10 June 2011 The Jewish News
Sam Waley-Cohen has the golden touch, winning at everything he turns his hand to. He has just become the first amateur jockey for 30 years to win one of racing’s most coveted prizes, The Cheltenham Gold Cup, on Long Run.
Only two years into launching his new business, Portman Healthcare, he already has nine practices and employs 180 people.
And playing Cupid to his close friends, Prince William and Catherine Middleton, when they’d split up – well, he succeeded spectacularly there as well.
Sam, a dashing, dark-haired 29-year-old, will tomorrow be marrying party organiser Annabelle Ballin in a small village near Newbury.
The couple were given pride of place at the Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey, but Sam acknowledged there was no way his own wedding could live up to the scale and splendour of William’s and Kate’s.
“I don’t think the household cavalry will be there or parts of central London closed, but we’ll give it a good go to make it a big occasion. The love between the bride and groom – that we can replicate,” he smiled.
Immensely proud of his illustrious Jewish family, Sam says: “You stand on the shoulders of those who came before you. Historically, there has been a very strong connection between my family and the British-Jewish community.”
He has good reason to be proud. His great-grandfather, Sir Robert Waley-Cohen, was a senior figure in the British Shell oil company, a friend of Winston Churchill, and chairman of the United Synagogue. His grandfather, Sir Bernard, was Lord Mayor of London, and father, Robert, founded Alliance Medical in 1989 and sold it 18 years later for £600 million. He is also a successful owner and breeder of jump racehorses.
Sam says: “I think your heritage is incredibly important and where you come from, to some extent, helps determine where you want to go, so you stand on the shoulders of your ancestors, and I very much feel that. I enormously admire my great-grandfather and all that he achieved, and my grandfather, the Lord Mayor of London.
“I have a lot to live up to. You can only be the best you can, so I wouldn’t be so crass as to compare myself to those who have gone before me. That puts you under pressure to be something that Lady Luck may not provide you with, and for all these opportunities you do need a lot of luck.
“But the day I lie down in my grave I’d like to say, I was all that I could be. I took all my opportunities and made the most of what could be done. I give it a go, and have a lot of energy.”
Like his boyhood friend, Prince William, Sam loves to fly helicopters, though the two of them haven’t yet flown together. He said: “William and the search-and-rescue pilots are some of the greatest in the world, so it would be fun to fly in one of those helicopters.
“But for the same reason that I like being an amateur jockey, I prefer doing these things purely for enjoyment. I’m primarily a businessman, so flying and racing for fun are escapes from the commercial realities. Unlike William, I haven’t landed my helicopter in my fiancée’s dad’s garden, though I thought that was a very good move on his part.”
When Kate and William split up, Sam threw a party and invited them both – and the rest is history, though Sam refuses to take credit for their reunion.
He said: “I’m so glad they got back together. I think they’re a great couple. The truth is that you can’t get two people back together again, they get themselves back together, so that’s probably all there is to it. But yes, I was a matchmaker, because although they’d split up I invited both of them to my party, and the rest unfolded from there.
“Their wedding party was great fun and my own wedding won’t be able to match it, that’s for sure.
“But hopefully it’ll be an equally as smooth and happy occasion.”
He’s been with Annabelle for four years and they’re setting up home in a country cottage in Warwickshire to where they’ll escape.
Sam is heir to a £600-million fortune, but says: “It’s about the simple things in life actually, so we wanted a place that’s very earthy and down to earth, bit like the choice William and Kate have made in Wales.
“It’s great fun to enjoy the high moments, but actually it’s the moments of normality and intimacy that make life liveable. It’s the simple things between people that really count.
“Annabelle runs a catering company so she looks after me pretty well in the food department.”
The third of four children, Sam tragically lost his younger brother Tom to a rare form of bone cancer seven years ago. He says that Tom’s struggle and death forced him to realise how precious every second is, and he endeavours to make the most of every day.
His family have raised over £1 million for the children’s hospital in Oxford, where a ward bears Tom’s name.
His latest venture, named after his late brother, will provide start-up funds and advice for students who want to hold their own charitable events.
Sam’s business, Portman health Care, is flourishing, and he’s planning a spectacular honeymoon on the Amalfi coast.
Clearly on top of the world, his dark eyes shine with excitement and vigour when I ask him if he’s vain he laughs: “Unlike William I’m not losing my hair, I still have plenty of hair. Am I vain... Aren’t we all?”