David Parkin bids farewell to a pair of legends

LAWYERS are often portrayed as being dull, boring and risk averse.

I’m lucky that none of the ones I know fall into that category.

And if you wanted an antidote to that stereotype, then Tim Wheldon was it.

Tim, who has died at the far too young age of 64, was a legal titan and “maverick” who took his clients and colleagues seriously but himself less so.

In his career his clients included the poet Philip Larkin and Malcolm Healey – one of the UK’s most successful billionaire entrepreneurs – and he battled Robert Maxwell and helped bring the Royal Armouries museum to Leeds.

It can also be revealed here for the first time how Tim played an influential role in helping provide equal pay to women in professional sport.

Tim, who was born and started his legal career in Hull, helped turn the Leeds law firm Addleshaw Goddard into one of Britain’s leading firms.

I wish I had known him longer but only first met him in 2017 when the firm moved offices across Sovereign Street in Leeds.

At the launch party Pol Roger champagne was served and Tim welcomed guests with his typical panache giving a speech full of conviviality and humour.

Reflecting on Addleshaw Goddard’s history in Leeds, he said it could trace its roots back to when it started as Booth & Co in 1775.

“In those days the lawyers used to arrive on horseback and the firm employed grooms. To tend to the horses, not the lawyers,” Tim explained to guests.

When Addleshaws moved into their previous office 20 years ago, the area, beside the River Aire, was less salubrious than it is now.

In fact it was a red light district.

“You used to get accosted by prostitutes when you left the office,” Tim remembered, pausing before saying that you used to see a lot of lawyers from other firms in the area as well.

I immediately warmed to this big, bluff, straight-talking character.

What I didn’t appreciate, sadly, until I read his obituaries, was the extent of his experience and talent.

Tim Wheldon was born in Hull, from what he humorously described as “a long line of whalers”.

Educated at Woodleigh School in Malton and then Hymers College in his home city, he qualified as a solicitor, becoming a partner in Gosschalk Wheldon (now Gosschalks).

Working in combination with his father, the East Riding lawyer Terry Wheldon, he quickly became a dynamic force in the East Riding business community.

Both father and son represented the great poet Philip Larkin, and in later years Wheldon’s involvement in Larkin’s legacy and literary estate saw him form a productive association with literary executors Anthony Thwaite and Sir Andrew Motion, later the Poet Laureate.

Moving in 1990 into the West Yorkshire market, he soon became a leading figure in one of the North’s top firms, Booth and Co, which he helped build into today’s 400-partner international law firm, Addleshaw Goddard.

You only have to read the tributes from his former colleagues to realise the impact that Tim made on them.

Pervinder Kaur, current head of the firm’s Leeds office, said he was “a great man, I can’t describe how much he will be missed.”

She added, “Tim Wheldon helped so many of our clients with his fierce intelligence and charm, at every point navigating them through complex and demanding legal issues but he never lost sight of the people and the emotions behind everything he did.

“As a junior lawyer in the 90s he was someone we looked up to because he always had time to coach us, to give us the confidence we lacked at that point in our careers. We were all part of the same team and he ardently strived for our success and that was his sheer brilliance in everything he did, his ability to bring people together across all walks of life, to make them feel like they mattered.

“Tim was hugely instrumental in the development of our business and will be remembered not just as one of our very best dealmakers and relationship partners, but as a hugely respected leader, mentor and friend to many current and former AG partners and staff. He was a leader you wanted to follow and his assertive confidence and panache inspired confidence in ourselves.”

Simon Kamstra, a partner at Addleshaw Goddard and who took over as head of the office on Tim’s retirement, said that in his time at the firm “he acquired a reputation for dynamic deal-doing both in the UK and internationally.

“Practical, shrewd, charming, and above all energetic, he had an ability to make things happen, solve problems, and bring parties together. His clients were his focus, and they loved him; he brought with him attention to detail, a vivid room-filling personality, and uncanny commercial instinct.

Simon remembers one particular transaction in the publishing sector, where Tim, “sensing strokes being pulled and calling them out, he managed to get so far up the nose of the tycoon Robert Maxwell, that Maxwell personally called Wheldon (over the heads of MGN’s legion of lawyers), to berate him. A wasted phone call. Wheldon was likably rebellious, with a suspicion of power figures and related sycophancy.

