Monday, 27 October 2014

PLEA FROM CHRIS: WHERE IS MY PRECIOUS MARINERS SCRAPBOOK?


IN a spectacular career spanning music, entertainment and sport, East Lincolnshire man Chris Wright has made himself a multi-millionaire - and thoroughly enjoyed himself along the way.

He has homes in London and the Cotswolds, a stud of racehorses and much else. But, alas,  there is one thing missing  in his life. . .

It is a schoolboy scrapbook containing newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia from the days when he was an avid follower of Grimsby Town FC (The Mariners).

Bill Carr died in 2010, but Chris hopes that, perhaps forgotten in some cupbopard at Town's Blundell Park ground,
the scrapbook has survived so that, however dog-eared, he could have the opportunity once more to turn its pages and wallow in nostalgia.






Music mogul and Mariners fan - Chris Wright
As a lad, little did Chris know that his love of football would be the stepping stone, many years later, to his becoming chairman and owner of another football club: Queens Park Rangers.
















The managers who served under his tenure between 1996 and 2001 were: Ray Wilkins ("someone for whom I have enormous respect"), Stuart Houston ("good bloke"), Ray Harford (now deceased), Gerry Francis ("I still sometimes see him") and Ian Holloway ("not a bad bloke").

But even while at the helm of QPR, he  always made a point of checking every Saturday evening the result of his beloved Mariners.

"My favourite player was the centre forward Ron Rafferty,"he says. "We had a good team which also included John "Jackie" Scott and the speedy winger, Jimmy Fell, who later signed for Everton. 

 "In those days I thought nothing of cycling from my home in Grimoldby, near Louth, along the back roads via Alvingham, Covenham, Fulstow and Tetney to  Blundell Park.

 "Then after  the match I would pedal home again on my trusty racer - a round trip of 35 miles."

Where did he leave his cycle when he arrived for the match. "I just propped it up against a wall,"he says. "In those days, people didn't nick bikes!"

Chris has published a fascinating autobiography  - One Way or Another - which charts his amazing life as co-founder of Chrysalis Records whose roster of artistes  included such hitmakers as Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, The Specials, Sinead O'Connor, Leo Sayer, Billy Idol, Pat Benatar, Huey Lewis and the News, David Gray, Gnarls Barkley and  Blondie.

Blondie's Debbie Harry - "she had everything" (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
 
Although the Sex Pistols wanted to sign for the Chrysalis label, he twice turned them down, reasoning that their's was not an act to which he would feel comfortable about taking his wife and friends.  

The Sex Pistols - unsuitable for a family audience! (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

For a different reason, Dire Straits were another big fish that Chrysalis decided not to land. Chris had them checked out by a colleague who came back with the verdict that they were "very good but very, very boring".
                                          
Dire Straits went on to enjoy huge success, but, contrary to what was commonly believed, they were not the favourite band of Princess Diana. According to Chris, she preferred Supertramp.

 
Supertramp - Princess Diana's favourite group (Photo: 21st Century Greenstuff, Wikipedia Commons)

Later, while still under his stewardship,  the company metamorphosed into Stock Exchange-listed  Chrysalis plc which branched out beyond music to  commercial radio (including ownership of Heart FM, LBC and Galaxy), TV production (the detective crime series, Midsomer Murders, was a notable success) and book publishing.

Even though his workload was colossal, it did not prevent him pursuing private interests, including taking over QPR and, soon afterwards, Wasps Rugby Football Club.

 "Looking back,I was mad, wasn't?"he says. "But, as the old saying goes, if you want anything doing, you ask a busy man!"

Chris says his experience at QPR was "one of the biggest disappointments of his life"  (though he enjoyed a 6-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace). Does he now have an overall view on players, managers and agents?

 After reflecting for a few seconds, back came the reply: "Let's just say football is very difficult."

Should an opportunity arise, would he again consider ownership of a different club? This time his response is immediate: "My wife wouldn't let me - she would kill me!"

In his book, which is a fast-paced page-turner from start to finish, there are tales of the many pop stars whose paths crossed with his own, and he also recalls how his habit of smoking three packs of 20 cigarettes a day almost cost him his life at a young age.

Acute poisoning

On one frightening day in
Manhattan, he realised his legs were growing increasingly numb, so he went to a doctor who diagnosed acute nicotine poisoning - such that his heart was experiencing severe problems and the next cigarette could kill him 

After three days sedated by sleeping pills (on medical advice), followed by a period of recuperation in the UK and Bermuda, he recovered, but, since that fateful day in 1970,  he has never smoked again.

"My chain smoking may appear stupid looking back from an informed 21st century standpoint,"he admits. "But, at that time, nobody really had a clue that smoking was bad for you - it was just what everyone did." 

Four years later he almost lost his life again - this time when an IRA car bomb exploded near Selfridges on Oxford Street in London next to where Chrysalis had its offices.

He recalls how he and his secretary, Christine, were "suddenly poleaxed by a ferocious explosion."

He continues: "It felt like someone had hit me on the back of the head with a sledgehammer. 

 "When we came round a few minutes later, we were surrounded by scenes of utter devastation.The building looked like a war zone - every window had been blown out.

