During Ramadan last year — the Islamic holy month when Muslims fast during the hours of daylight — Victoria Price posted a short video online in which she extolled the virtues of the religious practice.
‘It just feels so inclusive and so nice and such a privilege,’ gushed the high-flying accountant, who went without food and water for a day as part of an annual workplace challenge organised by her company Ernst & Young (EY).
Few could have failed to have noticed the glint of the £50,000 diamond ring on the fourth finger of her left hand as she spoke to the camera, hinting there was more to her life than work and the office.
But what some of her colleagues at the ‘Big Four’ firm — one of the largest professional services companies in the world — may not have realised was that the twice-divorced mother of three was already in the throes of a romance with one of EY’s biggest clients.
Step forward billionaire Mohsin Issa CBE, co-owner of British supermarket Asda.
Victoria Price, who left school at 17 after falling pregnant and later studied accountancy via evening classes, is apparently driving the two brothers apart
Ms Price was given a £50,000 ‘day’ ring (pictured), and a second ‘evening’ ring fashioned from a ten carat diamond worth £1 million
Mohsin Issa (right) and high-flying accountant Ms Price (left) on stage in fits of laughter as Ms Price presents EY’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award to the Issa brothers in 2018
Mohsin (left) and Zuber (right) Issa purchased Asda in 2021. Mohsin’s decision to walk out on his wife has caused a major rift with his 51-year-old brother and business partner Zuber
For, as the Mail revealed last week, the 52-year-old father of two and devout Muslim has walked out on his devastated wife of nearly 30 years, Shamim, and taken up with glamorous 41-year-old Ms Price, causing a major rift with his 51-year-old brother and business partner Zuber Issa and infuriating his estranged in-laws.
‘Mohsin has disrespected our family by how he has treated Shamim,’ a relative told the Mail this week. ‘He has brought shame on both families. The family name has been damaged by what Mohsin has done.’
Most worrying of all is that this wedge between two of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs coincides with growing concerns among MPs about the future of Asda, the UK’s third biggest supermarket.
Back in October 2020, Rishi Sunak, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, tweeted his delight at the supermarket’s return to ‘majority UK ownership for the first time in two decades’ after the Issa brothers, alongside a private equity group, acquired Asda in 2020 from U.S. retail giant Walmart using £6.8 billion worth of loans.
But three years on, the company, which has more than 145,000 employees, is battling mounting debts, inflationary pressures and a falling market share.
At a time when the brothers might be expected to pull together for the sake of their business empire, Mohsin’s ongoing relationship with Ms Price, who left school at 17 after falling pregnant and later studied accountancy via evening classes, is apparently driving them apart.
Friends of Ms Price, a £800,000-a-year tax adviser, told the Mail this week she has converted to Islam since leaving her second husband and falling in love with billionaire Mohsin Issa
The high-flyer regularly posts pictures with celebrities on her Linkedin page. Picture shows Ms Price with ex-footballer Michael Owen
Ms Price left EY last July – the day after the firm resigned as Asda’s auditor. She recently took up a high-powered job with management consultants Alvarez & Marsal, posting on LinkedIn this week that she was on an induction course in Florida. Picture shows a social media selfie with celebrity fitness coach Joe Wicks
Ms Price pictured at a EY business event with Diary of a CEO podcast host and BBC Dragon’s Den star Steven Bartlett
Ms Price has been brushing shoulders with a number of celebrities over the past few years. Picture shows her with Hollywood film star and model Cara Delevingne
In October 2020 Asda returned to ‘majority UK ownership for the first time in two decades’ after the Issa brothers, alongside a private equity group, acquired it from U.S. retail giant Walmart using £6.8 billion worth of loans
For the past five years, the Issas have been building a compound of five palatial homes in Blackburn, Lancashire, where they intended to live together with their wives, who are close friends, and other family members.
They also jointly own a £25 million mansion in London’s Knightsbridge, which they’ve been expanding with the addition of a basement swimming pool, a cinema and a car park.
But having left his wife of nearly 30 years and got engaged to Ms Price — in addition to her £50,000 ‘day’ ring, she is said by friends to have been given a second ‘evening’ ring fashioned from a ten carat diamond and worth £1 million — Mr Issa has bought an £18.2 million Neo-Georgian mansion in the Lancashire market town of Clitheroe where he now lives with his new, if somewhat unlikely, love.