“He once chewed out an executive from one of his firm’s most important clients for treating one of his lawyers badly, naturally earning the adoration of his team, for that principled but somewhat un-commercial bravery,” recalls Simon.

“He had a reputation amongst colleagues for delivering the impossible, often extremely quickly, and working with him on deals could be like being captained in a bobsleigh team down the Cresta Run. He kept his teams going with humour, a mastery of creative profanity, and an ability to see absurdity in grim situations.”

“A mastery of creative profanity”, I love that phrase – and have secretly aspired to acquire that skill all my adult life.

I’m still working on it.

During Tim’s first period with Addleshaw Goddard he became lead legal adviser on the innovative private financing of the Royal Armouries in Leeds, “a deal which broke new ground for all involved,” remembers Simon Kamstra.

In 2002 he left the firm and went to work for the billionaire entrepreneur Malcolm Healey, before returning in 2011 until a back injury forced him to retire in 2018.

Simon concludes: “In retirement, he bought a farm near Thirsk where he was content in a new, rural life and its tranquillity – and mastering yet one more skill – this time sheep farming.

“He was able at last to enjoy more time with his four adult children, and finally and to his great joy, his grandchildren. To the end, he also remained a counsellor, problem solver and truly kind help, to his enormous network of friends and contacts. It might be thought by outsiders to the legal profession that there are few corporate lawyers who are loved, but a few are, and Tim Wheldon uniquely so.”

One of those who knew him well was Sir Gary Verity, the former chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, who helped Tim establish his sheep farm.

Gary told me: “Tim was a great man. He was a ‘big’ man in every sense of the word, he had wit, a sharp intellect, charisma and could spot a ‘wrong un’ at 20 paces! He also had a wicked sense of humour and a strong sense of justice.

“He probably didn’t realise that amongst his many achievements and accolades was one that no one would know about (until now).

“Tim did more to advance equality in women’s sport than anyone else on the planet!

“After the success of the Tour de France in Yorkshire in July 2014 the following May the Tour de Yorkshire was launched. Initially a three day men’s race and one day women’s race. It was to be held annually on the first May bank holiday weekend. The first edition kicked off in Bridlington, the crowds were enormous and again the real star was the Yorkshire landscape.”

Organisers Gary Verity and Christian Prudhomme wanted to move to a four day men’s race and a two day women’s race.

“Importantly, for the first time in the world of cycling the women’s race would be equal to the men’s edition on three critical points,” recalls Gary.

1. Full TV coverage from start to finish live on terrestrial TV (not just a highlights package) .

2. The exact same parcours (route) as the men.

3. The same prize money as the men (even though the men raced over four days).

“There was a stumbling block. The governing body of cycling in the UK and the UK government blocked the expansion of the race,” remembers Gary, who puts it down to the “bad blood” going back to the Tour de France Grand Départ when both backed taking it to Scotland rather than Yorkshire.

“They spent £3m backing a Scottish bid. They were furious when the French organisers chose Yorkshire!

“Enter Tim!

“He knew of my frustrations in having the expansion of the race blocked. We travelled together to watch the play-off final at Wembley in May 2016. We talked about it at length. Tim offered to craft a letter to be sent to the CEO of British Cycling. It was a cracker! Six pages that basically had them tied in knots! It was Tim at his intellectual best.

“A few weeks later British Cycling capitulated and the expansion of the event was sanctioned!

“And so was born the first event in the world where women were equal in every way to the men – the same prize money, equal media coverage, equal difficulty at a sporting level (same course, no concessions).

“Bravo Tim!”

It’s Tim’s funeral at noon today at St Mary’s Church in Thirsk, close to where he had his sheep farm in Bagby.

I’m sure I’ll hear plenty more stories there that will further burnish his legacy, not just as a lawyer, but as a good man.

FAREWELL then Franny Lee.

Norman Hunter’s old sparring partner died last week at the age of 79.

He might have won trophies at Manchester City, played for England, won the title with Derby County, become a millionaire from making toilet rolls, a successful racehorse trainer and then become chairman of Manchester City, but he will always be remembered for that battle at the Baseball Ground in November 1975.

Almost eight years ago Norman Hunter was the guest at one of the first events my then fledgling business, COPA, organised.

I knew that the market for sporting lunches and dinners was crowded so a different approach was needed.

