Billionaire Richard Desmond is set to stop the presses on a 43-year publishing career with a £125m deal to sell his Express and Star newspapers and celebrity magazine OK! this week.
Desmond has been in talks with Trinity Mirror, the publisher of the Labour-supporting Daily and Sunday Mirror titles, to offload his Brexit-backing titles since the autumn.
The talks, which collapsed three years ago over price, had become increasingly protracted because of the issue of pensions, which included an investigation by the Pensions Regulator.
In November, Lloyd Embley, the editor-in-chief of the Trinity Mirror titles, warned about the publisher’s “massive” £406m pension deficit. The company warned of large-scale job cuts, in part related to a major step-up in pension fund payments from £36m to £44m annually from this year if a deal could not be struck with Desmond.
Express Newspapers had a £19m pension deficit in 2016, with Desmond paying £11m annually until 2020.
Multiple sources said an agreement has been struck over the pension issue, which should pave the way to a deal being announced this week, although the exact timing could still slip.
Alison Phillips, the former editor of Trinity Mirror’s very short-lived new national newspaper, New Day, has been the subject of rumours that she could be a future editor of the Express. Phillips is currently editor-in-chief of the Mirror titles.
A deal would mark the end of an era for Desmond, who started publishing in 1974 at the age of 23 with two music titles. In 1983, he won the UK licence to publish Penthouse and then a raft of other pornographic titles, including Asian Babes and Horny Housewives. The launch of OK! magazine in 1993 shook up the celebrity magazine world. And, in 2000, Desmond announced himself as a national newspaper magnate by buying Express Newspapers for £125m.
On completion of the deal Desmond will hold a minority stake in Trinity Mirror, which will make him one of the publisher’s largest shareholders.