BILLIONAIRE football club owner Mike Ashley may have suffered double derby defeats on the pitch but he has beaten his North-East rival to the top of the regional rich list.

The Newcastle United owner is once again the richest man in the region, according to the annual Sunday Times Rich List - due to be published this weekend.

His fortune has soared by 63 per cent in the past year, growing from £2.3bn to £3.750bn, thanks to the success of his Sports Direct retail empire.

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The £1.45bn boost to his personal wealth embeds him further in among the 104 billionaires in the 26th annual rich list, which profiles the 1,000 richest people and families in Britain and Ireland.

Appearing on the list for the first time is Sunderland chairman Ellis Short, who with a £1bn fortune is the second richest man in the North-East and ranks at 98 nationally.

The Irish-American financier runs a London-based property finance venture, Kildare Partners.

They are joined in the top three by Mark Fenwick and family, owners of the Newcastle department store.

Financier and philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, who despite giving away £30m primarily by purchasing Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland and its Zurbaran paintings, saw his bank balance rise by £50m to £380m making him the region’s fourth richest man.

A boom in popularity for fashion firm J Barbour on South Tyneside saw Dame Margaret and Helen Barbour and family move from tenth last year to seventh, with £315m.

Middlesbrough FC owner Steve Gibson rose from 13th spot on the regional rich list to eighth, with £205m.

Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannantyne, whose business HQ is in Darlington, last year dropped out of the top 20 but has returned with a balance of £175m.

The regional list shows that Teesside developer Stuart Monk and family are worth £157m,

Brothers Eddie and Malcolm Healey, originally from Hull, remain the richest people in Yorkshire with a combined wealth of £1.3bn.

They are closely followed by Doncaster-based Lord Kirkham and family, worth £1.15bn following the sale of his DFS furniture company.

Internet and property tycoon Paul Sykes, of Studley Royal Estates, near Ripon, in North Yorkshire, is sixth on the Yorkshire rich list with £650m.

He is a UKIP donor, previously donated more than £1m to restoration of the Royal Hall, in Harrogate, and funded charity expeditions by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.