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The Secret Millionaire

Nicola Mostyn gets teary-eyed at Moss Side’s mysterious benefactor

Published on August 7th 2008.

The Secret Millionaire

Thirty-year-old James Benamor is worth £77m. He's a self-made MD of a personal finance company or, as the Channel 4 website would have it, 'Managing Director of The Richmond Group, which looks after the financial needs of people who have been refused credit.' I don’t know much about big business, but I do know that you don’t get to be worth £77m by looking after anything except your own bottom line.

James came back six weeks later to check how his money had improved things. In a sick way I would have loved the camera to catch Ann hammered on champagne cocktails wearing a tiara, but of course she was just hard at work setting up the roof garden and computer room for her lads.

This is sort of the point, actually. James is not a wholly un-likeable person despite his personal finance career and his resemblance to Timothy Claypole from Rentaghost, but he is very much a businessman and, as such, a bit of a cold fish. So it’s going to be a challenge for him to ditch the sports car, clamber into a Nissan Sunny and head for Moss Side, where he’ll spend 10 days posing as a youth worker to find causes worthy of his coffers.

His attitude seems a little dubious. On Manchester, with its knife and gun crime problem, he says, “It’s got one of those reputations, hasn’t it? Which is good [erm, no James, it isn’t good. People are dying]. I didn’t want anything easy.”

At first James randomly takes to the streets to chat to local youths. Equipped with a camera crew and a lame story about looking for volunteering work to do, the kids decide he’s the FEDs. At least he didn’t get shot, though I get the impression Channel 4 might have rather liked that.

Then James finds Manchester Settlement, a place which helps young people to get an education. “Don’t you want to do well in your GCSEs and do well in a job?” James asks a small ginger lad. “Nah,” he retorts. “I just want to get paid. You went to school and got GCSEs and you aren’t earning money, ’cos I’ve seen your car!” James was stumped, but short of fetching his Lotus and running the little git over, there wasn’t much he could do.

Though impressed by Manchester Settlement, James still seems to be having trouble getting his head round the point of helping people for free. “Purely giving your time to a project that someone else has organised…” he says, as though he’d just discovered a new, curious life form…”I don’t know… .”

If Manchester Settlement bemused him, Copperdale in Wythenshawe must have blown his mind. A huge house for off-the-rails boys, the place is run by saints in human form, Ann and Terry, whom I immediately wanted to adopt me. Perhaps I should steal a car. Ann gave us a lovely metaphor for the lads using a plant – all prickly on the outside but then they unexpectedly bloom. They have a sense of humour, this pair. “The lads always help with the neighbours, say if they forget their keys. They’re very good with locks.” Not sure how reassuring that is, actually.

Anyway, James, still looking for a youth group which runs like a business, heads off to the library, to find out about more worthy causes and possibly look up the fundamentals of human emotion.

Here he finds out about Mothers Against Violence (MAV), a group of women who have all lost a child to violence in the city. He chats to Miranda whose 19-year-old son was killed. “I used to cut his hair,” she says and that’s it, James is off, blubbing like a good ’un. Miranda is understandably a tad confused since she thinks that James is a hardy youth worker who has seen it all and not some robotic finance mogul who has just, like the tin man, discovered he does have a heart.

Needless to say, by the end of his 10 days James has thawed out and begun to understand the concept of helping other people. And then it's time to reveal his true identity and hand out the moolah!

It was probably worth every penny of the £35 grand to see the look on the little ginger lad's face when he found out that this tosser with the Nissan Sunny was actually a millionaire several times over. Ann and Terry were naturally stunned and overjoyed and it all got very emotional when he handed the woman from MAV a cheque for £50,000.

James came back six weeks later to check how his money had improved things. In a sick way I would have loved the camera to catch Ann hammered on champagne cocktails wearing a tiara, but of course she was just hard at work setting up the roof garden and computer room for her lads. Bless her soul.

Manchester Settlement had taken their students, ginger one included, on an outdoor adventure event and MAV had used some of the money to visit schools to try to stop the spread of violence. All was looking good.

James was changed, too. No longer wanting to stomp the competition into oblivion, he now felt that everyone should be a volunteer.

No doubt he will now go on to visit all those families he flogged loans to and help them get back on their feet? Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s going to do.

The Secret Millionaire, Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

PiotrAugust 7th 2008.

You also wonder how quickly he was rumbled. the property developer in Salford last year was tagged within an hour or so, and the number of conversations happening around the lads' club about how much to take him for were most amusing.

AnonymousAugust 7th 2008.

Have a look at Penman & Sommerlad's page (29) in todays (7/8/8) Daily Mirror it explains how he made a lot of the money !!!!! from Advantage Loans

Karen HandsAugust 7th 2008.

You're right. the programme seemed honest in it's intentions but you do worry about the editing.

Jim DAugust 7th 2008.

Brilliant writing and spot on

EWAugust 7th 2008.

Oh, get over yourselves... Nicola's writing is fantastic. It's erudite and funny, and ManCon's never tried to advertise itself as a bastion of investigative journalism.Plus, Nicola's review does touch on the more sentimental and heartwarming side to the programme.At the end of the day, it's only feckin telly...

DavidAugust 7th 2008.

Nicola, a well written article that will no doubt help to further your career, but you really don't have to be cynical about everything. I know that it is all too easy to do! I have seen the programme many times, including this particular one, and think that it is a great series - although if you are not careful,one that is all too easy to knock, as you have just proved!

secret squirrelAugust 7th 2008.

Google James Benamor and you get some very "interesting" results...

AnonymousAugust 7th 2008.

I didnt watch the show... but i hear he was a loan shark...

GenevieveAugust 7th 2008.

Hilarious! 'Ann hammered on champagne cocktails wearing a tiara'..classic! Thoroughly enjoyed this article! Brilliant comical take on a fab/thought provoking programme! Money AND fun make the world go round so cheers for providing the fun element Nicola x

AnonymousAugust 7th 2008.

I'd never seen 'Secret Millionaire' until I watched the Moss Side programme. Having just read Nicola's cynical review of the programme however, I'm wondering if we actually watched the same thing? The bottom line is that James Benamore was able to donate valuable funds into three vital community lifeline projects within Greater Manchester. It's irrelevant that he runs a (legal) finance company or that he was once a former 'bad lad'. Without his donations and commitment to finding out in his own style (business like or not) about the projects, none would have received additional funding. Nicola's article ignored that Benamore also promised 'the ginger lad' (Aden) and his colleagues fully paid youth experience placements if they achieved just 1 GCSE pass. Let's hope they all manage to achieve that aim. You never know - maybe one or two of them might turn into journalists who write balanced television documentary reviews.

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