A billionaire who owns vast swathes of Britain's West Country is battling some of the world's most powerful investors over the global H&M fashion empire founded by his father 71 years ago.
Stefan Persson has spent just under $1 billion this year hoovering up shares in Hennes & Mauritz – better known as H&M and one of the world's largest retailers – even though the business is struggling to cope against rivals such as Asos, Boohoo and Primark.
Persson, an Anglophile Swede who is said to enjoy the life of an English country squire, is the chairman of H&M.
He and his sister, Lottie Tham, own around 51 per cent of the retail giant – almost £8 billion worth of shares.
His latest buying spree is prompting growing speculation that he may eventually bid for the business as part of plans to protect it from hedge fund raiders and revive its fortunes.
The magnate owns 19,000 acres called Ramsbury Estates across North East Wiltshire, West Berkshire and North Hampshire, which includes prime hunting, shooting and fishing territory and an entire village.
His 30 square miles of land, which he bought piece by piece, includes the picturesque village of Linkenholt, near Andover, which he purchased in 2009 for £25 million – including farmland, a cricket ground and its 21 cottages which are leased to villagers.
Earlier this year Persson hit the headlines when he got staff on his estate to dig a two-mile trench to bring superfast broadband to Ramsbury, the Wiltshire village where he has a home, after BT Openreach tried to charge him £170,000. His manor employees also connected nearby residents in Axford while they were at it.
Now, it appears that Persson – who ran H&M's British division for six years until 1982 – is trying to dig the retail chain out of trouble. H&M has endured a tough time since 2015, with the shares halving and currently trading at their lowest level since 2005.
The slump has been partly blamed on savvy hedge funds who have smelt blood and taken short positions – which means they are betting on the share price falling.
H&M is now one of the most heavily shorted firms in the world as investors wager that Persson will fail to turn the business around. Data from IHS Markit shows that the amount of H&M stock on loan to short sellers has risen in August from 11.6 per cent to 13.9 per cent.
Persson's share-buying spree this year has triggered rumours that he may be looking to increase his family's shareholding further with a view to taking the company private.
City sources have told The Mail on Sunday that Persson has spoken to banks such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, UBS and Natixis about putting together a massive debt financing package for further share purchases and a mega deal to take the firm private. Such a move would force short sellers to close their positions.
Sources suggested Persson would likely increase his family's shareholding – possibly to around 70 per cent – before launching any kind of buy-out.
The 70-year-old has repeatedly denied claims he plans to take H&M private when asked about takeover speculation and has declined to comment.
But he has been more vociferous on his estate. In a row dubbed the 'Pheasants Revolt', Persson fell out with neighbour and property tycoon Harry Hyams in 2015 over plans to construct a nine-bedroom mansion. Hyams, who had shooting rights on the land, said it would ruin his sport.
And the Swede can lay claim to being responsible for England's best pub.
The Bell at Ramsbury was given a full makeover after Persson and his wife acquired it eight years ago. Now it is the holder of the AA Pub of the Year award and described as the 'heart of the local community'.
Prince Charles even paid a visit to the estate's distillery last December when Persson served samples of the bespoke gin and vodka.
Marlborough College, where the Duchess of Cambridge went to school, is just a few miles down the road.
Erling Persson, Persson's father, founded Hennes & Mauritz in 1947 in a small town called Vasteras in Sweden.
EMPIRE STRETCHES FROM FIFTH AVENUE TO CHAMPS-ELYSEES
Current H&M chief executive Karl-Johan Persson (Stefan's son)
Business empire includes: property on Oxford Street in London, Champs-Elysees in Paris, and Fifth Avenue in New York
Faces of H&M have included: Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and David Beckham.
Persson says: 'There are times I reflect on the fact we are living in a country with very high taxes. But my family and I don't complain. We live in Sweden and want to do our part. I don't think you will become a happier person by moving from one country to the other simply for tax reasons.'
Originally a women's clothing shop (Hennes translates as 'hers' in Swedish) Erling Persson started selling menswear after he bought hunting apparel retailer Mauritz Widforss in 1968. He came up with the idea for a new approach to fashion retailing when he encountered more efficient, high-volume stores while travelling in the United States.
H&M listed on the Swedish stock exchange and in 1976 Erling Persson opened a store in London. In the same year he appointed son Stefan to run the British business.
Since then, the group has expanded rapidly. It has more than 4,000 stores in around 60 countries, employing 100,000 people. H&M is said to be the world's largest retailer after Zara owner Inditex.
In 1982, Stefan took over from his father as chief executive and in 1998 became chairman.
Stockbrokers, however, are unenthusiastic about H&M's prospects, with many City firms advising clients to sell the shares.
Geoff Ruddell and Amy Curry, analysts at Morgan Stanley, said the main challenge for H&M is not just adjusting to a web-centric world, but that its value is fading for customers who can find lower prices and bigger ranges online.