James Bethell (OH 80) - Confidence
James Bethel first joined The Hall in 1973 and was followed two years later by his brother William. His memories of the school are happy ones and he places great value on the teachers like the eccentric English master, Mr Wincott, and the long-haired Mr Fitzmaurice who influenced him. And on the very distinctive and individual education he received at the school. He has stayed in touch with many of his contemporaries such as Simon Wolfson, chief executive of Next, and indeed continues to come across a number of former Hall pupils through his work.
James comes from a literary and political family - His father, Lord Bethell, was a British politician and a noted historian and writer on Central & Eastern Europe. So it is no surprise that his initial career choice was journalism. After Harrow and Edinburgh university he did internships at the US Senate and EU Commission, then joined The Sunday Times as a graduate trainee and went on to work for most of the newspapers on Fleet Street.
It took a pretty enticing job offer to winkle James out of his prestigious, well-paid job as a reporter at The Sunday Times. “Join me and you’ll get rich, meet girls and life will be one long party,” was the pitch from his prospective boss.
He immediately handed in his resignation and moved to the leaking former-warehouse in desolate south London which served as the HQ of the Ministry of Sound.
‘The Ministry of Sound was a club that broke all the rules. It was an age when girls wore white stilettos, men drank lager and the DJ played the Bee Gees. Ministry of Sound sold no booze, turned away TV celebrities and played grinding garage music. The roof was hung with dream-like theatrical sets and the management blew the construction budget on a massive £1,000,000 sound system with gold wiring, 10ft Canadian beech wood speaker stacks and a meteorological probe that adjusted the sound equaliser according to the density of the sweat-laden air. I loved it.’
From this dank warehouse, James helped build a global music empire that turned-over nearly £100m a year.
These days James has moved on from nightclubs and now combines a life of journalism and politics. He was the Conservative candidate for Tooting in the 2005 general election, and worked for US Senator Robert Dole, EU Commissioner Lord Brittan and for David Cameron during his campaign for the Conservative leadership.
He is a former managing partner of Portland PR and in 2009 he set up Westbourne Communications a public relations firm where he is now the CEO.
His advice to our current pupils is to have courage.
‘During my time at the Hall, we learnt that the best ideas sometimes appear a little scary at first but success depends on getting past your fear. The Ministry of Sound was one such idea.’
James currently serves as a Governor of The Hall School and recently returned to judge the speech competition.