Many and varied are the legacies of the rich and famous – or infamous. One such is Felix Dennis, propelled into notoriety with the Oz magazine obscenity trial and going on to become one of the richest, most successful and pioneering publishing moguls of modern times. Chris Willmott explores the legacy of this most extraordinary of entrepreneurs.
“Whosoever plants a tree, winks at immortality.”
These poignant words were penned by multi-millionaire media maverick, eco-warrior, philanthropist, author, poet and celebrated wine drinker Felix Dennis as he immersed himself in the biggest and most important project of his life – his Heart of England Forest legacy.
The flamboyant Warwickshire businessman – who died In June 2014 at the age of 67 –was famed for his entrepreneurial Midas touch and latterly as a lover of trees and wildlife. He dedicated the final years of his life (not that he knew they were the final years initially) to building his beloved forest.
Felix Dennis had a dream – to leave a legacy that would grow and grow.
According to anecdotes he believed planting a forest would make up for all the paper he had used in his years of publishing award-winning magazines. He also confessed that being told it couldn’t be done was like a red rag to a bull.
But much more important than that he wanted something to live and breathe long after he stopped doing so. He was so committed to this ambitious vision that he left 80% of his estimated £500m fortune towards making it a reality.
And he’s far from alone in harbouring such a desire. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, Star Wars director George Lucas, actor Jackie Chan and rock star Gene Simmons have little, if anything, in common – apart from their wealth.
But it is what they – and so many just like them – plan to do with their millions when they’re gone that marries this unlikely bunch together.
Having amassed their fortunes, so many of the world’s rich and famous plan to bestow their wealth on charitable causes and legacy projects and foundations.
Their families will, of course, be ‘taken care of’. However, many of the rich and famous, who have strived for success all their lives, believe their children should be driven by the same determination to succeed and not just have wealth handed to them on a plate.
Bill Gates and his wife created the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – also known as the Gates Foundation – in 2000 with the primary aims of globally enhancing healthcare and reducing poverty and, in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.
The world’s former richest man – Warren Buffett – is also a trustee of the foundation and has promised 83 per cent of his multi-billion dollar fortune to the cause.
In a letter to the Gates Foundation, Buffett summed up the sentiments of many tycoons when he said: “I wanted to give my kids just enough so they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing.”
Only the lucky few of us have wealth akin to that of the rich and famous.
So how can you create a legacy on a smaller budget than Bill Gates?
A more modest legacy that doesn’t necessarily change the world but does leave a lasting mark that will be remembered by those whose lives you touched.
We can all leave a legacy by the way we live our lives, the people we help, the family and friends we share life with and live on through when our days on this earth are up.
And those are, perhaps, the most important legacies to leave.
But what about giving your money away?
Charities and organisations close to your heart, those which have enriched your life or the lives of your loved ones, are a good place to start. Take the Marie Curie Hospices across the UK for example – a donation of (roughly) between £6,000 and £8,000 will pay to run your chosen hospice for the day.
In return you get a certificate for your given day and a tribute/profile on the hospice’s website and social media, telling your story, should you wish, for that day.
All charities have similar schemes in place with options ranging from modest sums to large donations.
THE ROYAL STAR AND GARTER HOMES has been providing nursing and therapeutic care to the ex-Service community for 101 years. In January 1916, the charity’s Richmond Home opened its doors to care for the injured troops returning from the battlefields of the First World War.
The average age of those men was 22. Today the average age of the disabled veterans it looks after is 88. Offering specialist care to those who can longer manage in their own homes, they rely heavily on donations.
You can get involved in many different ways from fundraising to volunteering, including gifting a legacy in your will.
LEAVING BEHIND A GIFT IN YOUR WILL is a great way of helping the ABF Soldiers charity to offer ongoing support and plan for the futures of the whole Army family. Legacy gifts help to change the lives of ex-servicemen and women and their families and can be done very simply, taking advantage of the free will-writing service offered through the National Free Wills Network.
LEGACIES – THINGS TO CONSIDER
Legacies that are non-specific or ambiguous about the beneficiary can lead to confusion and leave the will open to challenge.
The will should be drawn up by a solicitor to comply with certain legal requirements – if the will is not valid your intended charity will not get your legacy.
