Now it’s ‘Sir Jack’ Petchey after getting knighthood in New Year’s Honours
PUBLISHED: 13:05 31 December 2015 | UPDATED: 14:16 31 December 2015
Philanthropist Jack Petchey has been knighted in today’s New Year’s Honours List.
The 90-year-old east London entrepreneur still goes to work every day at his Jack Petchey Foundation which he created in 1999.
The Foundation has put up £100 million for good causes, benefitting 500,000 youngsters every year across east London and Essex.
Projects it puts cash into include the Speak Out Challenge, the largest public speaking competition in the world training 18,000 students a year, Step into Dance with the Royal Academy of Dance providing opportunities in 200 secondary schools, the London Schools’ Table Tennis Championships and the Panathlon Challenge for disabled youngsters to get into competitive sport.
“What I am proudest of is the recognition this knighthood gives the Foundation and the young people we support,” Sir Jack said.
“I always say ‘If you think you can—you can’, whatever your background. Being recognised with this honour proves just that to the youngsters we work with. They can achieve and make positive contributions to society.”
He already has the CBE awarded in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2011 and the OBE given in 2004.
It is a classic “rags to riches” story of an East End kid that made it to the Big League with a personal fortune to help youngsters in deprived areas like the Dockland neighbourhood he grew up in back in the 1920s and 30s in Canning Town and Plaistow.
He still lives by London’s former docks, though moving up in the luxury property market with a spacious waterfront apartment in Wapping.
Jack hated school back in the Thirties and couldn’t wait to quit at 13 and start making money.
“I had no interest in learning and thought it was a waste of time,” he once told the East London Advertiser.
“Perhaps if I had arts and sciences in my day I would have enjoyed it and would understand things better.
“All I did was sit outside pubs waiting for Dad and eating arrowroot biscuits.”
He was to make his mark in life in the post-War years, building up his fortune in east London’s thriving motor trade, then venturing into Mediterranean holiday properties.
He uses that wealth, at 90, to encourage today’s youth to do well in the classroom and to put back into society what they can—like does with his Petchey Foundation.
The Foundation’s Chief Executive Trudy Kilcullen said: “To the young people we support, in their eyes Jack Petchey already is ‘Sir Jack’, because of the hope and inspiration his own personal story provides.”
Jack was born in poverty in July, 1925, when money was scarce and so was food. He admits to a lifelong love of fish’n’chips and sometimes drops in at Poppy’s famous chippie in Spitalfields with his grandchildren, his favourite haunt just 10 minutes in the car from Wapping.
It’s a far cry from the days as a boy when he popped out for a penny bag of chips for lunch—and another for supper. It was all he could afford.
Jack started work at 13 as a delivery boy for the greengrocer’s at the end of his street.
But he already had an earlier brush with the law about his part-time job when he was 12 with a police summons for working under age.
The prosecution at East Ham Police Court charged him in 1937 with “carrying vegetables” after a constable caught him hauling boxes of tomatoes.
The defence pointed out that “tomatoes are a fruit”—the case collapsed.
War broke out in 1939 when Jack turned 14 and he took on the role of messenger for the Fire Brigade during the Blitz.
But at 18 he was off to enlist in the RAF, where he learned his first trade, electrical mechanics, servicing fighter aircraft, and went on to join the Fleet Air Arm.
The post-War years saw Jack working in the City where he applied for a management position—but was told he wasn’t suitable and would never make a businessman!
“They didn’t know what they missed out on,” Jack reflects with a smile. “But that rejection taught me to think outside the box, when dealing with people.”
Jack quit the firm, bought a motor-car and started a car hire business in Forest Gate with his £60 savings, soon expanding into Petchey car sales which mushroomed between the 1960s and 80s with his famous ‘smiling Jack in bow tie’ logo on all the ads.
He invested the profits, joining the ‘big league’ in Mediterranean property development—and always looking for companies to buy up.
Sometimes he poses as a customer and drops in on a business that takes his fancy and studies their methods, particularly the motor trade, and does it without them realising—or so he thinks.
“I went into one place and bought some petrol to see how it was run,” Jack remembers. “The assistant asked why I had been hanging around earlier taking photographs of the place—I had been rumbled.”
Among Jack’s reads at breakfast is his local East London Advertiser delivered to his flat each Thursday, to keep up with community life which is his main passion. He makes notes in the margins across the front page when he spots something that might be worth following up through his Foundation.
Jack usually arrives around 10am at his second-floor office behind Ilford Broadway. There’s no lift. The four flights keep him fit, sort of. He played squash until he was 82.
Not many schoolchildren in east London don’t know the name ‘Jack Petchey’ these days. Their dads and granddads might recall the name from that second-hand Cortina or Montego they once bought from his car sales forecourt.
But now it’s “Sir Jack”, if you please.