He and £800,000-a-year tax adviser Ms Price who, friends told the Mail this week, has converted to Islam since leaving her second husband and falling in love with Mr Issa, have confirmed to this newspaper that they are ‘building a life together’.
But they have denied that their relationship represented any professional conflict of interest in what is a tightly regulated industry, despite the fact that EY were auditing Asda at the time the pair fell in love.
Lawyers for the couple stress that Ms Price never worked on the Asda audit and made ‘all appropriate disclosures’ to EY’s ethics and compliance committee, although she has, in the past, advised Mr Issa and his two adult children on tax affairs.
Ms Price left EY last July, a day after the firm resigned as Asda’s auditor.
She was also a key figure in EY’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ scheme and presented Mohsin and Zuber Issa with the coveted annual trophy, firstly at regional level for the ‘North’ in June 2018 and again at the UK finals in November that year.
Ms Price, wearing a stunning red evening gown, and Mr Issa, sporting a tuxedo, were photographed on stage together in fits of laughter. They both travelled to Monaco the following year for EY’s ‘World Entrepreneur of the Year’.
A friend of Ms Price told me this week that they first met through work in 2016 — a year before Ms Price married her second husband, fellow EY accountant Alastair Nuttall, but that their relationship was ‘a slow-burner’ and didn’t burgeon into romance until 2022.
Ms Price filed for a divorce from her second husband in December 2021, but didn’t move out of their £800,000 barn conversion in a village outside Chester until September 2022.
‘She informed her bosses at EY as soon as the relationship became more than platonic,’ said the friend, who added that the early stages of the pair’s relationship had revolved around ‘old-fashioned courting’ because of Mr Issa’s religion and that they didn’t pursue the physical side of their relationship until they had both decided to divorce.
For the past five years, the Issas have been building a compound of five palatial homes in Blackburn, Lancashire, where they intended to live together with their wives, who are close friends, and other family members
The luxury homes are just three miles from where the brothers grew up in a two-up, two down terraced house in Blackburn, completing an incredible rags-to-riches rise
The brothers are now worth an estimated £3.56billion, including this £25million Kensington townhouse and a private jet that is kept in a hangar at Blackpool Airport alongside Donald Trump’s personal helicopter
In 2020, the brothers became KFC’s largest franchisee in Europe after buying 145 KFC outlets in the UK & Ireland (File image)
‘It was literally going for walks and stuff like that. The real sensitivity was the Issa brothers’ religion and the conflict with Mohsin’s religious beliefs.’
The friend added that now Ms Price was ‘fully embracing the relationship and every aspect of it. She doesn’t do anything by halves’.
Indeed, Ms Price has long been a high-profile figure in the world of UK business and finance, partly because of her extraordinary and impressive rise to the top from difficult beginnings.
The daughter of a surveyor and a school teacher, Victoria Nicholls was just 17 and studying for A-levels when she left Wirral Grammar School for Girls after becoming pregnant by a man who was 12 years her senior.
While awaiting the birth of her child she sold calendars on a market stall, worked as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant and as an assistant in a clothing store.
Her first child, a son, was born seven weeks premature and she spent two weeks in hospital after suffering pre-eclampsia.
An unlikely start, perhaps, for one of the UK’s leading businesswomen but Ms Price, a leading advocate for women in business and for part-time and flexible working, has frequently spoken of how she juggled motherhood with her studies and eventually obtained three A-levels.
Unable to afford to go to university, she has told friends that she taught herself to become an accountant and received a prize for obtaining one of the highest marks in the country when she sat her Association of Chartered Certified Accountants exams.
She began her career at Chester accountancy firm Tollit & Stockton before joining EY on a part-time basis aged 23 in 2006, the same year she got married at Chester town hall to fellow accountant Ian Price, whom she met at work.
By that time they already had a child together, a daughter born in 2005. Ms Price’s third child, another son, arrived in 2008.
Their relationship ended not long after the death of Ms Price’s father in 2013 and she had an affair with married EY accountant and father of two Alastair Nuttall. Ms Price wore an elegant lace gown for their lavish white wedding in August 2017 at a boutique hotel in Chester.
She has frequently spoken to her peers about how she juggles her private and professional life.
