Magazine article The Spectator

To Become Famous by Being Killed, Be a Rich Man in Football (Not Even a Player)

Magazine article The Spectator

To Become Famous by Being Killed, Be a Rich Man in Football (Not Even a Player)

Article excerpt

No man knows how people will treat his demise, but in the next world Matthew Harding may be a little surprised about the coverage which newspapers have devoted to his death last week in a helicopter crash. In life the vice-chairman of Chelsea was not a very famous man, even though he had made a great deal of money. I happened to have heard of him only because my eightyear-old son is a Chelsea supporter. But I would guess that until last week about 98 per cent of my fellow countrymen were unaware of his existence.

In death the newspapers, broadsheet and tabloid, set out to make a hero of Mr Harding. The Sun devoted its first five pages to him, banishing its page three girl to an inferior spot on page seven. The Daily Star made a similar sacrifice. The Daily Mirror cleared six pages, and printed Auden's beautiful poem `Funeral Blues.' The Daily Mail 'splashed' Mr Harding's death on its front page, and ran a double-page spread inside. The Daily Express made over its first four pages. The broadsheets were scarcely less enthusiastic, regarding this as a story of general interest which must be covered in great detail outside the sports pages. Solemn obituaries were written, background features hastily thrown together.

I don't want to be rude about Mr Harding but it is difficult to understand why his tragic passing should be considered an event of national significance. What had he done? He had made a fortune - up to 170 million according to some estimates - but the newspapers were on the whole uninterested in how he had achieved this. His claim to fame, so far as they were concerned, was that he had invested many millions of pounds in Chelsea, a club to which he was fanatically committed. This is something for which Chelsea fans, including my eight-year-old son, are rightly grateful, but it hardly qualifies him for the role of national hero.

I don't deny that his death was a `good story', and the broadsheets would have been heartless if they had not covered it properly. There was the added interest of Mr Harding having left behind a wife and children in Sussex and an Ecuadorean girlfriend called Vicky Jaramillo plus a `lovechild' in Richmond. This raised the possibility, particularly fascinating to the tabloids, of a contested will, which we may not have heard the last of. All the same, Mr Harding's passing scarcely seems to justify more coverage in our newspapers than one can remember anybody's death receiving in recent times.

There are two explanations, and they have to do with class and football. Unfortunately Mr Harding was not by birth a man of the people, but the tabloids were determined to show him as one. His father was a Lloyd's underwriter -- which is to say he must have had a good deal of capital. The young Matthew was packed off to Abingdon School, a public school which, if not famous, has high academic standards. Somehow Matthew Harding escaped the net, leaving with only one A level. His career was dull for a while, as one might expect of a public schoolboy so little qualified to do very much, until he met Ted Benfield, an insurance broker, who offered him a job.

None of this could be allowed to jeopardise Mr Harding's role as working-class hero. According to a Mr Paul Diggins, quoted in the Sun, `He was Mr Chelsea. …

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