A man who won't be labelled

Top rock bands sprang from his Chrysalis. Now the music maestro is banging the drum for sport. Paul Farrelly reports

Chris Wright, multi-millionaire record producer, sports fanatic and discoverer of the bands Blondie and Genesis, is hardly a soft touch. At 51, by his own admission, he is still intensely competitive, but he does not bear a grudge either.

Last Monday, a month after buying into the rugby club Wasps, he clinched control of Queen's Park Rangers, the London football club he fell in love with a quarter of a century ago. By Thursday, he had swapped his west London penthouse office, decked out with Andy Warhol prints and eccentric sculptures, for a Majorca hotel and a celebration break with Chelle, his American wife of 24 years' standing.

Not any old hotel. But Majorca's La Residencia, a 65-room mansion in Deya, an exclusive west coast resort, in a serene mountain and olive tree setting, a far cry from the roar at Loftus Road, home of QPR, or the lager louts down the road at Magaluf. And owned by Richard Branson, that other hippy-looking music type with whom he has long been compared.

The parallels still invite. Both sold their music labels to Thorn EMI a few years ago. Freed from legal shackles, both are now setting up again. For Wright's Chrysalis baby, now read Echo; for Branson's Virgin Music, read V2. Do the comparisons irk?

"I'll ask Richard. I'm just about to have dinner with him," Wright says. "Fifteen years ago, we were neck and neck, but now I reckon he's edged ahead." Friends? "We still regard ourselves as being extremely competitive. He's starting his new label, and after 25 years what does he do? Take my A&R man from Echo."

A grudge? No it's business and if Wright has lost Chrysalis, the label, he is still firmly in charge of Chrysalis, the company. He still owns 43 per cent of it, which makes him worth nearly pounds 60m in shares alone.

Wright, a farmer's son, was brought up in Lincolnshire and at the age of the three developed his first passion: for Grimsby Town football club. He headed for Manchester University, attracted by another great football team (first he supported United, then City). Here, music took over. As social secretary of the students' union in 1964 he was booking bands while running a blues venue, the J&J, and studying for a history degree.

"One night a week in an old Irish working men's club, we packed it to the rafters. I was doing very well. At the last minute, an agency there gave me a 'phone and a desk. I just drifted into it and after a while stopped trying to get a proper job," Wright says.

Dr Crock and the Crackpots was the first band to ask for the Wright treatment. Not even to psychedelic blues what Grimsby Town was to football, they disappeared without trace. A more successful outfit, Ten Years After, followed, and in 1967 Wright teamed up with Terry Ellis, who had promoted bands at Newcastle University. From a bedsit in west London, Chrysalis (Chris-Ellis) was born, signing and making stars of Jethro Tull and Procul Harum.

Wright has been responsible for a multitude of career launches including Genesis, Debbie Harry, Spandau Ballet and Ultravox. His songs go from Procul Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" in the early days to "Nothing compares 2U", Sinead O'Connor's haunting 1990 million-seller.

"Every time you break a new artist, it's a real high. But the early days were the most important," he says. "Some of the later artists got so successful, but they didn't really want it. They try to destroy themselves. Sinead O'Connor's band would have split up in two days if they hadn't had us to manage them."

If the 1960s and 1970s were good to Wright, the late 1980s were less so. An ill-judged expansion into the US plunged Chrysalis into losses and Wright's less than far-sighted bankers forced the sale of Chrysalis in stages to EMI for pounds 68m.

In the meantime, he had split from Ellis, floated on the stock exchange, and quickly regretted the short-sighted City treadmill. An early attempt to buy the company back (another parallel with Branson) was blocked by star US producer David Geffen.

"He'd bought 10 per cent of the company to force me to sell, but Chrysalis went to EMI instead. To be bloody minded, he wouldn't let the privatisation go through," Wright recollects. "But over the last couple of years I've learned to cope with the City. I'm more comfortable with it now."

To the banks the pounds 68m price looked big then, yet it shaded whiter than pale against the amounts pocketed by Branson, Island and Motown, independent labels that sold out later.

But White is not bitter; he freely admits that mishandling the US was the big mistake of his career. "Huey Lewis and the News had a clause in their contract that said if I reduced the size of the US company, they could go," he says. "I should have bitten the bullet earlier, downscaled and lost Huey Lewis. But you can't blame anyone else, just yourself at the end of the day."

Colleagues say Wright is cautious, a very private person and difficult to get to know. But he has the knack of picking good people and letting them run the show.

"When he's thinking through a decision, he talks to a lot of people to get all the possible angles," one colleague says. "But at the end of the day, it's very much a case of strong individuals running their own business. Chris is the unifying element."

Those businesses today include Heart FM and Galaxy regional radio, the new Echo label and a clutch of TV production companies that make Chrysalis the second largest independent programme-maker after Pearson, the old Thames TV.

Wright's love of sport played a key part in the reshaping. He is keen on tennis, playing at least three times a week, and owns a string of racehorses. His Culture Vulture was the first filly to win the French 1,000 Guineas. "I've also recently built up a fair collection of Post-Impressionist paintings," he says, as if to emphasise the "culture" bit.

Chrysalis first brought Indy Car racing and live Italian league football to British screens and is talking to BSkyB about basketball, featuring the team he owns, the Sheffield Sharks, which have just finished top of the UK league.

Chelle, who was doing the lighting at a rock'n'roll show in Sacramento when they met in 1969, has her own interests. But Tim, at 23 the eldest of the three children, has just finished producing an NBA basketball contract for Chrysalis in the US.

Wright gave up on poor old Grimsby Town when he moved south to London. He flirted with Chelsea before finally settling on their neighbours QPR in the playing days of Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis.

Wright has great plans for Ray Wilkins' current side, who were relegated to the First Division last season. Ambition, though, is tempered by the reality of the vast sums sloshing around football's highest reaches these days. And Wright remains a businessman first and foremost.

"Wasps can be the top rugby club in England and the world. The sky's the limit, but realistically it's lower for QPR," he says. "With the right attitude we can get back to the Premiership. If, for the sake of the fans, we can win the FA Cup one year, or the Coca-Cola Cup, or reach Europe, I would say we'd achieved something."

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Execution Trader

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global Rolling Spot FX, Comm...

Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game