x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Packer's £100,000 plate of platters

Television magnate who revolutionised the game of cricket was 'amazing person'. David Spencer could have had no better mentor.

David Spencer could have had no better mentor in the world of sports marketing than Kerry Packer, the Australian television magnate who employed him as a teenage "cadet". Spencer was one of Packer's right hand men when the world of international cricket was turned upside down by the advent of his rebel World Series Cricket.

"I'll never forget that first match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, nobody knew that the Australian and West Indian players were going to come out wearing coloured strips for the first time in history," he said. "It was such a well-kept secret and the whole crowd - it was packed - were stunned. Mr Packer was such a perfectionist that he had every detail carefully planned for the launch of his World Series but he was like that in everything he did."

Spencer not have a wrong word said about the controversial media and gaming tycoon, r who died in 2005 leaving a fortune of AU$6.5 billion (Dh20bn). "I was in awe of him at the time and I still am," he said. "He put my in charge of his alpine skiing and equestrian business when I was only 21 because he wasn't happy with the way things were being run and he then helped me set up my own sports marketing business and soon became my best customer.

"I kept in touch with him after I left and always arranged his golf for him because he was fanatical about his golf. He was an amazing person to work for, very fair, interesting and dynamic. "He was the working man's hero from a sporting point of view, although in some ways he was a misunderstood character." Spencer, now 47, recalls one of his last meetings with Packer when he and a group of friends tried to establish the truth of some of the many tales attributed to one of the world's richest men.

"One of the most frequently told stories about him was the time he got irritated by an American from Texas bragging about how much money he had," he said "Mr Packer said to this guy 'How much are you worth?'. The American mentioned some large figure and Mr Packer responded immediately 'I'll toss you for it!'. That one is true. "Another incident that I now know actually occurred was when he and a polo party he was with wanted to get some food after playing a match in England.

"They all stopped at a pub, but the landlord refused to serve them because they were about to close. "Mr Packer asked again, saying 'we only want some ploughman's platters' but was still turned away, so he took his group to the next pub down the road. "Again it was closing time but this time the landlord made them welcome. Mr Packer was so pleased that he wrote the landlord a cheque for £100,000 (Dh680,000) for the food and drinks, but only on the strict understanding that he showed it to the guy at the other pub before he banked it."

It is easy to be fooled into thinking that Spencer is a compatriot of Packer, but his own Aussie twang is false and was "put on" to avoid being taunted by schoolmates after his family emigrated from Boston, USA. "You know what the Aussies can be like, so I thought it better to be one of them," he added. "My dad couldn't understand me when I deliberately changed my accent. But it was the only way an eight-year-old could survive."

@Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae