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Terry's chocolate heart

When Leeds club tycoon Terry George took part in The Secret Millionaire – a TV show dishing out cash to good causes – he had no idea it would take him on such an emotional journey of self-discovery. Arts editor Rod McPhee reports

But later this month viewers will see him in a very different guise: clad in a plastic apron, nostrils stuffed with toilet paper and his head down a toilet.

Because as part of his experience on Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire the 42-year-old nightclub guru, who owns and runs a string of venues and nights in his home city, had to go back to basics.

That saw him effectively work 'undercover' in a nursing home in a bid to find out which individuals and organisations were worthy recipients of 40,000 of his hard-earned cash.

Unfortunately that involved him cleaning up some of the incontinent residents – a smelly task which saw the normally rather glamorous figure repeatedly forced to make an undignified race to the loo.

But although he's facing up to the prospect of a huge TV audience watching him in such an embarrassing situation he has no regrets about taking part.

"I realise a lot of people see me as this multi-millionaire who swans around clubs and bars living the high-life, but I really do get my hands dirty.

"In fact Channel 4 said that out of all the millionaires they filmed for this new series I was the one who mucked in and did the work more than anyone else.

"When the filming was done on a particular section they'd sometimes say 'You can stop now Terry.' and I'd say: 'No, I want to stay and finish the job."

Terry spent 10 days largely living in caravan in Penzance while working on the minimum wage in a nursing home where he had to wash, shave, change and feed the residents.

Although he was followed around by cameras the producers told anyone who asked that they were making a documentary about 'Modern Britain.'

They certainly didn't tell them they were being assessed by a millionaire as potential good causes deserving of some fat cheques.

That required Terry to take on a guise which was the complete antithesis of the man he is – a tycoon worth an estimated 20m who lives in a luxurious 3m hall in the Yorkshire countryside.

The resulting experience, particularly the time he spent in the home, touched him in ways he didn't expect.

"It was a really life-changing time for me, I can honestly say I don't think I've ever cried so much in such a short space of time," he said. "I'd see some of the residents and sometimes I'd just have to sneak off to burst into tears.

"There was one guy you'll see on the show called Henry and basically he had to be cared for round the clock. He was completely reliant on other people.

Bond

"There on the mantelpiece is this picture of him as a strong, proud handsome younger man and it's heart-breaking because there I was having to feed him.

"And it particularly upset me because he was about the age my own dad would have been now if he was alive and you can't help but develop that strange father-son bond with someone. He was a bit fiery yet sweet at the same time

"We went for a day out and apparently he wanted me to go back and visit, sadly he passed away a couple of weeks ago.

"But even on a personal level it changed my outlook on life. I was spending time with people who were only 20 or 30 years older than myself and it made me realise that none of us have much time.

"It made me think about the importance of retiring as early as possible, of making the most of life and it made me so relieved that I'm fortunate enough to be able to give my mum all the care and attention she needs."

Although he initially found it difficult to hand over his own cash to virtual strangers Terry eventually relished helping people.

Said people included an elderly couple whose lives were dominated by the care of their daughter who was disabled in a drink-driving car crash, a struggling young mum who worked in the home and, of course, the home's resident's fund.

But although this brought him a certain degree of self-satisfaction he was equally touched by the generosity he was shown by virtual strangers.

He said: "If you're in one of my bars or clubs in Leeds then there's a good chance you know who I am – and I've always been the centre of attention. As a result I know some people might just be nice to me because they want something.

"But everyone I met had no idea who I was and yet they were so staggeringly kind and it totally blew me away.

"People gave me food, cooked me meals, put a roof over my head. All of which also made me realise, even more than before, how there are much more important things in life than money."

Terry hasn't always been rich. His parents, who were frequently in and out of work, raised him and his sister in a terrace on Raynville Crescent in Bramley, Leeds.

At one point neither of them were employed and the family spent two years without power, instead they cooked food on the coal fire and used a small paraffin lamp for light.

"Because I've lived like that before I've always said I could go back to living that way again. Even though I love the luxuries I have now and I wouldn't choose to give them up.

"I think part of the reason I wanted to take part in the TV show was because I wanted to see if I could actually live like that again and I showed that I could.

"And, of course, I'm partial to a bit of publicity now and again... and again and again."

Terry George appears in Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire later this month. The new series starts this Wednesday at 9pm.

 
 
 

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