Felix Dennis: One Million Ways to Leave a Legacy

As a poet, publisher and accomplished entrepreneur, the late Felix Dennis made his mark on the world. But it was a startling revelation in a Soho square one morning that lead him to his real calling.

Felix Dennis Portrait by Lucinda Batchelor (2012)

Felix Dennis

Having spent several years building up his entrepreneurial empire, Felix Dennis now commits his time to planting and poetry.

He can usually be found somewhere in between the UK, USA and, when the mood strikes, a small island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.  



March 21, 2014

It wouldn’t be out of place for a travel magazine to feature the phrase ‘going places’ but, in Felix Dennis’ case, it refers to his lifetime rather than a mere day out. Beyond his lifetime, in fact, because the magazine publisher – who spends his time between London, Mustique, Connecticut, New York and Stratford Upon Avon – is creating a natural tourist destination for the future: the Heart of England Forest in Warwickshire, which will reach maturity long after he has passed on.

As he explains:

Back in 1996 when I started this, the Tree Council told me that the only forests in Britain that are being planted were ones that are often done for tax reasons; nasty alien conifers all over Scotland and north Wales. Yes, there were a lot of tax breaks involved, so I told them what I wanted to do in the south of Warwickshire – from an area which stretches from the remnants of Shakespeare’s forest, the Forest of Arden, right to the edge of the Vale of Evesham. They said, ‘That’s impossible – you will never get the land. The farmers will never sell you the land.’ When people say it can’t be done, I’m afraid that’s when I start rubbing my hands together, and rolling up my sleeves.

When people say it can’t be done, I’m afraid that’s when I start rubbing my hands together, and rolling up my sleeves.

If you’re not sure who Felix Dennis is, let us explain. He is a regular member of the Sunday Times Rich List, he is currently Britain’s most purchased published poet, he built the Maxim magazine brand that he subsequently sold for $240m, he currently publishes popular digest The Week (amongst other titles) and despite, or maybe because of, selling so many paper publications, he is very fond of trees. And no-one is going to stop him planting them.

‘So last year on 20th September 2013’, he continues, ‘17 years after we started in a place called Spernall, we planted our millionth tree. Basically, that’s broken down into numerous woods, and all of it is native, broadleaf trees.’

Native trees of the UK
Image credits: Forest foliage (tfengreen) / Roots (Steve Garry) / Solitary oak (Heart of England Forest)

Felix is the sort of man who makes the impossible possible.

As a teenager, the future print tycoon could be heard telling potential mother-in-laws that it was his intention to make a major impact on the world. And whilst the self-confidence bordered on arrogance and did little to impress girlfriends’ mums, it certainly set him on the right path. A path that started with the underground magazine Oz and the famous Oz trial during which John Lennon and Mick Jagger lead a march of thousands through central London in support of Dennis and his colleagues. As the sixties rolled into the seventies, Dennis saw potential in specialist magazines, for Kung Fu fans and computer aficionados, and built himself a very healthy publishing company…and an excessive lifestyle to match. But even back then he had had a fondness for exploring the countryside…

‘My interest in trees started many years ago, probably 40 years ago’, he explains.  ‘When I moved to London, of all places, near railway stations I had an old bike, and I used to just ride down to the nearest railway station, I didn’t care which one, and I’d go to the ticket kiosk and say ‘What’s the next train out?’

They’d look at you like you were barking mad! Then I’d buy a ticket, take the bike on the train to a wooded area and cycle around and walk about in the trees, trying to see if I knew the names – if I could recognise and identify some of these trees.’

So that was the beginning. Then, in my usual megolomanic way, I began to think of world domination.