Stuart Wheeler was a true original. I was lucky enough to be a friend (we met playing bridge), and will miss him greatly. He was often referred to as a spread-betting ‘tycoon’ but the word feels quite wrong: he was modest and unassuming, and his fierce intelligence was matched by a childlike guilelessness.
While his political views could be contentious, there was no doubting his integrity: unswayed by fashion, he relied on logic and probability to guide him. Indeed, his whole life was about calculating odds and taking risks — hence his passion for gambling. He was also extraordinarily generous. After selling his shares in his company, IG Index, he bought Chilham Castle in Kent, where he entertained large groups of friends every weekend for decades. A few years ago, I asked him whether he could afford to keep up this level of hospitality indefinitely. Characteristically, he told me that he’d worked out roughly how many more years he was likely to live (this was before his cancer diagnosis) vs the cost of running the castle, and thought his death would probably coincide with his funds running out.
I enjoyed many bridge weekends there. This hand was one of my favourites: Stuart was my partner, and we should have bid to 6D but — blame the lateness of the hour and the amount of wine consumed — ended up in 6S. Stuart was declarer.
West led the ♣2, ruffed in dummy. Things didn’t look good: it seemed one of the opponents needed to hold ♠QJ tight. But Stuart spotted an extra chance. At trick 2, he led a low trump from dummy! His ♠10 lost to West’s ♠J. West played another club. Stuart ruffed with dummy’s ♠A, came to hand with a heart ruff, cashed the ♠K, and when East’s ♠Q fell, claimed his contract. Yes, East erred by not hopping up with the ♠Q at trick 2 — but that was understandable. Did I say that Stuart was guileless? Never at the card table.