It would be nice to be so filthy rich that you could give untold amounts of inherited wealth away and still live the most extravagant life of reclusion yourself.
John Paul Getty Jr, who died the day before Good Friday at the age of 70, was a classic case. One of the richest of rich kids who almost wrecked his health through the drug addiction that eventually killed his second wife, Getty reinvented himself as a British gentryman and generous philanthropist. He even became a cricket fan.
The son and grandson of American multi-millionaire oil barons, Paul Getty had little interest in the family businesses. He did, in his twenties and thirties, have an interest in spending his share of the Getty millions on lavish parties, hippie culture, and hard drugs. The death of Getty’s second wife – and father of his fifth child, Tara Gabriel Galaxy Gramophone Getty – saw his disnheritance, during which time Getty had to beg his misanthropic father for a loan to pay the ransom for an elder son, Paul Getty III, kidnapped in Italy. The ransom was paid only after Paul III was returned with half an ear cut off.
In the money once more after the death of his grandmother, married a third time and converted to Roman Catholicism, Getty settled down to a reclusive existence in England to become a born-again country squire, buying his own manor at Wormsley in rural Buckinghamshire. He became the benefactor to a number of British institutions – the British Film Institute received almost twenty million pounds, the Imperial War Museum two million, St Paul’s Cathedral one million for restoration work. He gave to many art galleries, but the National Gallery was the biggest beneficiary of all – close to fifty million pounds. It was, however, suggested that his passion for buying and donating works of art was motivated initially by a desire to keep them away from his father’s own act of philanthropy, the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
During the lengthy miners strike in the depths of the Thatcherite years, Getty donated to a fund for the workers’ families. Seventeen years later, he donated five million pounds to another group of down-and-outers, the Conservative Party, following their hammering in the 2001 General Election. It was in 1998 that Getty’s ordainment as an English gentleman became complete. Given an honorary knighthood in the 1980s, he couldn’t call himself a Sir until he became a British citizen and was then re-knighted by the Queen.
Ironically, it was an old pal from Getty’s sex and drugs and rock and roll days, Mick Jagger, who introduced Sir Paul, as he was now known, to the game of cricket when he was nearly sixty years of age. Getty donated two million pounds to the MCC for rebuilding of the Mound Stand at Lord’s, and was president of Surrey County Cricket Club in 1995, for whom he donated funds to build an indoor cricket school. He bought the publishing company John Wisden & Co Ltd, which has produced the Almanack that has been the chronicle of the game every year since 1864. And he built a cricket ground, modelled on Surrey’s home The Oval, on his own property at Wormsley.
Getty’s indulgence as the cricket-loving English gentleman extended to the staging of a match at his ground every year between an invitation team of his choosing (with some help) and the touring international team of the time. The fixture was always held as a private affair, outside of the official tour schedules, and with invited guests only – no media, no members of the public. Long lunch breaks with plenty of tea and sandwiches for the players and guests was the order of the day. Getty, by now wheelchair-ridden and almost blind as the result of the chemicals of his youth, rewarded the touring cricketers by making a donation to their national cricket boards.
Although Getty himself had no inclination to become involved in the family oil business, or so it seems in genuine work at all, another of his five children, Mark, has had some degree of success in the world of media, notably as co-founder of the press photography agency Getty Images. Mark is also the business brains behind Wisden’s controversial attempts to corner the cricketing media market, having bought out their main rivals in the magazine (The Cricketer) and web (CricInfo) fields, and pandering to the lucrative Indian market with stunts such as 2002’s much-hyped “Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century” awards.
John Paul Getty Junior was born on 7 September 1932 and died in London of a respiratory illness on 17 April 2003.