World

Self-made illiterate millionaire supporting British literacy campaign

Andreas Panayiotou, a London real estate tycoon worth £400 million (roughly $650 million), lives on a 20-acre estate and owns several private jets. At just 45, he’s come from humble beginnings as the son of Greek immigrants and is now ranked as the 200th richest man in Britain. And he can’t read.

In an interview with the London Evening Standard, Panayiotou described his days in elementary school. Embarrassed, he’d sit terrified in the classroom as his teacher would go around the room, calling on students to read aloud.

Instead of learning to read, the mogul was able to get away with memorizing what certain words looked like. He would eventually drop out of school, at 14.

Despite his illiteracy, he’s become an extremely successful businessman. He credits his success with his struggles with dyslexia. “Everything – my massive drive to prove myself as a ‘somebody,’ my rigid discipline…stems from the feelings of shame and inadequacy I experienced,” he said.

He also says the dyslexia hasn’t been all bad. He’s developed a photographic memory, and he says the disorder has made him more creative and more focused. “I can tell you where every suit in my wardrobe is…I can remember the profit figure on a hotel I was told about three months ago.”

Though he still isn’t able to read and has an assistant check emails and fill out forms for him, he is joining with the London Evening Standard’s literacy campaign, because he’d “hate any kid to go through what I have.” But there are many kids going through the same thing. The paper has found that one in three British children don’t own any books, and a third of 11 year-olds are still reading at a second grade level.

An inability to read today is far more devastating than it was when Panayiotou grew up in the seventies, he says. Today, “being able to read is as fundamental as eating. You can’t get by without knowing how to read.”