Scottish obituary: Trevor Hemmings, businessman and football club owner
Trevor Hemmings’ love for horses was born when as a child he was given the ear of the Greengrocer Chorley – to which he attached a cart of potatoes, moistened to increase their weight as they were sold to the delivered.
There was something prophetic in his earliest memories, of a young Hemmings reveling in horses while honing a business acumen that would earn him a future somehow predicted by the name of his first equine love – the ear called Klondike.
It is certainly correct to describe Hemming’s adulthood as a “gold rush” – but the circumstances of his childhood were a far cry from the billionaire businessman and three-time Grand National winner. he was going to become.
Born in Woolwich in 1935, Hemmings was the working class son of a worker at the Royal Ordnance factory.
Hemmings witnessed his parents’ struggle to balance financial strains with the determination to avoid debt, which may have shaped his own principles.
Leaving Leyland Modern High School at age 15, Hemmings was faced with four employment options – Leyland Motors, working alongside his parents at the Royal Ordnance factory, the declining weaving mills or the police.
Instead, he attended Lancashire College evening school to study business – alongside a variety of daytime roles, such as cleaning diesel trains and making boilers, before starting an apprenticeship in building.
From there he forged a lucrative path in the construction business – first profiting from house building before allying with Fred Pontin and the expansion of Pontine Holiday Parks.
Gaining a seat on the Pontine board of directors, Hemmings negotiated a partial sale of the company to Coral bookmakers – in exchange for 500,000 shares of their company.
Coral has lost casino gaming licenses and the value of those stocks has plummeted.
But in 2000, Hemmings bought the business from brewer Scottish and Newcastle, then sold it a second time for £ 46million.
This business acumen served him well, especially as the sole majority shareholder of Center Parcs, presented in Great Britain by S&N.
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Also in the millennium year, Hemmings spent £ 100million on 361 previously owned S&N pubs and acquired the entertainment division of retailer Littlewoods for £ 161million.
However, the portfolio was not yet complete, as Hemmings had big plans for Blackpool, purchasing land in the city center including the famous Tower and Winter Gardens.
His hopes of building a Las Vegas-style ‘supercasino’ in the tower failed without government approval – but in 2010 Hemmings, a sports enthusiast, bought Preston North End Football Club, in financial difficulty.
After decades of investing and trading, at the age of 85 in 2020 Hemmings’ fortune stood at £ 1.025 billion by The Sunday Times – shortly before his acquisition in October of Cork City FC.
All along, alongside the gigantic work ethic, his love of horse racing has prevailed.
“That’s why I turned to horses – to have another interest,” he said.
Hemmings ‘first national triumph came in 2005, when Willie Mullins’ 7-1 favorite, Hedgehunter, cleared 14 lengths under Ruby Walsh.
Hemmings described it as “the happiest day of my life with horses” – and he thought it would never happen again.
On the last count, however, he was wrong – because in 2011 Donald McCain-coached Ballabriggs gave him his second national success.
After winning the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at the Cheltenham Festival the year before, Ballabriggs was well thought out and won at 14-1 under Jason Maguire.
Hemmings’ third victory over Aintree’s famous fences was secured by one of his classiest artists, Many Clouds, who was trained in Lambourn by Oliver Sherwood.
A winner in his debut in the bumper and the chase, Many Clouds clinched the Listed Colin Parker Chase at Carlisle – followed by a three-and-a-quarter length success in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
In January 2015, the Grade Two BetBright Cup followed at Cheltenham – and after a sixth distance behind Coneygree in the Gold Cup at the Festival, Many Clouds won the National under Leighton Aspell with odds of 25-1.
Many Clouds could only finish 16th at the 2016 National, but tenaciously recovered their form to win again at Aintree the following December, this time in the Mildmay Course.
Then came a January day in Cheltenham which presented the triumph and tragedy of the National Hunt race in the span of seconds as Many Clouds produced a remarkable performance to beat top hunter Thistlecrack with a header. previously undefeated.
Yet after the Cotswold Chase’s most grueling climb, the 10-year-old tragically collapsed on the grass in Cheltenham and died from what was later identified as a severe lung hemorrhage.
At its peak, Many Clouds held a rating of 167, just a pound below the rating of Albertas Run, a three-time winner of Hemmings’ Cheltenham Festival.
Jonjo O’Neill’s middle distance specialist Albertas Run, hero of the Ryanair Chase from Cheltenham in 2010 and 2011, also won the Melling Chase and the Old Roan at Aintree.
Albertas Run stayed three miles to win the 2008 Royal & SunAlliance Chase, a race Nicky Henderson’s Trabolgan won for Hemmings in 2005, before claiming Hennessy Gold Cup glory the same year.
Cloth Cap waved the flag for its owner more recently and was an impressive 10-length winner of the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, previously the Hennessy, in 2020.
The success came after Hemmings announced he would cut his investment in sports, as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the finances of the leisure industry.
He has promised to keep around 25 horses in training, a relative handful compared to previous years when he would have a team of over 100 horses in his famous yellow and green quarters.
Hemmings provided some context to this expense in a Guardian interview in 2000, when he said, “It’s an expensive hobby, and I don’t know how much I write exactly. Maybe I wouldn’t want to do it if I knew.
“But I measure it in another way. I probably give about eight – or 10 – times more to charity in a year than I would spend on horses. So I think my point of view is pretty good.
His philanthropic contributions were never made public, except for his funding of Preston’s SAFE Center for Victims of Sexual Violence, but there were hints of silent largesse at work.
Zara Phillips’ High Kingdom competition horse, on which she won a silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012, was owned by Hemmings and was given the stable name “Trev” – a hint of the rider’s penchant for the man himself.
He also never forgot where he came from, his business interests still reflecting the roots of the working class.
Hemmings’ investments in pubs, British holiday parks, football clubs and neglected towns in the north suggest that his focus has never strayed too far from his former peers.
Starting with so little, his wise investments and industry accumulated tremendous wealth – but he remained unknown to the average person.
Something of an affable conundrum, Hemmings said little and let his success, generosity, and enormous contribution to the sport speak volumes instead.
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