Newsmaker: Good cause hunter - Sir Tom Hunter Sports goods magnate turned philanthropist

Georgina Lock

Make Poverty History has profited from his £260m fortune.

As one of Britain's richest men, Sir Tom Hunter is accustomed to being asked for money, but few appeals have been as persuasive as the one that came from scriptwriter Richard Curtis last year.

"He said: 'You've got kids; I've got kids. I don't want to be the one to explain to my kids that we had the opportunity to do something but didn't take it.'"

It was an argument that struck such a chord with Hunter that he wrote a cheque for £1m to the Make Poverty History campaign, of which Curtis is a prime mover.

But his relationship with the campaign and the issues behind it didn't end there, and since the initial meeting with Curtis, Hunter has also met Bob Geldof and provided support to the Live 8 concerts. And his growing knowledge of Africa and its hardships has prompted him to expand his philanthropic interests to include immunisation and education projects there.

As campaign supporters go, they don't come much better than Hunter. The Scotsman, who was knighted in June for services to philanthropy and entrepreneurship, is a self-made millionaire who in 1998 suddenly found himself £260m richer after selling his Sports Division retail chain.

His fierce patriotism meant there was no question of him leaving Scotland for a life on the beach - although, with a private jet to ferry him around, his upbringing now seems a world away. He grew up in the Ayrshire mining village of New Cumnock, cutting his teeth in his father's grocery shop, then striking out on his own selling shoes from the back of a van.

From there his fortune grew. But nothing had prepared Hunter for the shock of finding himself with a cheque for £260m and a postbag full of begging letters at the age of 37. As he puts it: "One week I was quibbling over paying a £20 invoice; the next I was preparing to put £10m into a charitable foundation."

He freely admits that at first his philanthropic tendencies sprang directly from the tax incentives that come with charitable gifts. But he soon realised how unfulfilling it was to give "to a country gala here or a pair of football boots there". So he set up the Hunter Foundation to take an investment approach to charity.

Hunter detests the implication that philanthropists simply "give their money away". In fact, he says he applies a business model and expects a return on his investment - judged, as with any investment model, using performance indicators.

He's not interested in "sticking-plaster" solutions; he wants to address the root causes of problems rather than mop up their effects. He is angry about the "morally outrageous and absurd" waste that sees 35,000 people in Scotland missing out on education and costing the taxpayer £100,000 a year each. Education is his main philanthropic focus.

Hunter decided that setting up a trust during his lifetime was the most effective way of using his immense wealth - better than emulating those who endow their money to a trust so that others decide how it is spent, or those who leave legacies.

Still only in his 40s, Hunter says he and his wife are determined to leave the world as they arrived - with nothing. Although they won't leave their children destitute, they also won't "burden" them with great wealth.

" I am very selfish and want to have fun," he admits. "And of all the business deals I have done, giving money to projects and seeing them work gives me the biggest buzz."

Although he insists it is not his place to tell other rich people what they should do with their money, he can't understand why they wouldn't want to spend it doing good: "They are missing out on a fantastic sense of fulfilment."

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