28 September 2013
The children of the former TV pundit Jimmy Hill talk about his illness – and an agonising legal dispute.
Jimmy Hill was Mr Football. In the 1960s, he ushered in player-power by getting the maximum wage scrapped. For three decades after that, he dominated the footballing airwaves on Match of the Day programme. He also pioneered all-seating stadiums by becoming the first English club chairman to abolish standing at matches, and was instrumental in introducing the “three points for a win” rule in 1981 that helped transform the modern game into the most exciting sport in the world. The football-loving public owes Jimmy Hill a lot.
So it will be with great sadness for them to learn that, at the age of 85, Hill is suffering from dementia and living in a nursing home near the south coast, too ill to be looked after at home.
News of his illness will upset his many fans, and has already caused deep distress among his family, including his third wife Bryony, 62, as well as his five children from two previous marriages.
Hill was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, but it is only now being highlighted by his youngest son Jamie, 46, and his sister Joanna, 50. The pair have chosen to raise awareness of their father’s illness to highlight concerns over the difficulties that arise when a parent – with a large extended family – becomes too poorly to make decisions for themselves.
Hill, who appeared on Match of the Day from 1973 to 1998, gave joint powers of attorney to his current wife and a solicitor in 2005, when he was still in good health. As a result, none of his children has any say in his future affairs or his treatment.
They only discovered the legal document’s existence in 2008, when Hill was assessed too ill to look after himself. It was only then that the law required that his children be informed that powers of attorney had been granted to Mrs Hill and a solicitor.
Jamie and Joanna, Hill’s children from his second marriage, have decided to speak out now after becoming frustrated by the law. They are urging elderly parents to talk to their children so that they are included in difficult discussions about who has powers of attorney.
Jamie Hill has met with his local MP, Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, who passed his concerns to Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor. Bryony Hill has spoken briefly about her husband being ill in an interview with the local newspaper in Coventry, where Hill was manager and then chairman of Coventry City in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, the club has been placed in administration and is now playing its home matches in Northampton.
Mrs Hill said in the summer: “Jimmy is obviously not well at this moment in time, but he would be horrified by this terrible situation. Jimmy would be hugely upset to know that Coventry City’s supporters are being put through this emotional turmoil.”
Hill’s illness is well known among his family and friends. The matter came to a head when Hill went into a nursing home last year.
Joanna Hill, who lives in Mexico but is in the UK visiting her father, told The Sunday Telegraph: “It is a shame that we as his children have no rights over his treatment and care. Children whose parents have married more than once should be made aware that they will be unable to influence their affairs if they register a power of attorney. Children should talk to their parents, before deterioration sets in, about how they want to be looked after and whom they want to be in charge of their lives.”
Mr Hill, a property consultant and fitness coach who lives in West London, said: “I don’t want to make this personal. I am only telling The Sunday Telegraph this because it affects many other families, and I want to highlight it. This will become a more common problem over the years because there are so many families in the same position as ours. Because of the power of attorney, the children have no say over decisions over dad’s health care or his assets.”
Mr Hill, who visits his father at the nursing home where he has been since last year, added: “He is the most sprightly physical specimen in the home, but his mind is not what it was. The home is the best place for him. That is not my complaint.
“My concern is we only discovered in 2008 that power of attorney had been signed three years earlier. We said in 2008 that if Bryony’s lawyer steps aside and one of us children has joint power of attorney, we will be happy. Unfortunately, that was declined. We were told they had considered giving one of the children power of attorney in 2005, but decided against because it would have been too difficult to choose just one.”
Mrs Hill has declined to comment. She has been close to Hill for 37 years, first as his personal assistant, then as his lover and finally as his wife. Her husband’s illness has clearly put a strain on her relationship with at least some of her stepchildren.
Hill was a football visionary. He only ever played for two clubs, first Brentford and for the bulk of his playing career at Fulham. He was a very good player – he once scored a record five goals in an away match. But better than that, he was a footballer with a sharp mind. He became chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association in 1957 and, four years later, succeeded in scrapping the maximum wage, paving the way for the multi-million pound footballers playing today.
He went on to transform Coventry City in to a top-flight club and moved into broadcasting. Behind the scenes, his private life was less successful. He had a colourful and often turbulent love life. In his autobiography, in 1999, he admitted he had made mistakes in his private life and caused upset, but said of this third marriage to Bryony: “I am doing my damnedest to make it last at least to extra time and, hopefully, penalties.”
Hill married his first wife Gloria, with whom he had three children, in 1950, when his playing career was taking off, but then left her when his eldest son Duncan was only seven, for his second wife Heather.
He and Heather had two children – Joanna and Jamie – but that marriage ended when Hill met Veronica Hopcraft on a football tour to the Caribbean to celebrate Coventry City’s promotion to the old first division. Heather and Veronica are both dead, while Gloria passed away just two weeks ago.
Hill hired Bryony, then aged 25, as his personal assistant. They subsequently embarked on an affair behind Miss Hopcraft’s back. The couple married 20 years ago and have been together ever since.
Mrs Hill has flirted with fame herself on occasion. In 2003, she wrote a romantic and vaguely risqué novel about a “soccer widow” called Penalty Chick, whose cover admits it “blurs the line between reality and fiction”. In an interview in 2003, Mrs Hill talked about her affair – “it was all subterfuge, but exciting” – and subsequent marriage to Hill, in which she revealed he did not want to have children with her. “If I’d got pregnant, that would have been a real test,” she said at the time. “If we’d had children, it would have been totally disruptive.”
Relations between at least some of the children and the third Mrs Hill have become strained. She once told an interviewer – in jest – that Hill’s children referred to her as the WSM, which she explained was short for “wicked stepmother”. Jamie and Joanna deny this.
But the tensions have been cranked up by Hill’s decision to appoint his third wife and her solicitor as joint attorneys to act for him.
Legal experts admit the granting of powers of attorney is a cause of disputes within families, especially in an era when multiple spouses and children from different relationships, are not unusual. The Government tried to tighten up the laws in 2007 over fears the system was too lax. There is no suggestion in this case of any wrongdoing.
The change in the law means that powers of attorney are now only valid if first registered at the Office of the Public Guardian, the administrative arm of the Court of Protection. Before they are registered, close family members should be notified, although the person giving the power can decide exactly who is notified – or choose not to tell anyone.
The law change in 2007 was preceded by a rush for the old-style agreements – just like the one Jimmy Hill signed – because they are shorter and less complex. There are thought to be many thousands of pre-2007 “enduring powers of attorney” documents in place, although no one can be sure. As a rule of thumb, the old-style documents tend to be no more than three pages long, while the new documents – called “lasting powers of attorney” – typically run to 20 pages.
Andrew Kidd, a solicitor specialising in probate at the law firm Clintons, said: “The law was changed to make the process of granting powers of attorney more onerous. You can only enter into a power of attorney when you have the mental capacity to do so. Anybody entering into an agreement is at liberty to choose who he or she wants to act under a power of attorney.
“If we don’t wish to acknowledge our children, then they can be frozen out. Disputes are increasingly common, which perhaps is not surprising for a number of reasons, not least given the number of marriage break-ups.”
The reality is that many thousands of children out there will want to have a say in their parents’ lives as they grow older and more infirm. Many will be prevented from doing so. It is a problem that is distressing for Jamie and Joanna Hill. “I am upset because as the law stood there is no legal process that requires the family to be involved,” said Jamie with a sigh. He is not alone.