The Observer wrote a long piece ‘Wealth, Hope and Charity’ listing the philanthropic habits of Britain’s wealthiest, profiling some of the best givers among the rich. Among those listed was the 31-year old George Michael. The author extracted the figures from The Millionaire Givers, published by the Directory of Social Change in London. Published on December 11, 1994.
Here’s part of the intro and the section on George:
Fund-raising folklore has it that when former Ladbrokes boss Cyril Stein was on a routine business flight he heard there was a little girl on the plane who needed a 45,000 liver transplant. Immediately stumping up 15,000 himself, he managed to raise the remainder from fellow travellers. In the United States this multiplier effect is already well known. One reluctant benefactor described the experience of being solicited to make a donation ‘like being mugged by a gang of billionaires’. But for the rich themselves, charity is precious too. It enables them to acquire a few of the things that money, conventionally, cannot buy: social standing, self-respect, even-remembering those name plates – a touch of immortality. For others, it is like the repayment of an old debt, as they put back into society a little of what they have won from it.
However, the most striking finding revealed by in-depth studies of the philanthropic habits of Britain’s millionaires is how remarkably ungenerous, as a bunch, they are (the individuals cited in this article being among the glaring exceptions). It is easy to become star-struck by the number of noughts involved, but if you take giving as a proportion of wealth owned it is clear that the rich are considerably less beneficent than the rest of us. Research published by the Charities Aid Foundation in September found the average person gave over 20 a year to charity – which far outstrips recorded donations by the country’s richest 500. The wealthy may give larger sums away, but they give a lot less of what they have. Put another way, the more wealth is allowed to concentrate in the hands of a few, the smaller the proportion that finds its way to charity. What is more, the available evidence suggests that during the boom years of the 1980s charitable giving by wealthy people may well have declined. Certainly, there has been a dramatic plunge since the early 1980s in the creation rate of new charitable foundations – by far the preferred method of giving by the rich. But why?
A clue to the answer is supplied by Franklin’s nostrum about the only certain things in life being death and taxes. Rich people spend a lot of time trying to protect their wealth from both. Establishing a charitable foundation, which is exempt from paying tax, can be a way of retaining control of part of your fortune, if only for a time. Eventually, of course, it will be given away to charity, but in the meantime the donor can see his or her money used for a preferred purpose rather than pay a large part of it in income, capital gains or inheritance tax.
Tax reliefs mean that the steeper the rates of taxation, the cheaper it is In effect for the rich to give to charity. (The arithmetic is easy: If you pay tax at 40 per cent, it only costs you 60p to covenant a pound to charity.) With the sweeping cuts in the direct tax burden on the wealthy in the 1980s, it Is hardly surprising that there was less incentive to set up foundations. A cursory glance at the lives of the super-rich in this country is also enough to show how sophisticated their schemes for avoiding tax now are. Many of Britain’s richest families conserve generational wealth In family trusts.
It is no wonder that some of the few really generous givers among the rich consciously try to distance themselves from the charitable cliches. George Soros once said: The truth is … I detest foundations In the conventional sense. My motive has never been charity.’ And George Michael, who has regularly donated half a million in the last few years, puts it even more bluntly: ‘Everyone’s got pissed off listening to celebrities patting each other on the back saying how generous they are being. And they are right to.’
Perhaps, then, the public is beginning to realise that the fabulous wealth that cascades down on Britain’s private elite Is carefully dammed up before It can flow much further. By the time It reaches the fifth of the country’s families that are low-paid or unemployed, and the charities that toil on their behalf, it really is no more than a trickle.
George Michael – £428,000
Preference: Disability, children, medicine
Wealth: £ 25 million – £ 50 million
Trust Links: Platinum Trust, Platinum Overseas Trust
Company Links: Nobby’s Hobbies Holdings
On the grounds of the donations he has made through the Platinum Trust, George Michael can justifiably claim that: ‘I’ve given away a substantial percentage of what I’ve earned.’ He set up this charitable grant-maker under his real name of Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in 1990, the same year as his second solo album – Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 – topped the UK charts. Over the ensuing four years he has paid £ 2 million into the trust fund, which has made grants totalling £ 1.3 million. These gifts have been mainly directed at children with special needs, along with mentally and physically handicapped adults requiring special attention. Recipients in 1992-93 included the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (a total of £ 24,000), Breakthrough Trust ( £ 15,000) and People First ( £ 7,500).
Since March last year, however, Michael has made no further payments into the trust fund. The Platinum Trust is no longer in a position to accept new applications, as any remaining income is to be allocated to organisations it has previously funded. Michael’s future income is at present veiled in a cloak of uncertainty due to his ongoing legal proceedings against Sony Music. This does not necessarily mean that George Michael’s philanthropic activities have ceased, as we have found another possible outlet. He founded the Platinum Overseas Trust in September 1991 with the primary aim of promoting research into, and treatment of, leukaemia, cancer, Aids and associated diseases and also to advance general education and public concern regarding these ailments.
- George Michael’s Acts of Charity
- George Michael Interview on Q Magazine (June 1988)
- List of Charities George Michael Supported
- George Michael Interview in Blitz Magazine (June 1988)
- George Michael: The Long Goodbye (US Weekly, 1991)