A wider view of the road in Blackburn where the brothers grew up. Their company is still based in the town
Mohsin and Zuber Issa’s parents arrive to the UK from Gujarat, India, and the brothers are born not long afterwards in Blackburn, Lancashire
In 2001 the brothers bought their first filling station in Bury (pictured)
Speaking in 2021 after being named as one of the UK’s 25 top ‘power part-timers’, she said: ‘I believe that striking the right, yet flexible balance, has allowed me to successfully build my entire career.
‘Becoming a mum at 18 showed me that there will always be something more important than my job, yet it drives me to succeed.
‘Having flexibility means that the kids are in no doubt that they are the priority and that I’ll always be there at the important times of their lives.’
Speaking about her new relationship this week, a source said: ‘There’s always drama around her. What’s happened is no surprise to me.’
Ms Price’s impressive rise to the top is matched only by the Issa brothers’ own rags-to-riches story.
The sons of Indian immigrants who came to the UK in the 1970s to work in Blackburn’s wool and cotton mills, they grew up in a tiny terraced house in Blackburn’s Balaclava Street.
Their entrepreneurial father, Vali, who died in 2021, went on to work in the rag trade and the building industry before buying a petrol station in which the teenage Mohsin and Zuber, who is a year younger, worked.
While the brothers struggled academically and left school at 16, they both had heads for business. While working for their father they came up with the idea of installing convenience stores on petrol station forecourts, going beyond the tobacco, confectionery and newspapers that most filling stations stocked at the time.
Zuber bought his first rundown garage in Bury for £150,000 in 2001 and then began buying up and redeveloping forecourts across the UK. As his business, Euro Garages — later named EG Group — expanded, he brought Mohsin on board. In 2016, around the time Mohsin Issa first met Victoria Price, the Issas joined forces with private equity group TDR, selling a stake in their business for £700 million.
They continued to expand, opening up franchises such as Starbucks, KFC, Greggs and Burger King at their petrol stations and buying up healthy fast-food chain Leon.
They continued expanding at break-neck speed and in 2021, the year their father, Vali, died, they announced the purchase of Asda from U.S. retail giant Walmart.
Publicity shy and deeply religious, Zuber’s wife Asma, who in 2021 spoke to Radio 4 about the brothers for its Profile series, said that Islam was ‘always at the forefront’ of everything they do.
‘I don’t think anything will ever surpass faith,’ she said. ‘From the moment they wake up until night time. They never miss a prayer. Like we have five prayers a day.’
For this reason, the Issas refuse to sell alcohol from any of their garage sites.
Asma, whose marriage to Zuber was arranged by their parents, also gave an insight into the brothers’ characters.
‘Zuber is easily approachable. He’s kinder. Mohsin is very work-orientated.’
She added that the lightning speed of the family’s success was ‘unbelievable’.
‘Our life is beyond something we have dreamed or imagined. It’s like the big bang, how it happened,’ she said.
The couple have denied that their relationship represented any professional conflict of interest in what is a tightly regulated industry, despite the fact that EY were auditing Asda at the time the pair fell in love
Of course she was speaking before her brother-in-law, Mohsin, dropped the bombshell that he was leaving his wife for Ms Price, a decision from which, according to the relative who spoke to the Mail this week, the family is still reeling.
Amid the growing family rift, there is now speculation that Zuber Issa is planning to break away from his brother. There were reports last week that he has already discussed selling his 22.5 per cent stake in Asda for upwards of £500 million and may use the money to buy Mohsin out of EG Group and refocus on his original petrol station business.
Speaking to the Mail earlier this week, another Issa family source said: ‘Family-run businesses have different chemistry and the breakdown in relations between the brothers has made the business side of things more difficult.’
As for Ms Price, she is showing no signs of taking her foot off the pedal despite her romance with a man listed, along with his brother, as the 40th wealthiest UK individual in the 2023 Sunday Times Rich List.
The friend who spoke to the Mail this week said: ‘Anybody who knows Victoria knows she is fiercely ambitious. She literally came from nothing and was told she would never achieve anything.
And even though she’s in a relationship with someone who on paper is a multi-billionaire, she’s never going to be a kept woman.’
Having left EY in July last year, Ms Price recently started a new job as head of private capital at consultancy firm Alvarez & Marsal.
Writing on business networking site LinkedIn last week, she said that it was ‘good to be back’.
After waxing lyrical about her new role she signed off with the pithiest — and most telling — of maxims. ‘Love what you do, love who you do it with.’