Thursday, 14 May 2009
Brian Burnie to sell Doxford Hall and give proceeds to charity
AT an age when most business tycoons plan to cash in on a lifetime of hard work and prepare to retire in luxury, Brian Burnie’s thoughts are far from feathering his own nest.
The Newcastle lad who started his working life aged 15 as a grocery delivery boy and built up a multi-million pound recruitment business would have every excuse for relaxing in his twilight years in the Northumberland country pile on which he has spent £16m transforming into one of the region’s most luxurious hotels.
But, just a few weeks from his 65th birthday, the multi-millionaire yesterday revealed plans to sell off Doxford Hall and Spa and its spectacular 10 acre estate and give the profits to charity.
Burnie wants to use the millions from the sale to establish and fund a Marie Curie/ Macmillan cancer nurse for north Northumberland and fund a set of bespoke vehicles to take cancer patients to and from hospitals.
“I have done the stately home bit and I am in the history books and now I want to give something back. While owning property and making money is important it is not as important as people,” he says.
“The biggest thing with most people is money but with me it is not. I want to give it up and do something more for others. I have been at Doxford since 1993 and I am ready now to find somewhere smaller to live, somewhere modern and easy to look after.
“We can all do something by leaving money to charity when we die, but why don’t we do something while we are still living? The days of Brian Burnie working are over. The days of Brian Burnie doing nothing but charity work are here.
“My ambition is to die penniless. We come into this world with nothing and we should leave with nothing, although,” he adds with a chuckle. “I don’t think my wife Shirley would let me do that.”
But while his decision to hand over his millions to those in greater need strikes a dissonant chord amidst headlines of overpaid bank bosses and penny-pinching MPs, this is no publicity stunt.
Mr and Mrs Burnie have built up an extraordinary reputation for philanthropy over the last 40 years, giving thousands of pounds to charities for cancer sufferers, inviting hundreds of war veterans to their home for meals and even spending their Christmas Days treating the less fortunate to a better celebration than they could have afforded themselves.
“We live in a ‘me, me, me society’ and it has always been important to me to think of others,” says Mr Burnie.
“I want to help cancer sufferers who have a desperate time getting to and from treatment, especially in north Northumberland. It is very traumatic for them. I want to help make their lives a little easier.
“The money from the profits of the hotel sale should go to establish and fund a cancer nurse and buy and run vehicles to take them to hospital for ever. The charitable trust is the whole reason for the hotel. I want it to be my legacy. My accountant thinks I’m mad. He said: ‘Brian, you’ve probably got the biggest heart in the world’. Unfortunately it’s in an old man’s body.”
His dedication to cancer charities and looking after local sufferers goes back decades but the effects of the disease were brought home to him four years ago when his wife contracted breast cancer.
Mrs Burnie, 60, made a full recovery, and far from living a grand lifestyle she looks after their Doxford House home and still works three days a week at Barter Books in Alnwick.
Mr Burnie hopes that the services provided by his charitable trust will inspire others at the top of the business world to follow suit. “It would be nice to think that this will mushroom across the country. I would love to see other people following what we are doing. I really hope they do.”