In the back of my mind, filed away in a corner under a sign marked: ‘Not relevant but might come in useful sometime’ were images of Norman’s infamous Baseball Ground battle with Derby County’s Franny Lee.

The film of the incident, accompanied by John Motson’s incredulous commentary of the unfolding events on Match of the Day, still makes compelling viewing.

Forget the “handbags” squabbles between footballers that we see today – this was the real deal, proper punches which drew blood.

Today footballers fall over without being touched. Norman hit the Baseball Ground turf only when Franny landed a vicious right cross.

But he got up and landed a few of his own on the stocky, straw-haired raging bullock of a man for whom the red mist had definitely descended.

Realising that we were approaching the 40th anniversary of the incident, my idea was to bring Norman and Francis together to mark the anniversary and hear their memories of something which has entered football folklore.

But it was scuppered by the fact Franny wasn’t up for it.

Through an accountant that knew the former Manchester City player and chairman, we made an approach but Franny said he now had grandchildren and didn’t want them to remember him for the wrong reasons.

I think another reason was that whatever fee we were able to offer him was of no interest given he had become a millionaire from running a successful toilet roll making business after he retired from football.

Norman on the other hand was happy to do it for 500 quid in a brown envelope and so we persisted and went ahead with a lunch at the much missed Foundry restaurant in Leeds, run by huge Leeds fans Phil Richardson and Shaun Davies, with Norman as the guest in November 2015.

I got a bit carried away and got a film made for the event which we played just before I introduced Norman to the audience.

It featured footage of Muhammad Ali’s famous fight against Joe Frazier in October 1975 for the World Heavyweight Championship dubbed the “Thrilla in Manila”.

It was one of the most brutal, compelling boxing matches ever seen and took so much out of the two combatants that neither Ali or Frazier were ever quite the same in a boxing ring again.

After brief highlights of the fight a caption popped up saying that exactly one month in 1975 later another great fight took place.

Cue a clip of boxing announcer Michael Buffer (another of my inspirational ideas) giving his trade mark: “Let’s get ready to rumble” line.

Then into the Match of the Day footage of Hunter v Lee, or “the pitbull savaging the rottweiler” as The Observer once described the clash.

Other than introducing him and asking him some questions,  I didn’t actually spend much time with Norman at the event as I was dashing about making sure the guests were happy.

So I sat him on a table with a few people I knew would be relaxing and good company during lunch.

My pal Simon Hare, a BBC journalist and fellow Derby County fan came along and produced a lovely short film of the occasion which you can watch below.

Also on the table were Ian Beaumont, the KPMG partner and Jonathan Sands, founder of creative design business Elmwood, another Rams fan who has ended up in Yorkshire.

Just like in his playing days, as a speaker Norman was reliable, consistent and with a little bit of flair as well.

He made the audience laugh, he made them smile, he made them think, he had them nodding in agreement and shaking their heads with amazement.

You can’t ask any more of a speaker at an event.

What I do remember is that while Norman had a reputation as a player for being as hard as nails, as a man he was charming and humble and who told our audience that he wasn’t proud to view the dramatic footage of his Baseball Ground battle with Franny.

He said that the Leeds manager at the time, Jimmy Armfield, was attempting to clean up the club’s image and so had instructed him to keep it as clean as possible on the pitch.

But that was before his fiery team mate Billy Bremner started whispering in his ear, winding up Norman that the “fat, little ****” Lee had got the better of him.

My ambition after the lunch was to recreate it in Derby with Norman Hunter alongside former Derby County great Roy McFarland.

It was Roy who Rams manager Dave Mackay instructed to shepherd Franny Lee down the Baseball Ground tunnel after his sending off.

And Roy was Norman’s room-mate on England duty.

Apparently Norman used to make him a cup of tea first thing in the morning.

But that idea of another event with Norman Hunter sadly would never take place as Norman passed away from Covid in 2020 in the early weeks of that awful pandemic.

But as my friend Simon reflected after Norman’s passing if we had held it in Derby, in front of a room full of Rams fans, then Norman would have been “panto-booed at the beginning and cheered at the end”.

Franny and Norman are now reunited, and as this photo posted on Twitter by Franny Lee some years ago when the two met at a World Cup dinner, they did eventually bury the hatchet.

And not in each other either.

Have a great weekend.

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