World exclusive documentary on the self-styled ‘shabby philanthropist’ who talks about his rise from modest beginnings to billionaire status as the founder of Duty Free Shops, and about his decision to give it all away.
Multi-billionaire philanthropist and Forbes Top 50 Rich-List member Chuck Feeney talks for the first time about his remarkable life. Secret Billionaire is the story of how one man made and then anonymously gave away a multi-billion-dollar fortune, and how Ireland in particular has benefited from this astonishing act of generosity.
One of the founding partners of Duty Free Shoppers, Irish-American Feeney became a billionaire many times over in the 60s and 70s. However, the wealth did not sit easily with him and in the early 80s, he began to devise a plan to use the money he’d made to help others. He founded The Atlantic Philanthropies, a charitable enterprise, the sole aim of which was to use his $8bn fortune to make lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
For the past 30 years, the organisation has donated vast sums to universities, research institutions, social programmes, community enterprises and charities across the globe, but Ireland has benefited from his generosity more than most – to the tune of over $1.2bn. He worked tirelessly behind the scenes to help move the Peace Process forward and to fund reconciliation and regeneration projects in the North; in the South, he spearheaded the drive to make Ireland a leading research- and knowledge-based economy and, to date, has donated over $750m to Irish universities alone. Until 1997, all of this was done on one condition: that Feeney’s name never be disclosed, the beneficiaries sworn to secrecy about the identity of the donor.
Feeney is an anathema in the modern world of celebrity and mass communication: one of the wealthiest and best-connected people on the planet, he lives a low-profile, low-cost existence and has rejected the international jet-set lifestyle his own business partners enjoy. He wears a $15 watch, eats in diners and doesn’t own a car. He covers his face at press events, refuses to be interviewed or photographed and, until very recently, has refused to allow his name to be mentioned in connection with any of the projects he has funded.
The self-styled ‘shabby philanthropist’, now 78, has finally agreed to step out of the shadows to be interviewed by RTÉ‘s Richard Crowley. He has also, and for the first time, allowed his family and closest allies to speak to us about his life and work. His motivation for coming forward? To inspire Ireland’s wealthy elite into following his example of ‘giving while living’ – a message all the more salient in these straightened times.
In this world exclusive, Richard Crowley interviews Feeney and some of the people whom Feeney’s work has touched, from politicians and activists such as Bertie Ahern, Niall O’Dowd, loyalist Billy Hutchinson and Gerry Adams; his business partners in the very earliest days of Duty Free Shopping, including multi-billionaire Alan Parker (worth $7.9bn today) and the lawyer (Harvey Dale) who helped him to realize his incredible dream of giving it all away; plus the heads of many Irish universities and The Atlantic Philanthropies, his charitable foundation.
As Feeney’s charity, The Atlantic Philanthropies, now prepares to give away his last $3billion, Feeney, finally, gives us the best opportunity we will ever have to meet and understand one of the greatest philanthropists in the world.