James Palumbo

James Palumbo was born with many advantages. His family was wealthy and he had the best education, going to Eton, then Oxford. He was brought up in a beautiful house near Windsor, which now belongs to the Jordanian royal family.

Palumbo has always been was driven by the fear of losing what he had. He wanted to make money. So, aged 18, he took myself off to California with a group of friends to start a buttling business.

In those days domestic work in California was done by 'wet backs' - Mexicans who swim the Rio Grande to find work for $1 an hour. With their plummy English accents and butler tailcoats Palumbo and his friends charged $10 an hour. The business was a hit, and he began to make a lot of money.

Unfortunately the business was also illegal. It wasn't long before the Immigration Police came knocking and they eventually returned to the UK, having sold a film treatment of their experiences to a Hollywood studio for $50,000.

On his return to the UK Palumbo opened a small office in a basement in London and began setting up an airline with just one plane. The fledgling venture was named Atlantic Airlines. A few years later it was sold to Richard Branson and became Virgin Atlantic.

Seven years in the City followed and the, aged 27, he invested £250,000 into the Ministry of Sound because of the infectious passion of Justin Berkmann, the DJ whose idea it was. The opening night in September 1991 was mayhem. There were thousands queuing outside. London had never seen anything like it. The club was an instant success. Palumbo found himself taking in one weekend what he earned in over a whole year in the City. But the success attracted parasites who wanted their share - drug gangs. It was only a matter of time before he lost control of the club and was faced with a stark choice. Either quit the City job and try to save the business, or let it be engulfed by the gangs. He found myself at the club's front door dressed in a bullet proof jacket, helping to build the Ministry of Sound into the global brand and success story it is.

Palumbo had always enjoyed writing and all the thoughts, ideas and frustrations which had been churning inside him for years spewed out in my his book Tomas, a satire about greed and corruption in the modern world. The process required just as much discipline as building a business. Luckily Tomas received some good plaudits as well as some stinkers. It was also a reasonable commercial success so he decided to write another.

Tancredi is part satire, part fairy tale, part science fiction. It tells the story of a man who travels the Universe seeking a cure to humankind's addiction to short-term thinking. There are so many excellent books by economists and other thinkers on this subject that Palumbo wanted to do something with a different angle - light, funny, but still raising the questions.

James Palumbo books reviewed


  • Tomas (2009)
    There has been much talk of late about how the continuing financial turmoil will find expression in the arts. Will the literature of this depression match the quality of that created in the 1930s? Impossible to précis its narrative, Palumbo's story weaves and curves its way around the adventures of Tomas, a young man ensconced in a world of wealth, privilege and corruption. Like Candide and Gulliver before him, Tomas's adventures will startle the reader's imagination, yet linger in her mind. What seems grotesque, even impossible, has already happened ... For excess of imagination, passion, outrage, death and love, greed and vice, often provide a clearer view of life.
  • Tancredi (2011)
    Tancredi was born on the same day that scientists discovered a new star. It was so small it had gone unnoticed for millennia. Stargazers named it Surprise, in the spirit of a little astrological joke. On closer inspection they made another finding, this one less amusing. After a lifetime of obscurity the diminutive star intended to draw attention to itself. Activity on its surface indicated that one day it would go supernova. A star, so insignificant it had escaped detection, was destined to be the instrument of Armageddon across the Universe. Humankind has become so riddled with the disease of short-termism that it ignores its fate. Tancredi decides to make it his mission to save the Earth. Made rich by his invention of the MoronOmeter, he buys a ticket for the space ship Invincible on its maiden voyage through the galaxy.
    It is a decision that will change everything.