Thursday 21 June 2018

Obituary: Gerry McGuinness

Businessman and founder of the 'Sunday World' newspaper lived a glamorous life, writes Liam Collins

STYLISH: Gerry McGuinness, pictured at the height of his career,
STYLISH: Gerry McGuinness, pictured at the height of his career,

Gerry McGuinness used to say that he got one piece of advice from his father: "If you can buy it or sell it, it's worthless. The only three things that are priceless are your health, your friends and the love of your children."

His health deserted him in his final years, but his funeral in Donnybrook last week was a testament that at least he achieved the last part as the attendance included his two former wives, two partners, and five children who spoke glowingly from the altar about their father.

McGuinness, who died last Tuesday at the age of 79, was described in his death notice as "entrepreneur, father, pilot, golfer, artist, poet and friend" although he was best known as one of the founders of the Sunday World newspaper, which was first published in 1973.

Unlike the majority shareholder in the business, Hugh McLaughlin, who sold his entire stake to Independent Newspapers for £1.2m (€1.5m) within two years, McGuinness took a lump sum but also negotiated an 'option' to sell his remaining shares based on profits and the value of the company at his choosing.

"You are really something. You got all my money and you still own the business," colleague Tony O'Reilly told him.

He got £2.8m (€3.5m) in 1982 when he sold his remaining stake and became chief executive of the publishing company Sunday Newspapers and a member of the board of what became Independent News & Media until his retirement in 2002.

Born into a family of four in Dublin on May 1, 1938, McGuinness was educated at Terenure College and got his first job as a house manager in the enormous Carlton cinema in O'Connell Street before it was divided into multiple screens.

While working there between 1958 and 1963, he came to the attention of Hugh McLaughlin who was running a publishing operation out of the Creation Arcade in Grafton Street, Dublin, publishing a woman's magazine called Creation and later Woman's Way, the Farmers Journal and Business & Finance.

Hired by McLaughlin as business manager, McGuinness sold a house left to him by his grandfather in Ballina, Co Mayo, to raise the cash to take a 5pc stake in the business. They got their 'big break' when they did a deal with Clive Carr, proprietor of the News of the World, to print the Irish edition of the newspaper in return for a stake in the Creation Group and the title of chairman.

Borrowing £150,000 from Ulster Bank, Creation moved from central Dublin to a large printing plant on Botanic Avenue, Glasnevin.

In the meantime, Rupert Murdoch bought the News of the World from Carr and had no interest in printing in Ireland, so the Creation Group ended up with a lot of spare printing capacity and huge debts. It would later go into liquidation, leaving a large number of irate creditors.

A debonair figure around Dublin, McGuinness drove a flashy Mercedes, got bit parts in films and played in a band with Jim Doherty at dances he ran in Templeogue Tennis club.

At the age of 28, he married the beautiful pop singer Alma Carroll, who was 17 years old at the time.

Looking for ways to keep the Creation printing presses humming, McLaughlin and McGuinness started a venture called Sunday Newspapers to publish a new tabloid.

McLaughlin held 51 shares, McGuinness had 37, John Coughlan, publisher of New Spotlight Magazine had eight shares and Tom Butler, then a director of Drimnagh Motors, held four.

The Sunday World was launched on the March 25, 1973, with Joe Kennedy - who now writes the Country Matters column for the Sunday Independent - as its first editor. Despite much pessimism in Dublin journalistic and financial circles, the paper was an immediate success.

The product was sexy, irreverent, filled with celebrity gossip, true crime, pictures of scantily clad girls and a strong sports section. It was also sold around the pubs on a Saturday night.

'The World', as it was known, was launched with a huge marketing campaign and the risque slogan 'Are You Getting it Every Sunday?'

McGuinness once, tongue in cheek, told a conference he was the Lew Grade of the newspaper business. "I get together, as he does in the London Palladium on a Sunday night, a TV star and a pop star and a bunch of naked women, and we call the whole mixture the Sunday World."

Condemnation from the Catholic Church, sometimes from the pulpit where some members of the congregation had the paper wrapped inside a more respectable Sunday publication, only served to boost sales still further.

Father Brian D'Arcy told the congregation at the funeral that McGuinness himself wrote an anonymous letter to the Bishop of Cork telling him to denounce "that rag" and the bishop issued a directive to his parish priests to do so the following Sunday. Sales in Cork soared.

From the beginning, it was anti-establishment and broke important political, crime and social stories. Its success was also based on provocative and celebrity columnists who included Kevin Marron, Liam MacGabhann, Micheline McCormack, Sam G Smyth, Gay Byrne and Fr D'Arcy.

McGuinness himself wrote a business column under the non de plume 'The Chairman' which often featured figures from the new Marbella set where he now mingled with wealthy Irish 'expats' like Stephen 'Wheels' O'Flaherty, founder of the Irish Volkswagen dynasty, Joe 'Tayto' Murphy who made a fortune out of crisps and the actor Sean Connery. He later became disenchanted with the lifestyle along the Spanish 'gold coast' and the influx of tourists and criminals, and after buying and selling three Spanish properties, he bought a house in the west of Ireland.

"I'm only in business to make money. I don't want to be a senator or a politician or have statues of myself. Commercial success is necessary to live the lifestyle I want," he would later tell Ivor Kenny in a rare interview.

The lifestyle included driving a Rolls-Royce to the Sunday World plant in Terenure, owning a helicopter, jetting around the world playing golf and drinking fine wines, although he claimed he abstained from alcohol for two days every week for health reasons.

McGuinness and Alma Carroll - who had two sons, Gerry and Mark, together - separated after 12 years of marriage and later divorced. McGuinness admitted that the failure of the marriage "was the major regret" of his life. He had another son, Gary, with Sandra Cummins before marrying Deborah Wickins, the daughter of a wealthy English motor dealer he met in Sandy Lane in 1985. They had two children together, Kerri and David. Alma Carroll later married the founder of the Penneys chain, Arthur Ryan. The two couples became friends and socialised together.

With his new wealth, McGuinness moved from a home in the Georgian Village in Castleknock to a Gandon villa, Emsworth, in Kinsealy where his neighbours included Charlie Haughey, who lived across the road in Abbeville.

The success of the newspaper also encouraged the then proprietor of Independent Newspapers, Tony O'Reilly, to appoint McGuinness deputy chairman of the controversial exploration company, Atlantic Resources. However, McGuinness remained a canny operator and never over-stretched himself financially like many others who were caught with large holdings in the oil company when the share price collapsed.

A colourful character, he spent much of his leisure time playing golf in The Castle golf club in Rathfarnham, Enniscrone, in Co Sligo and Las Brisas in Marbella. Later in life, he sold Emsworth and lived between Dublin and the west of Ireland with his final partner, Heather Tighe.

Fr D'Arcy, his friend of many years, told mourners at his funeral that for a man of such style, who swam daily, played golf and looked after himself, Parkinson's disease robbed him of speech and movement, two of the things he treasured most, for the last three years of his life. "I didn't think he would have ever accepted that, but I underestimated the man. He accepted it with dignity," said Fr D'Arcy.

"Gerry McGuinness didn't lead a boring life. He loved beautiful ladies, fast cars and playing golf with James Bond," said his eldest son Gerry.

Gerry McGuinness's funeral took place at Donnybrook Church last Thursday, and he was buried afterwards in Deans Grange Cemetery. He is survived by his children and three sisters.

Sunday Independent

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