I have been researching and writing the Birmingham Post Rich List for 11 years. In that time, many who have featured in the list are sadly no longer with us proving, as if we needed convincing, that wealth is no shield against the grim reaper.
Researching every wealth-maker in the Rich List is an enjoyable and fascinating process, but one in particular stands out – a stalwart of the Rich List every year – and I shall miss writing about him this year.
Half-billionaire, publisher, poet, ex-chain-smoker, serial tree planter, jailbird and wine aficionado Felix Dennis died in June after a three-year battle with throat cancer. His 49-year, 50-a-day habit finally caught up with Felix after months of strength-sapping radio therapy.
His approach to his illness was typical. He embarked on a 30-day tour presenting his latest poems (and the odd glass of wine) to audiences around the country. With characteristic gallows humour he named his sojourn “The Cut Throat Tour.”
In preparation for the day when he finally succumbed, he wrote his own epitaph – “Felix Dennis, Poet, Publisher, Planter of Trees” – and even identified the place he wanted to be buried, beneath one of his beloved trees on his 6,000-acre estate in Feldon country near the River Avon in south-east Warwickshire.
The 67-year-old publishing millionaire had a love affair with trees for a long time. He helped to restore the woodland the country had lost by creating the Heart of England Forest, working with the Tree Council in the Vale of Evesham.
He has left 80 per cent of his fortune to grow and protect the forest.
In September 2013, he planted the forest’s one millionth tree, with author and friend Hugh Johnson OBE. Even after his death his award-winning publishing empire continues to expand and his news magazine, The Week, is growing worldwide.
Dennis Publishing is one of the world’s leading independently owned media companies and is worth more than £150 million. Turnover of the entire Dennis Group is around £95 million a year.
Felix Dennis first came to public attention in 1971 as one of three defendants in the Oz obscenity trials. He was famously cleared on appeal.
He lived on his estate in Warwickshire or his home in Mustique – which he bought from David Bowie - one of six homes he owned around the world.
He never took holidays or watched television and valued the time he saved as a result. He had an insatiable appetite for life and language and used both to the full. He willl be sadly missed.