Ashurst cements Blackstone ties with £1bn Tussauds deal

Ashurst has consolidated its position as private equity group Blackstone’s firm of choice when it comes to European theme park acquisitions.

The firm advised Blackstone on its latest purchase, Merlin Entertainment’s £1.03bn acquisition of a majority stake in Tussauds Group from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer client Dubai International Capital (DIC).

Blackstone owns Merlin, whose portfolio includes the Sea Life centres and the London Dungeons.

The Ashurst team was led by client relationship partner Charlie Geffen and corporate senior associate Gavin Gordon. Ashurst advised Blackstone on its original £102m purchase of Merlin in May 2005, and when the company bought Legoland two months later, then Italian theme park Gardaland last October, it turned to Ashurst.

“You’ve got classic private equity consolidation at play here,” explained Geffen. “They’ve gone from effectively nothing to buying up Sea Life, then Legoland then Gardaland. Sea Life is now the second biggest leisure park operator in the world. In the context of the whole private equity debate going on, this perhaps shows that private equity can be an instrument for change.”

The Tussauds stake will give Blackstone access to Madame Tussauds, the London Eye, and Alton Towers. The combined visitor numbers to Tussauds and Merlin parks should top 30m.

Under the terms of the offer, DIC will retain a 20 per cent stake in Tussauds. David Higgins led the Freshfields team for DIC.

Goldman Sachs advised Blackstone and together with Lehman Brothers and HVB, provided debt. Allen & Overy advised the banks.