The Times feature: Good times, tough times

Good times, tough times

The businessman and philanthropist, Terry George, and his personal assistant, Nicola Davis, talk to

our correspondent

When the tribute web-site Gone Too Soon last week removed messages of condolence posted in memory of

the Bridgend teenagers, the site's founder, Terry George, said that it was to help to minimise the possibility of

copycat suicides.

Terry is a lover of life. A million-are now, he had a hard time in his own teenage years: one of five children, he

grew up on a notoriously rough estate in Leeds. ''It was very run-down and we were poor,'' he says. ''We had no

electricity for two years after my parents couldn't pay the bills. There wasn't any gas, so we cooked over a coal


''When I left school at 15, the first thing I did was negotiate to pay the electricity bill. I took two jobs, working in a

pickle factory and collecting glasses in a nightclub.''

When Terry went to Cornwall to take part in Channel 4's Secret Millionaire series, screened last November, it

was like travelling back into his past. Today, he and his partner Michael Rothwell are hugely successful: they

run property companies, magazines, clubs and bars, plus the annual Mr Gay UK competition, and live in luxury

in a castellated folly near Leeds. Yet for Secret Millionaire Terry worked in a care home, lived in a caravan and

met local people who opened their homes and extended hospitality to him, even though they were living on

pensions or the minimum wage.

''It made me think deeply,'' he says. ''I'm still in touch with the people I met. I went to the care home's Christmas

party, and Kerry, the young mum working there, has been to our house. She reminds me of my sister Rosemarie,

a single mum who works as a home help - and who doesn't want handouts either.''

Terry's fortune is entirely self-made. As a council-house kid he was fascinated by the lives of the rich and

famous, whose autographs he collected. Then, at 12, he started asking them questions. Among the 300

celebrities he interviewed were Boy George, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.

His career progressed into voluntary DJ work on hospital radio at 17: ''Someone showed me how to work the

turntable and I was away.'' A professional stint as a DJ followed, during which a regular gay night would attract

400 people.

Terry had realised he was gay when he was at school: ''But I was confused. Gay people were portrayed as John

Inman or Larry Gray-son, and I was nothing like either. I remember standing outside a gay club in Leeds and not

having the nerve to go in.''

Today, Terry and Michael - the pair have been together for 20 years and ''married'' on the day that civil

partnerships became legal - own 13 businesses employing 147 staff, all informally recruited: ''We have a great

team behind us, but I've never done a proper job interview,'' says Terry. ''I prefer to judge character.''

His PA, Nicola Davis, the niece of a neighbour, remembers vividly how she got her job. She recalls: ''They had

found an injured goose in their grounds, and I happened to be on the spot with my car. We rushed the goose to

the RSPCA, and on the way Terry interviewed me and offered me the job.'' Terry remembers: ''She came over

as caring, attentive and efficient - and my impressions were right.''

Nicola adores her work: ''The businesses are varied and give me 101 things to do. There is also the annual

Bonfire Night party, which I organise in aid of charity. Last year 950 people came.

''Another of my responsibilities is Gone Too Soon, which was created in 2005 after one of Terry's closest

friends died suddenly in Thailand. Terry went to the funeral but a lot of people couldn't afford to, so he had the

idea of putting the order of service online and allowing people to put their own tributes there.

''Today the site has 20,000 memorials, including some famous names. It attracts 12 million page views a month

and gives a lot of people great comfort. We sit here in tears at some of the tributes. We still provide the service


''Terry is a compassionate person with vision and humour. He and Michael run their companies with a lot of

friends and family involved, and I never think of them as my bosses. We all work very hard, but it's never like

being at work.''