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It will be okay on the healing day
No more coldest place
On the healing day
Yeah will find that way
On the healing day
To where the children play
On the healing day
– From The Healing Day by Bill Fay
The statue of the late Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha that was unveiled outside Leicester City Football Club yesterday represents an enduring memory of a remarkable man who made the King Power name world-renowned in both business and sport.
To the travel retail community, he is well-remembered as the man who drove a single downtown duty free store operation in Bangkok in 1987 to become one of the sector’s modern-day powerhouses.
And in sport? Well, where do you start? Under the Srivaddhanaprabha family’s ownership, Leicester City underwent a transformation that has seldom, perhaps never, been rivalled in world sport.
From a struggling League One (now Championship) club in 2010, when a King Power Group-related entity acquired the club, Leicester City were promoted to the Premiership in 2014, taking their place among the game’s elite.
The following year, the club seemed doomed to relegation before pulling off what was dubbed ‘the great escape’ through winning seven of their last nine games. And then came the 2015-16 season. The astonishing, dumbfounding, thrilling, ridiculous in its sheer implausibility, 2015-16 season.
Under Italian manager Claudio Ranieri, the ‘Foxes’ got off to a superb start, topping the Premier League by Christmas Day. But with the traditional English heavyweights of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspurs, Liverpool and Arsenal all chasing hard, it couldn’t last said all the pundits. Could it?
It did. On 2 May 2016, Leicester City – 5,000 to 1 odds at the beginning of the season – won the Premier League after nearest rival Tottenham conceded a 2-0 lead against Chelsea. The achievement is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest shocks in sporting history.
It was celebrated in unforgettable fashion at a packed King Power Stadium as blind Italian opera legend Andrea Bocelli, standing next to an emotional Claudio Ranieri, belted out a spine-tingling version of Nessun Dorma (‘Let no-one sleep’ in Italian) amid a crescendo of noise and emotion. Take a listen to it via the video believe. I challenge you, whether or not you knew Khun Vichai or care a jot about football, not to be moved.
Khun Vichai was on hand to enjoy a moment that perhaps even he, an intuitive, ever-believing visionary and optimist – ‘The Possible Man’ – could perhaps never have dreamed would come true.
Two years and five months later, the unspeakable happened. Khun Vichai’s helicopter crashed outside the King Power Stadium just after a Foxes match had finished. The Chairman was killed along with all others onboard. It is impossible, even today, to encapsulate the calamity, the enormity, and the devastation of his death to his family, friends, company, club, and to the travel retail community.
I shall never forget the scene at The Trinity Forum in Shanghai a few weeks later when the 550-strong audience stood as one to honour Khun Vichai, the giant photo of him shown below beamed out from the screen while the mournful lament of Bill Fay’s ‘The Healing Day’ played.
As I stood on stage looking towards the audience, it was a particularly personal moment. For this was a man who I knew not just for his business achievements but as someone who had cared for me as if I was his own son when I fell seriously ill from post-cancer complications during The Trinity Forum in Bangkok six years earlier.
Inspired by Khun Top’s unwavering determination to honour his father’s legacy, the Leicester City journey was not over. On 15 May 2021, the club won their first-ever FA Cup, beating that season’s UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea 1-0.
If penned as a work of fiction the Leicester City FC story would be dismissed as wildly implausible. But it has been magically, magnificently real. And in the imposing form of the statue unveiled yesterday, the man who created that seeingly impossible reality, will be remembered forever. None shall sleep.