Obituary, 2004

Sir Paul Getty

© Getty Images

GETTY, Sir JOHN PAUL KBE, who died on April 17, 2003, aged 70, described himself in Who's Who as simply a "philanthropist". Paul Getty inherited a fortune from the family oil business but, unlike his tycoon father, had little interest in adding to it. Instead, he settled in Britain and gave away huge chunks of his money to a vast array of beneficiaries, most of them institutions representing what he saw as the country's threatened heritage, including cathedrals, art galleries, the British Film Institute's archive and the Conservative Party. Cricket was close to the top of the list.

Born at sea off Italy and originally called Eugene Paul, he came to the game by an unbelievably circuitous route after an unhappy American childhood, a tumultuous youth and reclusive middle years. For nine years he worked for the Italian subsidiary of Getty Oil before being seduced by the distractions of the 1960s, divorcing his first wife, Gail, and marrying a Dutch beauty, Talitha, who died of a heroin overdose in Italy in 1971. He moved to London and lived as a recluse in Chelsea, subject to depression and his own drug dependence, a period that included the terrible kidnap of his eldest son Paul. During this period Mick Jagger, a friend since the 1960s, visited him, insisted on switching the TV over to the cricket and explained what was going on. Getty got the bug. Gubby Allen, éminence grise of MCC and at one time a fellow patient at the London Clinic, described by Getty as being "like a father", encouraged him into the cricketing community. Men like Brian Johnston and Denis Compton became friends, and he took delight in the game's history, traditions and etiquette, which were at one with the concept of Englishness that he embraced.

So he sprinkled cricket with some of the stardust that his wealth made possible. He gave an estimated £1.6 million to build the Mound Stand at Lord's, but this was the tip of an iceberg of donations: to every county, to countless clubs, to individuals fallen on hard times and to organisations like the Arundel Cricket Foundation, which received £750,000 from him to help disadvantaged youngsters play cricket. Even his pleasures were inclusive ones. At Wormsley, his estate nestling in the Chilterns, he created his own private cricketing Eden project: a square like a billiard table with a thatched pavilion. Getty built his field of dreams, and they really did come: the Queen Mother and the Prime Minister, John Major, attended Wormsley's inaugural match in 1992; touring teams made it a regular stopover; and cricketers ranging from the great to the gormless delighted in playing there or simply sharing the idyll. There was a touch of Scott Fitzgerald's West Egg about the place, but that was not inappropriate for a ground where the most coveted sidetrip was to the library to see the host's rare first editions. The Getty box at Lord's also became a London salon where celebrities, cricketing and otherwise, rubbed shoulders.

His ownership of Wisden, sealed in 1993, brought together the two great passions: cricket and books. In 1994 Getty sealed his own personal happiness by marrying Victoria, who had nursed him through the bad years, and four years later tied the knot with the country he had come to love, becoming a British citizen, which allowed him to use the knighthood that had been bestowed on him for his charitable services 12 years earlier. His presidency of Surrey, in 1996, was another honour he cherished. Those who knew him valued him as a generous spirit, a quality that has nothing to do with money. And cricket repaid him a little by giving him a sense of his own self-worth as a man, not just as a benefactor.

© John Wisden & Co