City owner Delia Smith this weekend warmly welcomed the arrival of a second TV celebrity onto the board of Norwich City Football Club – Norfolk-born wit and author Stephen Fry.
The 53-year-old described his elevation to the boardroom as an ‘extraordinary’ event – one that gives the Championship side a new level of reach in terms of its ability to communicate with the next generation of digitally-literate and globally-based supporters.
Whether it actually immediately eases the financial pressures on a football club still labouring under a £20-odd million debt pile is, of course, another matter.
Fry revealed that he had “bought a few shares” en route to joining the board, but it is unlikely that he has eased much of the almighty debt burden that all English football clubs tend to live with.
It is a ‘madness’ that Delia spoke of earlier this month; wholly fitting perhaps that the Canaries should now boast a comedian in the boardroom.
“Stephen and his sister – his agent – are both very committed to Norwich; the whole family are because they are Norfolk people,” said Delia, after Fry attended his first, formal board meeting ahead of the Friday unveiling.
“I’ve met Stephen from time to time and he’s been very kind to me,” added the nation’s favourite TV chef, still left with little or no option but to churn out the books and the TV series in the cause of Norwich City.
In common with nigh-on every provincial football club in the UK, finding foreign investment is a tricky task when you’re not offering a Manchester, a Birmingham or a London as a base.
Fry’s involvement in the club – and his own, globe-trotting existence – may help to bang on a few more doors; it is unlikely, however, to change the club’s financial position overnight.
“Stephen did the commentary for my last TV series – and he did one a few years ago so he has been very good to me,” added Delia, speaking ahead of yesterday’s 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe.
“So I did just say one day: ‘How about it, Stephen..? Would you be a board director and be our ambassador?”
Quizzed in the earlier Press conference as to whether it had been a long courtship, Fry’s response was typically quick-witted and open to many an interpretation.
“I think we’d probed each other… is that the way to put it Michael (Wynn Jones)?” said Fry, who admitted in the next breath that joining Norwich City Football Club was far more serious a concern than “joining something like The Groucho Club”.
According to Delia, there was little or no hesitation when the offer came; she had to probe no more as the TV cook was joined by the TV comedian… A little Fry and Delia would scream the morning’s headlines.
“Any hesitation? None whatsoever,” she said. “None – I was actually quite stunned by his enthusiasm. He’s very passionate about Norwich.”
In fairness to Fry, behind the ready one-liners and deadpan delivery that makes him such a Twitter force to be reckoned with over 140 characters, there lies an incredibly sharp mind. It is far from the first board that he has sat on; albeit if that of the Royal Academy is a world away from that of a provincial football club. He’s neither a fool nor a mug, one would suspect.
“His involvement won’t be the normal involvement because he’s travelling around the world all the time,” she explained. “But we can have board meetings with conference calls and all kind of things now,” she said.
“And I know that he’ll want to be close to what we’re doing. And he has, of course, got a lot of friends in high places – we are looking forward to that.
“And if he mentions something on his Twitter stream with 1.7 million followers, we could have a few queues here if we’re putting anything on.”
An ‘Evening With Stephen Fry’ is already penned in for September 16; tickets are likely to go fast. Given the insane state of football’s finances, could every club benefit from having a comedian at board level? A little light relief when the profit and loss charts are distributed around the table could prove invaluable.
“It is a joke,” said Delia, warming to one of her familiar themes. “Trying to run a football club is definitely a joke and – yes – we need humour.
“We have tough things to go through trying to keep a football club afloat in the financial climate that we’re in at the moment.
“But having a very, very bright; extremely intelligent board director – as well as being a good laugh – is also important,” she added. Fry wasn’t just there for the gags.
Would he bring Delia out online? Get her to join the Twitter throngs that hang on his every word and Tweet? “I’m just at the moment having computer lessons,” she laughed. “But once I get fully computer literate, then maybe… who knows?”
And by way of return, would she be teaching Fry how to cook? “No – he’s already a good cook. He already does a lot of cooking so I might be able to get a few recipes…”