O’Leary, 55, the Ryanair chief executive, climbs to billionaire status on the wings of a strong performance by the airline’s share price as passenger numbers last year reached 117m. The surge follows Ryanair’s rebranding as a more customer-friendly carrier alongside an expansion of routes — he even suggested in November that flights could be free within 10 years, with airlines getting a share of the money spent at airport restaurants, cafes and shops. Where once the outspoken O’Leary was famed for his abrasive management style and expletive-strewn outbursts, he has mellowed with the aim of attracting more families and business travellers. The change seems to have worked. O’Leary’s 4.1% holding, which makes him the €17bn Dublin-based airline’s largest shareholder, is worth €711m and he has share options worth €29m. He has netted more than €205m after tax selling part of the Ryanair shares he was given 20 years ago before it floated. His salary and bonuses also jumped a third last year to €3.2m, leading to shareholder protests.
He and his wife Anita, a former Dublin banker, live in a Georgian mansion in his native Westmeath where he breeds prize cattle on his 900-acre farm. He is one of the nation's biggest National Hunt racehorse owners and bought the 210-acre Plantation stud in Newmarket in 2014. O’Leary has €22m in other assets, including the sale of his first business, a chain of Dublin newsagents. He has warned that Brexit could lead to a suspension of UK flights in 2019 if deals were not made, and accused the British government of "lunatic optimism" and a "Dad's Army" approach — proof that his sharp tongue has not been entirely left behind.