Obituary: Eddie Healey, entrepreneur
Eddie Healey, who has died at 83, was the fabulously successful yet deeply reclusive Yorkshire businessman who developed the Meadowhall shopping centre – one of the biggest in the UK – on land that had once housed Sheffield’s great steelworks.
The site at Tinsley, just off the M1, was derelict when he and fellow developer Paul Sykes brought it with the idea of creating new roles to replace the industrial jobs that had been lost to the city.
The completed centre opened in September 1990 and when it was sold nine years later to British Land for £1.17bn, Mr Healey found himself £420m better off.
It was not his first fortune. A decade earlier, he and his brothers were the driving forces behind Status Discount, a small decorating firm which evolved into Status DIY and was eventually sold to MFI for £30m.
It was a big venture from the smallest of beginnings. Mr Healey’s father, Stanley, had set up a corner shop selling painting and decorating supplies in Parrott Street, west Hull. By the time his sons had taken it forward, there were 63 Status branches across the North.
The story was already business folklore by the time Eddie Healey conceived the idea of a £100m shopping centre called Retail World, on the former Parkgate steelworks in Rotherham. The plans ran aground when Marks and Spencer, who were to the principal tenant, pulled out – prompting Mr Healey to join forces with Sykes, another wealthy developer. Meadowhall was the result.
It threw open its doors to a mix of shopping and leisure on an unprecedented scale. Its centrepiece, a food court known as The Oasis, featured a 1950s-themed restaurant in which waitresses danced on the tables, as well as its own TV studio, from which Yorkshire Television planned to make programmes. One of the few that materialised was the comedy pilot for what became The Mrs Merton Show.
The opening gala was televised on a giant video wall – one of the first of its kind in Britain – high above the tables in The Oasis, and Mr Healey’s lieutenants were given gifts of gold watches.
It was a gesture typical of a man whose generosity and patronage of charitable causes was matched only by his reluctance to talk about it.
Always a private man, he retreated even further from public life after a robbery in 1995 in which a masked gang held him and his family captive, bound and gagged, inside their palatial their home in Hull’s West Ella district.
It was also there that he threw some of the lavish parties for which he became known. In 1988 he paid £100,000 to fly the American singer Belinda Carlisle to England, and hired the comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson and disc jockey Dave Lee Travis for his daughter’s 21st birthday.
For his own 70th birthday party at the Dorchester in London, he spent £475,000, including £125,000 for a 45-minute set by the band Girls Aloud, and performances by comedians Russ Abbot and Bobby Davro.
And for the 50th birthday of his wife, Carol, he hired the pop group Eternal and the comedian Freddie Starr.
“Pop music is my hobby,” he told colleagues at Meadowhall, for whose launch party he personally supervised the choice of music.
But business remained his priority, and he managed to reproduce the magic of Meadowhall in the £500m Centro mall in Oberhausen, Germany – the largest such development in Europe.
He and his brother, Malcolm, who runs the giant Wren Kitchens operation in Barton-Upon-Humber, were listed as the 75th richest people in Britain with a combined fortune of £2.2bn.
Eddie and Carol Healey had five children. In 2005, their niece, Malcolm’s daughter Suzy, who ran an animal sanctuary in East Yorkshire, was strangled by her former fiancé, who was jailed for eight and a half years.