The Chinese Property Magnate was a big deal for the charity. He was the only donor that they’d had in their early days and the strategy from hereon seemed to be to fight over who was best placed to milk him for more.
No-one seemed to like him very much, though. And he didn’t seem to have any sort of personal connection to anyone in or around the charity in return. It took me a good six months to get anyone to admit that it was a now-deceased Trustee who had extracted that million from him in the first (and currently only) instance.
It took a considerable amount of time to make contact with him. The enticement was a dinner in his honour that was to be combined with the launch of our fundraising efforts for the next five years. The challenge was, of course, to get him there. And it was also to ensure that he wasn’t the only person in attendance given his status as Prospect Number One of One.
There was a crazy person on the phone. They’d rung twice already but had seemingly dropped the receiver at their end at the shock of my having answered. At the third attempt, The Chinese Property Magnate managed to remember how telephones worked and introduce himself. We stumblingly arranged lunch for a week or so’s time in a conversation where he got my name wrong throughout and where he reminded me that he wasn’t his own brother numerous times too. Jubilation ridiculously broke out around the office whilst I tried and failed to explain to them that he sounded like he was on his last legs.
The lunch was nothing short of a disaster. It was in one of those Mayfair Restaurants that look and feel genuinely Tudor in their design but where the menu and service is wholly 1970s. The whole place smelt of fish and cabbage and the waiters, bedecked in stained burgundy livery, seemed to expect a tip for every swoosh of the linen. He was half an hour late, was clearly deeply disappointed that I wasn’t, in fact, either the Chairman or the Chief Executive and promptly fell asleep during his main course. I quietly but firmly asked him if he wanted to go outside for some fresh air (or an early taxi) but he blubberingly roused himself, said “You’re OK. You’re a good guy” and tucked back into his ridiculously large portion of chateaubriand, whilst allowing rivulets of gravy to cascade down his rather yellowing shirt.
I went straight home afterwards. I’d had a couple of glasses of red wine with my rack of lamb and the thought of explaining the pitfalls of this One Donor Prospect Strategy where the prospect in question is literally expiring in front of our eyes and where he clearly doesn’t recall what our organisation does and who represents it, made me just want to go back to bed. Which I did.
Planning for the dinner powered ahead. The main fight was between the Chairman’s Wife, The Project Manager and The Beahive. It was deeply unclear to me whether they were fighting over who they thought the best person to attempt the next extraction was, whether they were eyeing up their next husband or whether they were just enjoying the sparring. Sparring that was recounted to me by each of them after every bout with the introductory line of “I know she’s only trying to help but…..”.
They were all to sit on the top table with Him (I had placed myself as close to the exit as possible) and there was some sort of strategy about when to ‘do the turn’ and when, perhaps, to swap places so that they could each have a crack at him. Gross, I thought.
The day came and the event was in a venue a train journey away from the centre of town. I had a couple of drinks at the bar of the outgoing station and sat in a carriage that I hoped none of my colleagues guessed housed me.
Everything had been set up by the time I got there and there was nothing left to attend to apart from waiting for the guests to arrive and thank the assembled catering staff for the glass(es) of champagne that they were offering.
We had managed to assemble a roomful of what can best be described as ‘fillers’ to convince The Chinese Property Magnate (if he noticed anything beyond his distended belly and his bottle-bottomed glasses) that he was in the correct company. I took something of a backseat whilst The Chairman’s Wife, The Project Manager and The Beahive jostled for the position to ‘meet and greet’. They had now been joined by the Committee Chair, an imposition that the previous three finally joined forces to summon their collective disdain for.
The Chinese Property Magnate managed to get through the first 30 minutes of the event before collapsing at the drinks reception. The foursome loomed over him, against the protestations of the Designated First Aider who’s approach to the situation consisted solely of ‘give him some space” – something that the foursome were in no mood for doing. Indeed, the Committee Chair was now on her hands and knees furiously rubbing his chest panting “come on now, come on now”.
As he was hauled into an ambulance, another 30 minutes later, he waved goodbye to each of the foursome from his nursery-style white-blanketed gurney, addressing each of them by name – something that they seemed thrilled about whilst ignoring that he had diligently attributed the wrong name to each.
And he was gone. The dinner went on. We didn’t secure a bean from it. He was dead six months later.