When Andrea Bocelli sang “Nessun Dorma” next to Claudio Ranieri to celebrate Leicester City’s astonishing title victory in 2016, he was backed by bouquets of purple and white flowers, thousands of roaring blue fans at the King Power Stadium, and the applause of one man who was fundamental to achieving such spine-tingling success.
Today, the flowers outside Leicester City’s home ground are accompanied with scarfs, flags, and heartfelt messages of condolence — after it was confirmed that owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was among those killed in a helicopter crash in the stadium car park this weekend.
As the city mourns the passing of a man revered for his impact both on and off the pitch, many are remembering and celebrating his generosity.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Prince William are among those who have paid their respects.
"The family are very, very popular with the people of Leicester,” Cliff Ginetta, Leicester City Supporters Club chairman, told the BBC. “They are loved by the Leicester public for what they have done to the football club and for what they have done for the city.”
"They have put the city on the map worldwide,” he added. “They've put millions of pounds into the club and lots and lots of money into local hospitals, children's care. At Christmas time, it's free mince pies and a drink — and that's the way they are."
“Srivaddhanaprabha” was a name bestowed on Vichai by the Thai royal family — and literally means "light of progressive glory." Here’s a few moments when the beloved Leicester City owner lived up to his title.
RIP Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha .— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) October 28, 2018
The man who helped mastermind one of the greatest sporting stories of any generation.
Leicester City and football will never forget him.
He allowed football fans to dream again.https://t.co/0xUvKwNTIMpic.twitter.com/eUqMa0qeob
1. He gave £2 million to a local children’s hospital
After Leicester beat 5,000/1 odds to win the Premier League title, Srivaddhanaprabha donated £2 million to Leicester Hospitals Charity. The gift went towards a £30 million project that aimed to bring together Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) and Glenfield Hospital into one purpose-built space for children.
“It's very important for every fortunate thing that happens to you in your life, you must give back,” said Susan Whelan, the club’s chief executive, at an awards ceremony in May 2016. “That's really integral to everything we do.”
"This is through the Srivaddhanaprabha family, this is King Power, this is Leicester City Football Club saying thank you to the city of Leicester,” she added. "You have opened your hearts to us. We are so very privileged and pleased to be a part of that."
The hospital was reportedly “overwhelmed” by the gesture, and said it would put it in the "Premier League of children's hospitals".
As a derby fan, it is clear how much this man has done for his team. He led LCFC to its peak and was a man for all to idolise. Vichai donated £2m to the children’s hospitals in Leicester, one of which saved my life. He was a man who impacted many and will be sorely missed💖 https://t.co/wh9O7ZemgB— Emzi (@reigningmxry) October 28, 2018
2. He donated another £1 million to a city university hospital
It wasn’t long until he gave an additional £1 million to the University of Leicester to fund medical research and training at its city hospital.
Srivaddhanaprabha then donated a further £1 million to the LCFC Foxes Foundation and its chosen charities at an end-of-season dinner in May 2017 after squad players donated £60,000 worth of equipment to the children’s intensive care unit at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
3. He funded research into a rare genetic disorder
Just before his fourth birthday in 2011, Leicester fan Ellis was diagnosed with MECP2 syndrome, a rare chromosome disorder that can cause both intellectual and muscular disability.
The doctors told his parents that it was unlikely he would ever walk or talk — and would face daily seizures from epilepsy.
His family then dedicated themselves to funding the fight to research a cure. They raised thousands with sponsored cycles to football matches around the country, and in 2014 Srivaddhanaprabha personally donated £22,000, according to Sky News.
Richard Page, Ellis’ father, wrote that the donation had actually been £44,000 — and it helped push their “Text Ellis” fundraising target well over the £100,000 mark.
Leicester players then gave away signed shirts from the season they were promoted to the Premier League, to help raise further funds at an auction.
4. He celebrated his 60th birthday with free beer for fans
When Leicester lost 2-1 at home to Newcastle in April this year, it might have seemed strange that some fans still retained a sense of jubilation. In fact, it was Srivaddhanaprabha’s 60th birthday — and he wanted to share it with all the club’s supporters at the ground.
So he offered a free Singha beer — originating from the chairman’s native Thailand — to every home fan in the 32,000 capacity stadium aged 18 and over. And then he renewed 60 season tickets at random — worth hundreds of pounds each — for some lucky supporters at half time.
And his birthday party? Days before the game, a local hospital hosted a teddy bear’s picnic for sick children with cake, entertainment, and games along with players Kasper Schmeichel, Wilfred Ndidi, and Kelechi Iheanacho.
He gave free beer (and a pie!) to every fan on his birthday the previous year, too — and the year before that.
He donated £1m to Leicester University & donated £1m to Leicester Royal Infirmary.— 360Sources (@360Sources) October 29, 2018
He gave Leicester fans free beer, free scarves, free cakes & organised free bus travel to away games.
He helped Leicester to an unthinkable Premier League title.
RIP Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/utTFcxK6Rj
5. He gave free BMWs to every player
But no football fan will ever forget the season that ended with the ”greatest sporting story”: a Premier League trophy, and Andrea Bocelli garbed in a Leicester City shirt.
And Srivaddhanaprabha — the fourth-wealthiest man in Thailand — drove the celebrations in the only way he knows how: gifting blue BMW i8’s worth £100,000 each to 19 players in the squad. Only four players didn’t receive a car: N’Golo Kante and Joe Dodoo transferred to Chelsea and Rangers respectively, while Andrej Kramaric and Yohan Benalouane were ineligible for a winners medal after just six appearances between them.
It might not exactly be helping those in need. But perhaps a quote from the man himself better serves to highlight the heart in the gesture.
“Our spirit exists because of the love we share for each other and the energy it helps to create, both on and off the pitch,” he said after lifting the trophy. “And in the years to come it will continue to be our greatest asset.”
That spirit indelibly remains. But for a local hero who gave a city he loved so much to remember — it’s time to say goodbye.
Leicester City players are at King Power stadium paying tribute to the club's chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who was among five people killed in Saturday's helicopter crash.— Sky News (@SkyNews) 29 October 2018
Follow the latest here as the team pay their respects: https://t.co/VuvUHo2PyWpic.twitter.com/4DjH8r6fyG