The Glamorous Mr Goya

by Alison Bailey January 2022

Chris Collins ad promoting Canada Dry from The Illustrated London News, 1 December 1972
Chris Collins ad promoting Canada Dry from The Illustrated London News, 1 December 1972

Amersham’s Christopher Collins, the managing director of Goya and the subject of this rather marvellous illustrated ad for Canada Dry Ginger Ale, is described as “a man who plays as hard as he works”. He was well-known at the time as a courageous National Hunt jockey after winning his first race at the age of 23. In 1965 he came third in the Grand National, in front of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, on Mr Jones. This was quite an achievement when only 14 of the 47 horses finished the race. He was champion amateur jockey that season with 24 wins, and the following season with 33 wins.

Goya had been founded by his father, Douglas Collins before WWII but sold in 1960. 8 years later the family bought the perfume business back with Chris Collins selling some of his horses to find one quarter of the £800,000 purchase price. He now became managing director at the age of 28. However, he continued to ride his racehorses, with his biggest wins the Foxhunters’ Chase at Cheltenham on Credit Call in 1972 and the following year, the Czech Grand Pardubice, Grand Pardubice Steeplechase: the world’s toughest horse race – a photo essay | Horse racing | The Guardian considered to be the world’s toughest horse race, on Stephen’s Society.

Chris was the first British rider to compete in the race since WWI and it was a real achievement to transport a racehorse behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War, but then to win by eight lengths was extraordinary. The win was rapturously reported back home and the Velká Pardubická gained a lot of fans in Britain. According to a Times reporter ” this was the best individual performance anyone has ever performed in any sport in 1973″. Due to foreign exchange restrictions, Chris could not bring home his prize of 100,000 CZK, so he left it in Czechoslovakia as a fund from which the costs of stay and participation of other British starters were covered in the 80s. Despite threats to his safety, which sound like the plot of a Dick Francis novel, he returned the following year and finished third. This was after falling twice (perhaps ‘helped’ by Russian jockeys) and then remounting, which was allowed in this race! Despite many other British competitors in the race, Charlie Mann, in 1995 on It’s a Snip, has been the only other British winner since. Chris was invited back as guest of honour to watch the Velká Pardubická in 2013, 40 years after his great triumph.

Chris Collins and Stephen’s Society winning the Velká Pardubická in Czechoslovakia 1973, photo by Marek Skála
Chris Collins and Stephen’s Society winning the Velká Pardubická in Czechoslovakia 1973, photo by Marek Skála

Promoting Chris Collins’ jet-setting lifestyle in the press was a deliberate strategy from Goya’s marketing department as it all enhanced the glamour of the Goya brand. An article in our local press in May 1972 described Collins as a ‘Copter-setter’: “Next time you hear a helicopter going overhead, don’t bother rushing out to see who’s in it. It’s odds on to be Christopher Collins, top amateur jockey, renowned racehorse owner, successful businessman, and jet-setter extraordinary, or should it be copter-setter? And you’ve probably missed him anyway. Mr Collins commutes by helicopter between his home in Hyde Heath, his firm’s headquarters in Amersham, his London office and all points north as regularly as most of us pop down to the local shops”.

Chris took a bad fall at Cheltenham in 1975 and retired from racing but continued to hunt and to compete in Three-Day eventing, representing Great Britain from 1974 to 1980. After his marriage to Susanne Lumb, also a successful eventer, his home, Hawthorn Farm in Hyde Heath, regularly hosted equestrian events, attracting top riders such as Pippa Funnel and Lucinda Prior Palmer. In 1980 the Bucks Area British Show Jumping Association Show held at Hawthorn Farm attracted “the cream of the horse world” including Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips who were friends of the couple and had attended their wedding. At this event, Princess Anne only achieved 6th place in the Spillers Dressage with Jumping Competition which was won by Susanne Collins.

Christopher Collins was the eldest of Douglas and Patsy Collins’ five children. The first family home was in Chelsea, but because of the war a house was rented in Hertfordshire and Chris was born here in 1940. He was seven when the family moved to Mill Meadow in Mill Lane Old Amersham. His third sister, Anna was born here some months later followed by a brother, Benjamin. In 1953 the family moved to Hawthorn Farm where the children were able to have their own ponies. They were also all keen sailors and skiers. Age 11, Anna was selected for racing training by the Ski Club of Great Britain.  The purchase of this country estate and a smart new Bentley were all signs that the Collins family were now very wealthy, but the children were still expected to do their chores and get part-time jobs at the factory. In 1961 the family was rocked by Douglas and Patsy’s divorce. Patsy was a director in Goya and the marriage breakdown may have been one of the reasons the firm was sold the previous year. Patsy stayed at Hawthorn Farm and had custody of the three youngest children. Douglas moved to Berkshire where he joined the seed firm Sutton and Sons. He married again in 1962 and had three more children.

Chris was educated at Eton where he did well and was head of his house. When he left school his father sent him to Sheffield for a month with £20. He was tasked with finding lodgings and told to come back four weeks later with the money intact. According to his father’s autobiography he discovered an unexpected advantage of being an Etonian. After initially telling him that there were no jobs at the labour exchange, the clerk’s attitude changed completely when he read that Chris had been to Eton. After three phone calls he found him a job filing castings in a factory and the task was almost completed successfully, as much to his father’s surprise he returned home one month later with £17!

Chris Collins was then articled to the accountancy firm of Peats and qualified as a chartered accountant. To learn more about the perfume business he also spent some time in Grasse, Paris and Geneva. Despite the amount of time devoted to his beloved horses, he still had numerous business interests outside Goya and held directorships in UK companies including the Hanson Group. One of his business ventures was to publish a London magazine with his friend and fellow Old Etonian, Sir William Pigott-Brown, the notorious ‘Sporting Baronet ’RICHARD KAY: As he dies aged 79, few men lived life at such a gallop as Sir William Pigott-Brown | Daily Mail Online. Described as “part country squire part man-about-town with an appetite in equal measure for women, horses and country sports” Pigott-Brown shared Collins’ love of racing. He had also been champion amateur jockey for two seasons and spent most of his considerable inheritance on a 1,000 acre stud farm in Aston Tirrold in Oxfordshire. The estate became known as ‘Sinner Valley’ because of Pigott-Brown’s wild parties attended by rock stars and members of the aristocracy. Pigott-Brown was not known for his business acumen, or his work ethic, and the magazine eventually folded with debts of around £30,000.

For five years, Collins stayed on as a director of Goya after the business was sold to Imperial Chemical Industries in 1975. He then concentrated on other equestrian interests, becoming one of the most influential people in British horseracing in the following years. He served as steward of the Jockey Club, head of Aintree racecourse, and helped organize equestrian competitions at the 2012 London Olympics.

Sources:

Douglas Collins, A Nose For Money, How to Make a Million, Museum Collection

Chris Collins to return to scene of successful mission behind the Iron Curtain 40 years ago (telegraph.co.uk)

Collins, Chris – Jockeypedia 2 (google.com)

RICHARD KAY: As he dies aged 79, few men lived life at such a gallop as Sir William Pigott-Brown | Daily Mail Online

Grand Pardubice Steeplechase: the world’s toughest horse race – a photo essay | Horse racing | The Guardian

Nevěřte nikomu, zlikvidují vás, slyšel žokej v Pardubicích – Aktuálně.cz (aktualne.cz)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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