If an existing will needs to be changed to add a legacy to charity the donor can make a codicil, a legal document that does just that. Again, this should be drawn up by a solicitor to avoid any grounds for challenge.
TYPES OF LEGACY
Pecuniary: the gift of a sum of money
Specific: the gift of a particular item
Residuary: a share or whole of what remains of the donor’s estate after pecuniary and specific legacies have been paid, as well as other expenses such as funeral costs, debts and tax.
Legacies to charity are exempt from inheritance tax. Leaving what’s called a ‘charitable legacy’ reduces – or can sometimes eliminate – the inheritance tax bill because it doesn’t count towards the total taxable value of your estate.
If you leave at least ten per cent of you net estate to charity the inheritance tax rate on the rest of the bill is also cut from 40 to 36%.
The rules are complex, though, so consult a solicitor.
Find out about donating to a charity and tax relief on GOV.UK.
“NO LEGACY IS SO RICH AS HONESTY”
All’s well that ends well. William Shakespeare
The English language certainly owes a great debt to Shakespeare and the legacy of his great work. He invented somewhere in the region of 1,700 of our commonly used words – from ‘arouse’ to ‘amazement.’
And if you’re looking to leave a legacy in the Bard’s hometown, a real hidden gem in Stratford-upon-Avon wants to hear from you.
The Guild Chapel is a building of 13th Century origins sandwiched between Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and his final home at New Place, and most certainly a permanent fixture in his life. In the late 15th Century, its walls were decorated with a series of striking paintings, skulls and devils to remind medieval worshippers they were all heading the same way and should stay on the path to heaven.
This was nothing unusual for a medieval church (although Stratford’s Guild Chapel did have a wealthy benefactor to thank, the paintings paid for via the will (or legacy) of Hugh Clopton, rich local landowner and Mayor of London.) The fact they disappeared less than a hundred years later following the Reformation wasn’t unusual either, Elizabeth I banning all signs of idolatry. In Stratford, that order was sent to and acted on in 1563 by one John Shakespeare, father of the playwright and the Mayor of Stratford (effectively) at the time. But John it seems didn’t deface the medieval paintings, he limewashed over them instead. And that meant that hundreds of years later, they could be discovered. Was that his agenda all along? The scholars continue that debate – but his actions certainly preserved the Guild Chapel’s paintings in incredible detail.
Following conservation work, they can be seen up close today and they haven’t for almost half a millennium. And there’s more waiting to be discovered. Conservators know fragments, or possibly much larger sections of paintings, still hide beneath the wooden panelling constructed to run down either side of the Chapel’s walls. But before they can pull the panelling down, they need the funds to protect and conserve whatever they find underneath.
A real ‘lasting legacy’ they say, and certainly a very intriguing prospect.
A couple of thousand pounds would get a section uncovered and conserved in your name.
PLANTING THE SEED
Felix Dennis’ Heart of England Forest stretches across the Warwickshire countryside from the north of Stratford upon Avon to the East of Henley in Arden, from the remnants of the ancient Forest of Arden to the edge of the Vale of Evesham. Its core lies at his former Dorsington home, where it all began.
Mr Dennis’ later years writing poetry and planting forests were a calmer period in his life – quite possibly much-needed after the turbulent years that went before for the man with an estimated £500m fortune.
He famously said his ‘lost decade’ – in which he beat a crack cocaine addiction – cost him $100m. “I spent it on wine, women, drugs and partying like a lunatic — the rest I wasted,” he said.
Mr Dennis was one of the central figures who brought 1960s counterculture magazine Oz to a large audience, editing the London edition and later, in 1971, becoming embroiled in an obscenity trial where his conviction was quashed on appeal.
He then set up his own magazine publishing company, Dennis Publishing, in 1973, launching successful titles such as Maxim and owning The Week, Viz and Health & Fitness.
Just some of his many life highlights include making a chart single with John Lennon, playing on stage with Mick Jagger, writing six best-selling collections of poetry and planting 300 acres of land each year with native British broadleaf trees to realise his Heart of England Forest dream.
To find out more about his Heart of England Forest – and how you can sponsor a tree for just £10 – visit: www.heartofenglandforest.com.
To read his life story visit: www.felixdennis.com