When Bannatyne was approached by renowned philanthropist and Scottish International Relief founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barr to espouse a project in Romania, building a new hospice for abandoned children, he got straight on a plane.
But when the Scottish tycoon arrived, he found the project in dire straits.
"There were two problems," says Bannatyne. "Firstly, they still needed to raise the money. And second, the surgeon in charge said, ‘There’s no point building something, because by the time you’ve built it, these children will all be dead’."
The first problem was solved instantly, "I said, forget raising the money. I’ll give it to you," says Bannatyne.
He pledged £120,000 to the cause. But time constraints were still a big issue.
The site was due to be built alongside a local convent. The nuns had already hired an architect to draw up some plans. But when Bannatyne, with his extensive knowledge of construction, saw the drawings, he was appalled.
"I knew the architect was incompetent and incapable," he says. "But we couldn’t really say that in front of all the religious people."
Instead, he went away and researched alternatives himself: "I took the plans to the people who do the design of my health clubs," he says. "They had a contact who was actually living and working in Romania. He went and looked at the site. We re-designed it together and built the hospital."
The project was completed by Christmas. And, contrary to the surgeon’s predictions, with the hospice built in record time, the children did not die.
"I still go and see my kids once a year," says Bannatyne. "It only costs £14,000 a year to keep them going. It’s a small price to pay."
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