Millionaire Brian Burnie donates entire fortune

Brian Burnie has spent £16 million restoring Doxford Hall in Northumberland to its former glory. But when the project is complete this month, the entrepreneur will sell the estate and give the entire proceeds to a cancer charity.


Brian Burnie has spent £16 million restoring Doxford Hall in Northumberland to its former glory. But when the project is complete this month, the entrepreneur will sell the estate and give the entire proceeds to a cancer charity.

Brian Burnie has spent £16 million restoring Doxford Hall in Northumberland to its former glory. But when the project is complete this month, the entrepreneur will sell the estate and give the entire proceeds to a cancer charity.

‘My ambition is to die penniless. I believe you are born into the world with nothing and should leave with nothing,’ he explains. ‘Because I’m 65 soon, I decided that I wanted to see my plans for the charity put in place while I’m still alive. I’ve always been deeply involved in what I’ve done and have never just been happy writing a cheque.’

Born in a bedsit during the war, while his dad was fighting as an RAF pilot, Burnie concedes that living in one of the finest mansions in the region couldn’t be further removed from his humble beginnings. However, the philanthropist says he is ready to move into a one-bedroom flat with his wife, Shirley, who works part-time in the local bookstore. ‘Although I’m not sure how keen she is on that part of the idea,’ he laughs.

Burnie wants to use the millions from the sale to establish and fund a service to escort patients to and from hospital and to provide a Marie Curie/Macmillan cancer nurse for Northumberland. His involvement with the charity started when his wife got breast cancer four years ago.

‘To say getting cancer is traumatic is an understatement. Transport is an intricate part of the treatment process, but is the last thing people want to be thinking about. To be able to ease that burden will be a heck of a pleasurable thing to say we’ve been involved with.’

The taxi service will be run by volunteers and Burnie intends to work as one of the drivers. ‘You try and stop me! In the North East we have an expression: ‘He’s as daft as a brush’ which is actually meant as a sort of compliment. We might call the taxi service that, just as a way of bringing a smile to people’s faces and help get people talking about cancer more.’

When Burnie was 15 he left school and began working as an errand boy, followed by a lucky break when he got an apprenticeship at a local building company – for which he still feels indebted to the firm. In 1979 Burnie went on to set up engineering and surveying company Kelburn, which later became a multi-million pound recruitment consultancy and was sold three years ago.

But the entrepreneur is no stranger to philanthropy. Instead of presents, he and his wife asked guests at their wedding to donate money to charity.

‘My background has made me appreciate everything as I’ve progressed through life. And now I’ve reached the top, I’m able to help other people not as fortunate. Of course, there are equally generous people who don’t have much money – in fact, they can often be more generous than those who do. The reason for my interest in charity work is that I’ve never forgotten my roots.’

At a time when MPs are in the hot seat for fiddling the taxpayer and bankers have fallen into disrepute due to a bloated bonus culture encouraging high-risk investments, Burnie modestly acknowledges that his story has struck a chord with people. ‘I do think everyone seems to be driven by possessions these days,’ he sighs.

However, the entrepreneur is quick to point out that giving to charity should be a personal decision. ‘Really, that’s a question of conscience, so it’s not for me to say what others should give. But I did think it might be an interesting calculation to work out what the total expenses bill would come to. I bet they have claimed enough to purchase a hospice in someone’s town.’

Giving back to the local area is dear to Burnie’s heart. ‘I’m very proud of the innovation and history here. It’s a wonderful part of the world,’ he enthuses. ‘Everything I’ve been involved with has a local nature, because I’m very passionate about Northumberland. It’s where I’ve made my money over the last 30 years, so it’s where I want to redistribute it now.’

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