Sil­ver and gold

The Field - - The Field Comment -

Shoot­ing as a sport has raised mil­lions for char­i­ties over the past decades.

Se­lena Barr talks to one of the lead­ing play­ers, the Royal Berk­shire Shoot­ing School

THIS year, the Royal Berk­shire Shoot­ing School (RBSS) is cel­e­brat­ing its 25th an­niver­sary. Back in 1991, 31-year-old Dy­lan Wil­liams (pic­tured) took on the ground and then spent 18 months work­ing with lo­cal plan­ners. “It was in­cred­i­bly hard work to get the shoot­ing school up and run­ning but we got there in the end, even with 18% in­ter­est rates.”

To­gether with in­struc­tors Ed­ward Wat­son, Craig Scott and Robert Cross, Wil­liams set out to at­tract a new breed of game-shooter, some­one who had come to the sport late but wanted to learn to shoot prop­erly. “Our av­er­age age was just 27 years old so we weren’t a threat to any of our clients, who were all con­sid­er­ably older than us. We worked hard and played hard, which they liked. We also de­cided to make the whole thing much less for­mal and while other shoot­ing-school in­struc­tors would teach wear­ing a tie and plus-twos we just wore chi­nos and a ca­sual shirt.”

From the start, char­ity shoots were at the heart of the busi­ness. Nowa­days, they are a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence but back in 1991 they were a nov­elty. Lady Bader was the first host to sign up, to raise funds for the Dou­glas Bader Foun­da­tion. Wil­liams re­calls see­ing Spit­fires per­form­ing victory rolls in the val­ley and think­ing, “This is great – peo­ple are hav­ing a won­der­ful time shoot­ing clays, watch­ing iconic aero­planes and rais­ing money at the same time. This is a win­ning for­mula. I think we should do more.”

To­day, the Spit­fires have been re­placed by the Red Ar­rows, who put on a dis­play for the an­nual char­ity shoot for Great Or­mond Street Hos­pi­tal (GOSH). “The dis­play is ab­so­lutely amaz­ing,” says Andrew Taee, an in­vest­ment banker and the hos­pi­tal’s fund-rais­ing pa­tron. “The Red Ar­rows also visit GOSH once a year, which means a huge amount to the pa­tients and staff. It is very hum­bling for them as they are men at the peak of their fit­ness and health who are vis­it­ing some very sick chil­dren.”

To be­gin with, all the char­ity shoots were held at the school in Pang­bourne but then, in the mid 1990s, Wil­liams took the ini­tia­tive of­f­cam­pus by invit­ing 120 women to a sim­u­lated game-shoot­ing day at the Kirby es­tate in Berk­shire in aid of Break­through Breast Cancer. “Only spouses were only al­lowed to load and the event, the first of its kind, was a sen­sa­tion,” en­thuses Wil­liams. “Since then, we have helped more than 100 char­i­ties raise in ex­cess of £24 mil­lion.”

Drag­ons’ Den’s Peter Jones has hosted eight char­ity shoots at Kirby in aid of the Peter Jones Foun­da­tion. He re­veals his favourite mo­ment of the day is an­nounc­ing how much money he’s raised. “It’s al­ways great to see my fel­low Drag­ons com­pet­ing out­side of the Den. I al­ways have a tremen­dous feel­ing of pride know­ing that the money raised will make a valu­able dif­fer­ence to thou­sands of young peo­ple’s lives and go to­wards helping them re­alise their dreams.”

Of course, there are sev­eral dif­fer­ent triedand-tested ways to raise money from the shoot for­mat. Some well-con­nected hosts opt to charge for teams of four guns, some pre­fer to ap­proach big-name brands to spon­sor in­di­vid­ual stands but the ma­jor­ity elect for a lunchtime auc­tion of money-can’t-buy lots. “The auc­tion is the ul­ti­mate way to mas­sage egos,” ex­plains Wil­liams, adding that the suc­cess of an auc­tion lies solely in the hands of the auc­tion­eer. “It’s paramount that the auc­tion­eer knows the au­di­ence, has a good sense of hu­mour and has some first-rate lots at his dis­posal,” he says. “Some of the most mem­o­rable lots were a Bre­itling wrist­watch and red jump­suit, both owned by a Red Ar­rows pi­lot, and a pair of gumboots that made a stag­ger­ing £10,000 when auc­tioned by Johnny Ve­gas.”

Guests are also sub­jected to Wil­liam’s play­ful sys­tem of fines, as Sun­seeker’s David Lewis tells. “A few years back, we were at a char­ity shoot at High­clere Cas­tle and some guests landed their he­li­copter in the wrong place, so Dy­lan fined them £500 just for be­ing flash. When they landed again they nearly blew over a mar­quee. An­other £500 fine. Fi­nally, on their third at­tempt, they ap­par­ently hov­ered out­side Lady Carnar­von’s bed­room win­dow while she was chang­ing. An­other £1,000. The boys were very good about it but said they would be com­ing by car next time.”

While char­ity shoot days are fun, their achieve­ments are vi­tal. Taee has dis­trib­uted some £5 mil­lion raised from char­ity shoot days at the RBSS. “I be­lieve in helping at the front end,” he says. “For ex­am­ple, the money raised for GOSH goes to­wards new build­ings and its re­search pro­gramme, which means you are helping chil­dren around the world. I also have been very for­tu­nate in life and to be able to give some­thing back and re­ally make a dif­fer­ence is the best feel­ing in the world.”

Like­wise, Wil­liams is mind­ful of why the RBSS does what it does. “There was this one lit­tle boy I will never for­get, at a shoot hosted by Richard Purdey for DE­BRA, a char­ity that sup­ports chil­dren with epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa [a group of ge­netic skin con­di­tions]. This young boy called Ma­son was in ban­dages from his neck right down to his toes, yet he pos­sessed such re­silience and hu­mour. Know­ing that over the past 25 years we’ve helped peo­ple like Ma­son is eas­ily the out­stand­ing re­ward of our time in this busi­ness.”

‘Since the mid 1990s, we have helped more than 100 char­i­ties raise in ex­cess of £24m’

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