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Matthew Harding was born in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, the son of Paul Harding, an insurance executive. He attended Abingdon School in Oxfordshire, but did not enjoy the school ethos. He did however return to the school just weeks before his death to speak to a small group of sixth formers about his road to success. He left school with a single 'A' Level in Latin and went to London. Through his father's friendship with Ted Benfield, he joined the insurance brokers Benfield, Lovick & Rees and it was in the insurance industry that he made his fortune, starting out by making the tea and going on to be a director. By 1980 he had acquired a 32% stake in the company, becoming one of Britain's 100 richest men.
A lifelong fan of Chelsea football club, Harding responded to Chelsea chairman Ken Bates' call for new investment in the club in 1994 and invested £26.5m and joined the board. However, his time there was marked by frequent clashes with Bates, club chairman and majority shareholder, a man in many respects Harding's antithesis, over the new direction to be taken by the club. Ken Bates eventually banned Harding from the Chelsea boardroom and effectively limited his input and influence over the club. The dispute between Bates and Harding was continual and was only stopped after his death in 1996. Bates caused more controversy and upset many Chelsea fans, as well as friends and family of Harding, by calling him "an evil man" just a year after his death. Chelsea football club named one of the stands at Stamford Bridge the "Matthew Harding Stand".
Harding had 4 children with wife Ruth, and later on a daughter named Ella with Ecuadorian girlfriend, Vicky Jaramillo.
Death and inheritance
Harding died in a helicopter accident in 1996, while flying back from a Chelsea match at Bolton Wanderers, along with the pilot and three passengers, including journalist John Bauldie and Raymond Deane.
His inheritance was to be divided according to instructions left with two executors, Mark Killick and Margaret Nugent. Their instructions were to include provision for his twin sons by his wife Ruth and for Ella, his daughter by girlfriend Vicky Jaramillo. In the will Mr Harding, aged 42 at the time of his death, also named Jessica, Ms Jaramillo's daughter from a previous relationship. The shareholders in his former business, The Benfield Group, would also benefit. Mr Harding organised a successful management buy-out of the company in 1988. The will was witnessed by England football coach, Glenn Hoddle and by a London taxi driver called Grant Davis.
- Matthew Harding: Pursuing the Dream by Alyson Rudd Mainstream Publishing (16 Oct 1997) ISBN 1-85158-957-0
- A Question of Honour by Lord Michael Levy Simon & Schuster (12 May 2008) ISBN 1-84737-315-1