Friday 21 October 2016

Obituary: Krish Naidoo Miss Ireland promoter, nightclub owner

Born: September 7, 1943; died: October 8, 2015

Published 18/10/2015 | 02:30

Charity work: Businessman Krish Naidoo and wife of 40 years, Lelia
Charity work: Businessman Krish Naidoo and wife of 40 years, Lelia

While it had dozens of winners down the years, for a long time the Miss Ireland beauty pageant was synonymous with one name: Krish Naidoo. The South African-born businessman and philanthropist was closely associated with the competition here, holding the Miss Ireland licence for three decades, and serving as judge and international ambassador for its parent event, Miss World. But there was much more to Naidoo, who died last week.

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Born in 1943, he left his Apartheid-torn homeland 20 years later, because he felt that staying would limit his chances of a successful life. He told a South African newspaper: "The Irish gave me a good break, and I took chances. Unfortunately, if I had stayed in South Africa, with the bans of Apartheid, I don't think I would have had the opportunities that I had."

Having been a promising footballer in his youth, Krish even had trials with a then-powerhouse of the English game, Tottenham Hotspur. However, he was told by their legendary manager, Bill Nicholson - who led Spurs to the first League/Cup double of the 20th century - to "stick to your studies".

While Krish later served as an associate director with the club (and Nicholson became a friend and mentor), he followed this advice, thus embarking on a professional career that was as colourful as it was varied.

He studied science at Trinity College Dublin, then pre-medicine at Queen's University in Belfast. In 1967, Naidoo was involved in a serious traffic incident which left him unable to walk for nearly a year.

His business career took off in earnest when he set up Ireland's first unisex hair salon. After this, he worked as promoter and general manager for a Dublin-based nightclub company.

Krish soon found his own wings and set up Ireland's first "discotheque", Sloopy's in Dublin. He would go on to be a seminal figure in establishing the country's nascent club scene, owning some of the capital's best-known hotspots.

In 1978, he opened Ireland's first roller disco, Laurel Park in Bray; it was an instant success. The following year, Krish opened the Top Hat in Dún Laoghaire (later immortalised as the scene of the first Irish gig by a then-obscure American combo called Nirvana). In 1980, he purchased Barbarella's, on Fitzwilliam Lane, and Rumours on O'Connell Street two years later.

Krish also owned Daly's pub in Dublin, and Rosnaree Park Hotel in Drogheda, where he doubled the turnover. And he had an interest in, or ownership of, several other properties: Apple Annie, Why Not Club, Thee Place, Regines, Viperoom, Pal Joey. He credited his business success on good marketing, strict admission rules and a zero-tolerance policy on drugs.

From 1980 until 2010, Krish Naidoo held the licence for Miss Ireland, and was a tireless advocate for the pageant, often in the face of public indifference if not outright mockery. He once remarked: "If you stand on Grafton Street any Saturday, you can pick out at least 20 Miss Worlds. They're just scared to enter." He was a judge in the final rounds of Miss World for 2003, the year Rosanna Davison won the competition.

With that Tottenham connection from early on, Krish was also heavily involved in the business of football. Most recently, he served as chairman of Global Football Network, a UK-based company with offices in Brazil, Portugal, Norway and elsewhere. GFN source out-of-contract or otherwise available players for clubs, negotiate transfers and contracts, and arrange pre-season tours, among other services.

He had represented Trinity and QUB as a student footballer, and in the early 1960s, even spent three weeks at Real Madrid, studying their coaching and training systems. In 1983 he joined a tour of Swaziland with Spurs, and played for the Tottenham B team against Manchester United. Despite the opposition containing players of the calibre of Paul McGrath, Mark Hughes and Norman Whiteside, Krish's team crushed them 8-3.

After the Italia '90 World Cup, he was personal manager to Paul McGrath for a spell, and also represented a host of other players at times: among them John Aldridge, Mick McCarthy, Mark Lawrenson, Ossie Ardiles, Chris Hughton, Teddy Sheringham, and current Match of the Day host Gary Lineker.

Krish arranged pre-season friendlies and training camps in Ireland for Chelsea, Liverpool, Blackburn, Newcastle and of course, his beloved Spurs. He also served on the organising committee for testimonials for former Irish internationals.

Outside of football, he had a keen interest in the Korean martial art of tae kwon do. Having represented Ireland at a tournament in Scotland in the early 1970s, he was later instrumental in the formation of the Republic of Ireland Tae Kwon Do Association, and acted as PR for the Irish team at the 1999 World Championships in Canada.

As well as business matters, Krish Naidoo was heavily involved in charity work with his wife of 40 years Lelia (née Burke). The couple raised over €3m for children's charities in this country and worldwide. In 2004, he was elected to the board of the Heartbeat Trust, associated with St Vincent's University Hospital, which raised and administrated funds for heart failure research.

In 1970, Krish became an Irish citizen, and gave great credit to ex-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for assisting in that. "He was very helpful, full of advice and support," he said. "We became good friends and have remained so ever since. I found him to be the most honest person. He's truly a man of the people." Mr Ahern was among many well-known names to attend the funeral.

Others to pay their respects at the service were former Ireland soccer manager Brian Kerr, ex-players Chris Hughton, Gary Mabbutt, Liam Buckley and Pat Jennings, model agency boss Andrea Roche, and one-time Miss Ireland Amanda Brunker. Veteran sportswriter Cathal Dervan paid tribute by tweeting: "Saddened to hear of the death of Krish Naidoo, a great friend to Irish football and Irish footballers. Wednesday nights in Rumours! RIP."

Krish Naidoo once said that he wanted to make a success of his life, doing it his way, "which means courage and hard work". He passed away peacefully on October 8.

His funeral took place at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, followed by burial in Deansgrange Cemetery. He is survived by his wife Lelia and children Krishna, Rajah and Natalya.

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