Rarely seen without his trademark flat cap, Trevor Hemmings, who has died at the age of 86, was a somewhat reclusive, self-made billionaire, a former bricklayer who’s known for his baseless, underestimated Wale had a highly successful commercial career playing the underdog.
As an old-fashioned tycoon, for him not the Internet gold rush or the high-tech road to wealth, but a lifetime of clever bargaining made him a mighty force, particularly within the building and leisure industries.
As the man who brought Center Parks to this country, he made headlines in 1998 with his clever purchase of the Blackpool Tower. Twelve years later, he stepped in to save a bankrupt Preston North End football club from closure. By then, he was long renowned as one of this country’s biggest proponents of National Hunt racing: his horses won the Aintree Grand National on three occasions.
Born in the London Borough of Woolwich, Trevor James Hemmings moved to Lancashire at the age of four, when the Royal Ordnance Factory, where his father Monty worked, was moved in the wake of World War II. His parents instilled a strong work ethic: he had two paper rounds at Leyland’s Turpin Green School, worked as a petrol pump attendant and ran the grocer with a horse and cart. Hemmings left his local secondary at age 15 to clean grease with diesel engines so he could help with a vocational studies course at a night school.
A stint as an apprentice bricklayer followed. Within five years, after studying all aspects of the building business, he started his own building company, Hemmings & Kent. Selling it to Christian Salveson for £1.5m, he formed a second company, Ambrose, which Barretts bought for £3.7m.
Hemmings first met his owner, Sir Fred Pontin, in the early 1970s while helping to build a new £25m holiday center in Ainsdale, near Southport. Soon a surrogate son and holiday tycoon’s businessman, Pontin soon elevated him to the board. In 1979 he negotiated the acquisition of Pontines by Coral Leisure, receiving 500,000 Coral shares as part payment. When Coral later lost his gaming license, Hemmings was completely doomed as Coral’s value halved overnight. With Pontines later coming under control of Bass, Hemmings successfully led a £57m management buyout from the brewery in 1987.
A little more than a year later he sold the company to Scottish and Newcastle Breweries for £80m. After becoming the brewery’s largest shareholder and head of its leisure division, he skillfully oversaw the £600m acquisition of the more advanced center Parcs Holiday Village.
Running both Pontine and Center Parc until 1996, Hemmings has long retained a significant stake in Scottish and Newcastle breweries. Perhaps his most lucrative investment was racecourse operator Arena Leisure, which developed a significant online betting strategy. His stake was at one point valued at £250m, an excellent return on the shares he owned as Arena was once a loss-making shell company whose only asset appeared to be a small hotel on the Isle of Wight.
In 1999, another of his companies, Gladway, paid £29m for wallpaper company Waymura, integrating it into their existing John Willeman brand. Later that year he took away a 26 percent stake in SKD Media, to develop it into Entertainment Rights, the quoted owner of the rights to Basil Brush and Budgie the Helicopter.
Hemmings’ Arena investment allowed him to combine the business with one of his other great passions: National Hunt racing. Initially promoted by Sir Fred Pontin, their distinctive colours, yellow, green and white, first entered the winner’s enclosure in Bath in 1985, the latest in Worcester earlier this year. There were three Grand National victories in the interim: The Hedgehunter in 2005; Ballabriggs in 2011; And many clouds in 2015.
At one time he had over 200 horses in training, shared between his Monimsk Stud in County Cork, Gladhill House Stud near Chorley in Lancashire and the 300-acre Ballassier Stud located on the Isle of Man. He was elected an honorary member of the Jockey Club in 2006. In 2012, the Princess Royal’s daughter Zara Phillips rode one of her horses and won a silver medal at the Olympic Games in London.
In 1998 Hemmings fulfilled a lifetime ambition when he paid £74m to First Leisure Entertainment Group, led by Michael Grade, to take over the operation of Blackpool Tower. Also included in the package were the extensive Winter Garden complex, the resort’s three piers, as well as piers in Landudno, Eastbourne and Southsea.
After getting wind of the government’s intention to liberalize gambling laws to create Britain’s only super casino, this adamant deal maker saw it as a golden opportunity to revive the resort and turn it once again into the country’s most popular tourist destination. seen as Within a huge entertainment complex there will be thousands of slot machines with unlimited jackpots, dozens of roulette wheels and card tables. As it turned out, Manchester surprisingly won the bid before the plans were quietly postponed. In 2010, Hemmings sold many of his local holdings, including both the Tower and Winter Gardens, to Blackpool Council.
In the same year they completed their takeover of Preston North End Football Club, when they were served with a winding-up petition. A director since 1970, his debts to the club now total over £8.5m. He had previously shown interest in non-league Chorley Town, Cork City and Glasgow Rangers. In 2016 he attempted an unsuccessful takeover of Burnley Football Club.
Nine years later, Hemmings took over the management of a £200m claim against the bank, which was settled before the matter went to trial, after several millions lost as a result of a fall in the share price of the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2009. Rarely, in speaking to the press, while Hemings’ personal life has remained a closed book, so has his extensive business portfolio. Now controlled by their four children, they are housed in a complex web of predominantly private companies, most notably TJH Group.
Spending the early part of married life living in a small prefab, until illness intervened later, Hemmings regularly moved between Jersey, Ireland, a business base in Lancashire and properties in his Isle of Man mansion. Your own helicopter will travel through the fleet. There he kept another of his great passions, a large and prized collection of vintage Rolls-Royce cars.
A generous philanthropist, he gave £1m to the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, the charity that merged with Crossroads Care in 2012 to form the Carers Trust. No less active at the local level, her charity through the TJH Foundation includes £300,000 to fund a center for victims of sexual abuse at the Royal Preston Hospital, as well as Macmillan Cancer Relief and Support for Rainbow House, a conductive education center near their Chorley home that helps children with disabilities. He was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the 2011 Birthday Honors List.
Hemmings married Eva Rumney in 1955. She lives with him along with her three sons and a daughter.
Trevor Hemmings CVO, businessman, born 11 June 1935, died 11 October 2021
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /