Are these the eyes of happy mavericks or hard-nosed businessmen?
Saturday 13 December 1997
It was typically Chris to ask listeners to each send in some cash to help him buy it. "We have to buy the radio station by 19 November, otherwise we're out on our ear," he said "We need to get this sorted out - this is not a joke. If you can lend us pounds 50m quid between you, we need it."
Everyone had a good laugh about it and spokesmen dismissed it as a stunt. Less than a month later, Evans (above, left) announced that he had snaffled the station from under Capital Radio's nose, taking a majority share worth pounds 83m. He had got backing from Apax Partners and has just signed a deal worth pounds 25m for three years with Channel Four which means the new Ginger Media Group could become a reality. Quite a few people stopped laughing. Richard Branson (above right), who retained 45 per cent of Virgin Radio, said he had accepted Evans's bid because it appealed to the "maverick" in him.
The men have a lot in common: both cultivated that image, the outsider who hasn't lost touch with ordinary people, lives life to the full.and make their own lives their unique selling point.
Every time a straw poll is taken for a putative president of a British republic, Lord Mayor of London or whatever, Branson is always up there. People like his beard, his jumpers, his attempts to sail a balloon around the world including this week's debacle when the balloon sailed off without him (Branson and the Virgin logo were once again emblazoned all over the front pages). We like Branson because he says he wants to run the National Lottery on a not-for-profit basis or that he'll help come up with a solution for sport and tobacco sponsorship.
Without Branson, Virgin could not exist as it does: Branson is a walking, talking billboard - for himself. Yet at the same time the friendly exterior conceals an astute business man who is said to be "demanding" to work for.
Ordinary people like to think less about the consumer's champion receiving bad marks from his passengers on Virgin trains where lateness and cramped conditions are all too frequent, or being accused of sexual harassment by a former American employee or when he failed to win the lottery bid.
The fact that he's the last man in the world you'd ask to get your balloon off the ground has so far done him no permanent damage.
Evans, for his part, has the image of radical funster and lager lad. But nobody could doubt that he is exceptionally driven and ambitious. Always an alert and bright child, he speaks of his father's death when he was just 13 as "the shotgun which started the race".
His obsessive nature started to drive him towards one particular ambition - to be a Radio 1 DJ. He planned things carefully from the time he haunted Timmy Mallett who gave him his first job in Piccadilly Radio. His first job in London was for Radio Radio also then owned by Richard Branson back in 1988. He was poached by GLR but his big break came on the Big Breakfast earlier in the decade. The success of his show Don't Forget Your Toothbrush and then TFI Friday meant he was continually called the broadcasting talent of the decade.
If Capital Radio lost out on Virgin because they didn't take Evans seriously, they have only themselves to blame. His company Ginger Productions is valued at pounds 30m. He sells his own and other people's programmes to Channel 4 and Talk Radio.
Now the newly formed Ginger Media Group is planning a programme on supermodels on Channel 4, a series on golf as well as various quiz show ideas. Media insiders say that Ginger's ability to manage talented creative people mean that more are likely to flock to them.
He may have spent most of his time with showbizzy blondes in the past but at this week's No 10 bash he was seen talking to a woman of a rather different type - Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of the ultimate media mogul. At the moment, for Evans the sky's the limit.
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