Of all the causes dear to Prince Harry’s heart, few are more important than Sentebel, the charity he co-founded as a carefree bachelor in 2006 that dedicates itself to fighting poverty and AIDS in Lesotho and Botswana. But from now on it will operate without one of its shrewd operators, advertising king Johnny Hornby.
I can reveal that Hornby, 56 – half-brother of About A Boy author Nick Hornby and sister-in-law of bestselling thriller-writer Robert Harris – has stepped down as a trustee after 11 years, the last five of which he was chairman of Sentable’s board.
Her departure prompted Harry to pay tribute to her ‘leadership and vision’ and ‘dedication, partnership and friendship’. Describing Hornby’s commitment to children and young people in South Africa as ‘incredible’, Harry and the charity’s co-founder, Prince Siiso of Lesotho, thanked Sentebele for enabling him to ‘provide holistic support to thousands of people in Lesotho and Botswana’.
Fellow entrepreneurs in cut-throat advertising recognize Hornby’s talent. ‘She’s smart, no doubt about it. A smooth operator and a tough commercial man,’ one tells me, Hornby is in many ways comparable to advertising titan – and one-time collaborator – Sir Martin Sorrell.
There is certainly no doubting Hornby’s smoothness. While a trustee at Sentebale, he regularly engaged Harry and Meghan in easy, friendly conversation or walked discreetly behind them, as he did when the couple attended a London performance of the award-winning rap musical Hamilton.
Jonny Hornby has stepped down as chairman of Prince Harry’s charity after 11 years. Pictured: Mr Hornby with Meghan Markle at the Royal County Berkshire Polo Club in July 2018
The advertising king has a business partnership with Jeremy Clarkson, who faced backlash for comments he made about Meghan Markle in a column. Pictured: Mr Clarkson (left), Mr Hornby (centre) and Caleb Cooper (right) at the Hoxton Lager launch in November 2021
Yet his closeness to the Sussexes has not prevented him from replicating an equally warm friendship and professional relationship with someone far removed from the couple’s circle – Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Presenter Jeremy Clarkson.
Sharing the high-octane broadcaster’s ambition and optimism, Hornby joined him at Hawkstone, a brewing venture to produce a strong lager, as well as a pale ale and a cider.
Their partnership might have gone unnoticed had it not been for Clarkson’s decision to pen an essay late last year, in which he noted he hated Meghan ‘on a cellular level’ and added – apparently inspired by a scene from Game Off. throne – that he wanted to see her naked on the streets, while people threw excrement at her.
While this provoked criticism, Clarkson wrote a personal, confidential letter to Harry on Christmas Day.
It was then that Hornby stepped in. ‘Johnny is friends with both Jeremy and Harry, so he was in the middle of it all,’ said a Hornby aide. ‘He suggested that it would be a good idea for Jeremy to apologize.’
Clarkson apparently took the hint and issued a full and scathing public apology.
This failed to calm Harry and Meghan, who issued a statement, saying it was clear this was not an isolated incident hastily shared, but a series of articles shared in hate.
But the apology worked in one case: a boycott of Hawkstone Lager, which had seemed possible – and which had already been set up by one pub – did not materialise.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were not pleased by Clarkson’s apology for her comments, writing that it was clear that this was not an isolated incident shared in haste, but a series of articles shared in hate. Pictured: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Gala at the New York Hilton in December 2022
Only the most cynical would suggest that Hornby’s only motivation was to protect the drinking interests he shared with Clarkson. When asked in the past about his work for the Sentinel – and whether it could be a step up for a knighthood – he immediately replied: ‘If anyone deserves it, it’s Harry himself for his work on it.’
But the end of his association with the charity is likely to make things a little easier for his second wife, Claire, with whom he lives in Notting Hill, west London. Not to be outdone, she founded and runs the Me+Em’s clothing brand, which is worth over £100 million.
Asked last year who had had the biggest impact on his business, he unhesitatingly replied ‘the Duchess’ – not Meghan, but Catherine, who at the time was, of course, the Duchess of Cambridge. ‘There is no one like him. In terms of global appeal, nothing comes close,’ added Claire. ‘And quite rightly so. He is ancient. So gross.’
Even her super smooth husband couldn’t do anything about it…
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