — that was the start of the catastrophe we find ourselves in today.

“The Financial Services Authority was woefully equipped to take on the Bank’s role policing the retail and investment banks, and all we’ve had since is regulatory band-aid patching of a sector which is beyond repair and needs a robust hand to bring it back into line. The regulators are making life intensely difficult for anyone who wants to invest because of the mess they and the banks created.”

Thankfully, his ham hock terrine arrives followed by a confit of duck, which he says is marvellous, and things relax a little. He talks fondly of the Cannes Film Festival, which he likes to visit. In fact, he’s bought a villa in nearby Cagnes. “It saves on the ludicrous hotel rates they charge during the festival.” For a man who has invested the guts of £50m in movies, it’s nice to know he’s not alone in looking for value for money.

Aldens

Ham hock terrine: £6.25

Confit of duck: £11.95

Seabass: £12.95

Pigeon starter: £5.95

Sancerre x 2 gls: £13.00

Waters: £9.10

Coffees: £4.30

Tea: £2.05

Total: £65.55

Belfast Telegraph