Chek Whyte, The Man Who Fell In Love With Salford...
It's easy to see why people in Salford's down-at-heel Ordsall district took Anthony Whyte at face value when he told them he was a labourer looking for work. The likely lad, from Ilkeston, in Derbyshire, is what they'd describe on Regent Road as "the salt of the earth" - a rough diamond bearing the hallmarks of a colourful life and numerous scraps and scrapes. But what the community wasn't to know is that Anthony's real name is Chek, and he is the latest in Channel 4's line-up of Secret Millionaires. And, even though the cameras have long stopped rolling, Chek is determined the spirit and generosity of good Salford folk will continue to be repaid for a long time to come.
"I hadn't even heard of Salford before I took part in the programme," explains Chek - a self-confessed scruffy dude - over sausage sandwiches at the Hilton Hotel. "But I'll never forget how the people of the city looked after me. There I was, a flat-broke stranger, yet people invited me round for a meal and took me for a pint." Now in its second series, the Secret Millionaire takes a different high roller each week and parachutes them into a community with a cover story.
Chek built a multi-million pound construction empire having survived a tough childhood, expulsion from school and bankruptcy three times. He owns a Rolls Royce Phantom and two stately homes standing in more than 500 acres. But he took up residence in Nansen Street, Salford, telling people that he was a labourer looking to earn £7 an hour. His cover story was that he was helping a film crew record a documentary about community life and inadvertently found himself at the centre of an amazing story based on just that theme. Spending time in Ordsall and Langworthy, he came to understand the feelings of locals who reckoned they have been left to live their lives in limbo as part of Salford city council's efforts to regenerate the area. Not only did he make good on the six standard Secret Millionaire good deeds which we'll see when his episode is screened on November 14 - and in so doing spending £100,000 of his own money - but he embarked on an ambitious scheme which might have saved 50 homes from the bulldozers.
Chek, 42, arranged a series of meetings with Salford council leader John Merry and offered an alternative solution to the scheme which would see people relocated from their homes. He offered to finance not-for-profit renovation - which would have allowed people to remain in the same house - but unfortunately he was too late and the original scheme will proceed as planned. Chek says he understands why the scheme has been controversial but believes regeneration is preferable than the squalor of the past.
"I've advised the remaining residents not to fight compulsory purchase," he says. "They have far more to gain by moving on." I get the impression Chek really does think that his advice is in the best interests of ordinary Salford people. Listening to him, it seems that his generosity has become something of an obsession. As well as his six good deeds, Chek also paid for the renovation of a young asthma sufferer's home, put a new roof on the Salford Lads Club and is sponsoring Ordsall FC football team. Even more impressive, he says his company has bought two tower blocks in Salford and plans to renovate them at a cost of £25m so they can be sold on as affordable housing for local people. "I suppose I'm doing all this because of the way I was treated as a child," the father-of-three adds. "I've got more money than I'll ever need now, so why not use some of it to make life better for others?
"I couldn't believe the way people treated me in Salford and I'll never forget it," he says. "They say Salford people are the salt of the earth and nothing could be closer to the truth."
Source: Manchester Evening News, November 2007