"The car that exploded ended up on the roof of an adjacent building!"

 In 2005, Chris was awarded the CBE for services to entertainment, but his visit to Buckingham Palace did not go as planned.

When the Queen asked him what he did, he referred to his involvement with music and the media, then added - hoping to prompt an enthusiastic reply - Chris added:"Like you I am a keen racehorse owner and breeder.

Her Majesty simply commented: "Oh, very varied", before moving on.

Recalls Chris: "I forgot the instruction to step away backwards. I turned around and strode off.

"My meeting with our head of state did not go as hoped or imagined. I feel great embarrassment about it to this day."

In retrospect, what is remarkable is that Chris' own background, though comfortable, was relatively modest with none of the advantages of a public school education or parents with contacts in high places.

       Toiling in the fields

He grew up on the family farm in Grimoldby, and holidays were largely spent toiling in the fields, often in bitter-cold weather.

His father wanted him either to follow in his footsteps, or, failing that, to become a livestock auctioneer, but Chris had a different perspective on his future.

"I took the view that there was a better way of making a living than getting up at 5am in the freezing cold to milk cows and chase sheep that had escaped or spend an hour getting a recalcitrant tractor to work in order to plough fields."

As a pupil at Louth's King Edward VI grammar school, Chris was academically gifted (he can still remember a smattering of Latin) but was no great shakes at either football (he played right half) or music at which he confesses to having had "no ability whatsoever".

To eke out his pocket money, he became the youngest village correspondent on the books of the now-defunct Louth Standard newspaper, earning twopence a word by reporting on  events such as church fetes and harvest festivals taking place in his home  patch around Grimoldby and Manby.

                                              “A bit girly”

The Editor thought he showed promise and suggested that he might consider enrolling on a secretarial and shorthand course at a college in Grimsby, but Chris balked because he thought it would seem "a bit girly", not least to his classmates who doubtless would have ribbed him mercilessly.

Other highlights of his schooldays  included playing table  tennis and doing well enough in A-levels to win a place at Manchester University where he was awarded a degree in Politics and Modern History.

He favoured the northern city  because, in the wake of the Munich air disaster not so many years earlier, Manchester United had become everyone's favourite football team, and he liked the idea of watching their home matches every other Saturday.

However, he switched his allegiance to Manchester City because their ground, at the time, was on the edge of Moss Side and closer to the university than United's ground at Old Trafford. 

Importantly, Chris also became social secretary at the students' unions where his various roles included booking bands -  an experience which was to be the springboard for setting up Chrysalis with his friend  Terry Ellis in his bedsitter  when he moved to London after graduating. 

Among his contemporaries at university was Anna Ford, later to became famous as an ITV newsreader, whom he used to drive to clubs where she sat on a stool singing American folk songs to her own guitar accompaniment.
On stag nights, her act would sometimes be staged between strippers, and, understandably, she used to be highly aggrieved that they received a higher fee than her!

Everyone fancied Anna Ford

Chris, who still sometimes sees Anna, says: "She was a very beautiful girl and everyone fancied her.

"Like most  men, I would have loved to have started a relationship with her, but I never got any sign that she was remotely interested, so, to my regret, things between us  remained strictly professional." 

Given his unrivalled knowledge of pop and rock music, which would Chris rate as most important song if ever Kirsty Young invites him to be her guest on BBC Radio 4's  Desert Island Discs programme?

After a few moments' reflection, he replies: "I think it would have to by A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum - that's the one record guaranteed to make me turn up the volume every time I hear it.

"Little did I know that some years after it became a number one hit, I would be managing the band."

After selling Chrysalis to BMG Rights in November, 2010, Chris has still retained a strong interest and involvement in  the media world and he expects to launch a new TV production company before too long.

But he made writing his memoirs one of his top priorities for last year and was delighted first to complete the task, then to see his book snapped up by Omnibus Press - it is available at bookshops, via Amazon and on e-readers such as Kindle.

 "It was hard to get started with the writing, "he says."But once I got into it, things seemed to flow quite well."
Not all the material had made into  the book, which had to be edited from 650 to 430 pages, but, on the plus side, that means there is almost enough content for a follow-up volume perhaps a few years' hence.

Chris write with scholarly affection about his early life, growing up in the Louth area, but he feels there is still a bit more to be said - for instance about his happy times at Blundell Park.

However, there is just one thing . . .can anyone help reunite him, please, with that precious, much-missed scrapbook?


FACTFILE

BIRTHPLACE:  Chris  was born in Louth Hospital on September 7, 1944.

FIRST JOBS: As he student, he had temporary jobs as a barman at a Boston hotel, then at a bakery in Lincoln where he worked night shifts.

WIFE'S NAME: Janice, his second wife, is a former air hostess whom he met while on board Concorde.

FAVOURITE RECREATIONS: Playing tennis and watching his racehorses in action.

FAVOURITE FEMALE ARTISTE: Debbie Harry, vocalist with the group, Blondie: "She had everything. She was the forerunner for so many female artistes: Madonna, Lady Gaga and many others in between. None of them can hold a candle to Debbie."

NOTE: This is an edited  version of an  article featured in the Cleethorpes Chronicle earlier this year.


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