The Lady Taverners rise again as Phoenix

Rachael Heyhoe Flint

Rachael Heyhoe Flint - Credit: PA

Maybe some of you saw the article in the Sunday Telegraph by Hayley Dixon telling of the utterly ruthless and unnecessary demise of the Lady Taverners brand, the very successful fundraising arm of the Lords Taverners.

It appears that this was done without extensive and careful discussion with the members.

The members, who since the 1980s, have raised more than £12 million to help disadvantaged, mentally and physically disabled children to have a sporting chance in life.

The Lady Taverners were launched in 1980 with Margaret Thatcher as member number one.

I had first become aware of the Lords Taverners in 1981, when I had my boat business in Barbados, and I met the lovely Fred Rumsey, who had a group of Taverners on one of his holiday trips to watch the cricket and have fun – and thanks to Fred, they hired my boats for the day.

Fred then introduced me to the legendary Captain Tony Swainson, who was then running the charity with only one or two members of staff from a couple of rooms in St James’s.

When I came back to the UK and became financial controller at Lord’s for the National Cricket Association, I was invited by Tony Swainson to join the Lady Taverners, and so I became member 209 in the mid-1980s.

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It was the start of over 35 years of the most brilliant fun and the forging of unbreakable friendships.

When I started my own sports sponsorship, marketing and publicity agency, I was able to assist in the fundraising by introducing clients to sponsor events, including the Hall of Fame of Cricket sponsored by Guinness and The Mail on Sunday YOU Magazine (thanks to Harvey Mann), which gathered together 66 of the greatest ever cricketers to have played for England followed by an outstanding lunch at Lord’s.

Across the country the charity, and in particular The Lady Taverners, flourished with new regions being set up and all of them becoming big fundraising contributors.

I have sat on the Lady’s Council and was voted in as a trustee of the Lord’s Taverners charity by the membership, which I considered a great honour.

In 2009, I secured President Bill Clinton to come to London to speak at one of our events and Denise Horne, chairman of the Lady Taverners at the time, incredibly got the event sponsored – a huge achievement.

What is totally missed by the Lord’s Taverners arm of the charity, is that in my numerous discussions to secure President Clinton to come and support our event, is that he only agreed to come because it was a female charity raising funds for mentally and physically disabled children.

It was made clear that he would not come to support a cricket charity. He may have been a Rhodes scholar but he had no interest in cricket!

We sold out the tickets in 24 hours and obviously, it was a hugely successful event and raised a lot of money.

However, there is a dark side to everything, which I found out when I became a trustee.

At the time, the wonderful Baroness Rachael Heyhoe Flint was the Lady Taverners’ president. She was a truly exceptional woman.

It became clear that the Lord’s had been flagging the disbanding of the Lady Taverners on their agenda for some considerable time.

Maybe insecure about our success – who knows?

This was a red rag to Rachael and her eloquent protests were rarely treated with respect. 

The last straw for me was the decision to sell our very valuable head office, adjacent to Buckingham Palace, which had been gifted to us, was sold without debate with the membership - are you starting to see a pattern? - in favour of renting in Central London... imagine the overheads.

So, I resigned. Rachael fought on and tried so hard against all the adversity up until her very sad passing.

Now the Lord’s have had their way and the Lady Taverners brand is no more – and hundreds have resigned.

But we are an indomitable bunch and thanks to a very special group have risen again as Phoenix Events, where we will stage fundraising events and chose a different charity to benefit from each one.

Our first was a week ago at Mosimann’s in London. It was a wonderful testament to the power of female friendship.