Who is your hero?
I’ve never been one for heroes. If you’ve worked with as many famous people as I have, you realise quite a lot of the time that there isn’t much there. But I have had one, and that was Johnny Haynes. He was captain of Fulham, and England, in the 1950s – when I used to go and watch them as a young man.
Fulham were never, ever more than an average team, but that’s what made him stand out to me. Haynes could have gone to play for anybody he liked, but he kept a team in the top league that would never have stayed there were it not for him. He could pass a ball fifty yards with either foot and split the whole defence. Of course, Jimmy Hill would then run on to it, and either trip over his own feet or hit it wide from an open goal. That is the abiding memory of my childhood. I can see it now: Johnny Haynes stood there, looking up at the sky. You could just read what was going through his mind.
Football and PR are dangerously interwoven worlds now, but they weren’t back then. So what did Johnny teach you?
Well, like me, he was in the middle of everything. If you’re a central midfielder you’re just as involved in defence as you are in attack. That’s the same as what I do. But, more importantly, he provided the opportunities for others. It would be other people who scored the goals – who got the glory. They’d be jumping up and down, waving their arms and taking the plaudits. Haynes was the provider. He didn’t mind who got the credit. When you get older you look back more, and you value even higher the qualities that you didn’t think too much of at the time. He had more of an impression on me than I realised for quite some time.
How do you think he would get on doing your job?
He may not do all that well, but the similarities are there. You create opportunities for others, you generate the attention, the coverage, you make people into stars. And you defend them too. From the media, yes – but also from their own excesses.
Would he still be your hero if he were around now?
Not just mine – he’d be everyone’s. He’d be up there with the likes of Beckham, both on and off the pitch. You don’t have to be flash and brash to succeed in the football business. He was a good-looking guy, but he was modest and unassuming. He’d have been huge.
Do you think he could learn anything from you?
Had I known him, he would have made more money. He may have had a longer career too. He did an advert for Brylcreem, then finished up with a dry cleaning business in Edinburgh. I’m sure he was more than happy with it, but with my help he could have gone into the movies.
What was it about him as a person that made him achieve the things he did?
I don’t know much about him (although I did meet him once), but I think it was his modesty. He had real talent. I work with so many people who are completely devoid of talent, but in my experience, even those who do have it aren’t modest about it. So I appreciate that quality he had. And he was very creative. I admire that. It’s rare.
Many hugely successful people seem very keen to say “oh if I can do it, so can anyone”. Could anyone have achieved what Johnny Haynes did?
No. No one. I’ve never seen anybody pass a ball, create the openings, and transform a game like he did. Especially when the opposition were so much stronger than his team. There are some walks of life you can be very successful in without much talent, but football’s not one of them. That’s another reason to admire him.
More hero worship: find out what Sarah Beeny thinks of Richard Branson here