Stuart Levin: I am passionate about this city

Stuart Levin.
Stuart Levin.
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Stuart Levin walked out of school aged 14 and started selling tights before going on to build a property business. Jayne Dawson reports.

Stuart Levin, 61, lives in North Leeds with wife Francine. The couple, who have one son, Marcus, 25, founded the charity Make A Dream twenty one years ago for Yorkshire children with terminal cancer. Francine now also has incurable cancer

My first job was selling tights. I was 14 and I would buy them from the wholesaler and give a dozen pairs to girls who worked in the local factory. They would sell eleven pairs for me, and keep the twelfth for themselves.

My father had a shop on Alma Street in Leeds called Lou’s Bazaar, it was known as “the murder shop” because the slogan was “we don’t cut prices we murder them”. Eventually he had five of them.

The best advice I have ever been given was to always think of the downside as well as the upside. I fell on my face with my business and someone said that to me. I remembered it.

I made my money in the 1980s from selling tights with a butterfly on the ankle. It wasn’t even my idea, someone suggested it to me. They weren’t doing all that well, then Princess Diana was photographed in a pair, and that was it. All entrepreneurs need a lot of luck.

My guilty pleasure is watching Dragons’ Den, I like evaluating projects. When my tights business eventually failed I had to move on. I met my wife who was already buying and selling property in London so she taught the business to me.

My pet hate? Ignorant people, people who don’t thank you for letting them in the traffic queue, and people who are obviously lying to me. I just let it all go now though. I have mellowed a lot.

The person I would most like to meet is Bill Clinton. It would be fantastic to have him as a speaker at a Make A Dream fundraising event, but I couldn’t afford him.

My favourite weekend would be spent in Majorca with Francine. we rediscovered it about 15 years ago.

My advice to my teenage self would be to be nicer to my parents. My parents were the children of Russian immigrants and the generation who went through the war. They were formed by those experiences. My father didn’t understand me at all, he thought I was from a different planet, we clashed a lot. I didn’t show them the respect they deserved.

My philosophy on life is to live it to the full, because you never know when it might be over. You assume you will grow old with your partner, but for Francine and me, that rosy picture won’t happen. My wife is everything to me.

It might surprise people to know that I walked out of school aged 14. The only thing I was good at was maths so I was taken on as a trainee accountant, but I couldn’t become an accountant because I had a personality.

I couldn’t live without Leeds United. I started watching them in the 1950s. I once tried to buy the club, as part of a consortium, that was before Ken Bates bought it. Now I go to every game. I see people there that I have been seeing practically my entire life, but just at the matches.

My most embarrassing moment involved a tight red suit - it was the 1960s - and I wasn’t wearing anything underneath the trousers. I was at my then girlfriend’s house talking to her uncle, who was the singer Frankie Vaughan. I sat on the sofa, legs akimbo, and we had a nice chat. It was only later I realised my trouser zip wasn’t fastened.

I cry easily. The last time I had tears in my eyes was watching the drama about Cilla’s life. It took me back to my teenage years.

When I was aged eleven I got swept out while swimming in the sea. My cousin David swam out and held my head above water until we were rescued. I’m sure he saved my life, but we’re blokes and we never talk about it.

I was pretty much left to my own devices in my childhood. I have twin sisters but they are older than me. I have a huge extended family though - I have 28 first cousins.

My family is Jewish but I would say I only observe the parts of the faith I want to observe. I believe in God, I believe in karma, and I believe in giving something back.

My first kiss was with Christine when I was aged 12 at Allerton Grange School. She looked like Twinkle, who was a pop star then.

The first record I ever bought was Yellow Submarine by The Beatles.

I am passionate about Leeds. It hasn’t got the profile it deserves. It is the third biggest city in the country, bigger than Manchester, but people don’t realise that.

Jonathan Wilson

Gig review: Jonathan Wilson at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds