IN the early 1990s, Tim Cantle-Jones secured a job working for a government body which was created to help South Africa develop a sports administration infrastructure after the ending of apartheid.
This involved three months a year in South Africa working hands-on with the country’s sports bodies to involve the black community and it culminated in Cantle-Jones winning a South African Peacemaker Award in 1995.
This subsequently led to a meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man he describes as an amazing character, who was fully aware of the work being carried out by the organisation.
Cantle-Jones then mentions a letter he received from Nelson Mandela, which he has hanging on his wall, acknowledging his achievements.
In typical self-effacing fashion he moves on to other elements of his work in South Africa, before I stop him to probe further.
Unsurprisingly, he has this letter hanging framed on his office wall, he seems genuinely surprised when I ask him to let me see it.
As he takes the letter down from the wall, he laments: “It will be some funeral when he dies.”
He continues: “Our aim was to bring South African sport’s administration up to a level where it would be able to compete internationally.
“South Africa is a sports-mad country and sport was viewed as being a huge factor in reconciliation.
“The letter from Mandela recognised the role we played in helping bring the sport structures up to an acceptable standard. It recognised our work in the training and uplift of black sports’ administrators.”
Cantle-Jones says the most challenging aspect of his four years was dealing with the white-dominated rugby fraternity.
He had to mediate in a dispute involving the emblem that the South African rugby team should wear on its shirts.
With the protea flower being the national symbol, the momentum in the country was to incorporate that onto the nation’s rugby shirt and replace the Springbok.
A compromise was reached and the Springbok rested on a bed of proteas, he explains.
Cantle-Jones says: “Rugby in South Africa had always been an Afrikaner sport and there was a real arrogance about the governing body run by Louis Luyt.”
Luyt is the man who prompted a walk-out by the All Blacks first XV reacting to remarks he made in a post-dinner speech following South Africa’s World Cup win in 1995.
The most thrilling time of his South African experience came at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 when Cantle-Jones was trackside as Elana Meyer won the nation’s first Olympic medal since 1960.
Derartu Tulu’s victory was the first by a black African athlete and Meyer, the silver medal winner, and Tulu draped their respective flags around their shoulders and ran a lap of honour together to massive applause from the crowd.
“It was a symbolic moment in the journey. Meyer’s achievements played a significant part in the reconciliation. I still get goosebumps when I think about it,” said Cantle-Jones.
His next big challenge was getting involved with organising the Euro 96 football experience in Newcastle.
“I had been really stimulated by both South Africa and Barcelona. We became the first city in the world to develop the concept of the fanfest
“We were the only city to embrace football and incorporate it as part of a wider cultural festival including things like street theatre.
“Many cities then, and now, put up big screens for fans, but this was a much wider cultural thing and laid the foundations for the later Capital of Culture bid and 2018 World Cup bid.”
From 1997 to 2000 Cantle-Jones was director of the Millennium Festival, successfully managing 15,000 events across the UK in 1999 and 2000.
He recalls the frustration he felt as the media almost exclusively focused on the controversial Millennium Dome and the £100m spent on it.
Following on from that, he set up Polar Production and Urban Events, which worked with local authorities to bring ice skating and beach volleyball to city centres.
This included organising the World Under-21 Beach Volleyball championship in Brighton.
One of four children, Cantle-Jones was born in London before parents Frank, a social worker, and mother Audrey, a nurse before becoming a social worker, moved to Jesmond.
“I spent three weeks in London, I was frustratingly robbed by three weeks of a proper Geordie heritage.”
Newcastle was less ethnically diverse in the 1970s than it is now, and he stood out at school.
“I went to secondary school in Heaton and had a lot of good friends, but I learnt to grow up tough and fight my own corner.”
He lives in Newcastle with wife Polly and they have four children aged between 14 and 22.
Cantle-Jones likes to keep fit and plays football in the over 40s league for the BT team, he says he even got a game for the “juniors” in the Northern Alliance a couple of days after his 50th birthday, at the end of last year.
“At school I would say I was bright enough, but lazy, and was more interested in playing football than school work.”
He studied economics at the University of Bristol and completed a post graduate marketing qualification at Northumbria University.
His first job was in the sports and recreation department at Newcastle City Council and it was while he was working at Tynedale Council that he landed the job with the UK South African Sport Initiative in 1991, a partnership between the UK Government and the African National Council.
Cantle-Jones’ passion for sport saw him enter the sports administration field himself with his appointment as chairman of Sport England for the North East in 2004.
“I was invited to apply for the position and it was a great honour to be the North East representative for regional sport.
“We helped develop the Centre of Excellence at Gateshead Stadium, helped bring the 50-metre swimming pool to Sunderland and attracted £30m of grant aid across the North East.”
He fears the legacy of the 2012 Olympics may be lost as cuts limit the amount of money to support grass-roots and school sports.
He passionately believes sport is an essential ingredient in children’s lives at a time when there are so many other ways they can now spend their time.
He also spent time on the board of One North East during its 10-year lifetime and believes its legacy will be the leadership it has shown, the way it has supported innovation and science and embraced the low carbon agenda.
This is the space where Cantle-Jones has now placed himself.
In 2006, he established Energy Saving Lighting (ESL) which works with customers in the North East to provide energy- efficient lighting solutions.
ESL is based in one of Newcastle’s oldest buildings, Plummer Tower on Croft Street, which was once part of the city’s town walls which date back to the 13th Century.
From this ancient fortification Cantle-Jones last week launched his latest business venture.
This company, Low Carbon Lighting, makes LED street lamps which run on 70% less electricity than conventional models.
It is confident of securing orders to allow it to start manufacturing in Northumberland and believes it will create about 40 jobs over the next 10 years and see revenues of £20m and profits of £5m in five years.
He is very optimistic about the future. “I have been very privileged to be able to swap between sectors and opportunities. Some people stick with the same career.
“I have an enquiring mind, I like new and different challenges. I am prepared to take risks and put myself out there.
“In the current economic climate many people are hunkering down, but we still need people who are prepared to go out there and take risks.
“Most of my working life has been in the public sector, or working close to the public sector. I am now entering the next stage of my life where I will be working in a business environment.
“Our aim is to build and grow a profitable business. I want to bring something to the region which will stimulate growth and wealth.”
Despite a lifetime of achievements, this Newcastle United fan still treasures a memento his mother secured for his ninth birthday.
She was working as a hospital nurse and Wyn Davies (Newcastle United centre forward at the time ) was in for treatment and the young Cantle-Jones got a card signed by all of the team.
He doesn’t hide his lifelong passion for sport. “It’s a good job we have two Sky TVs. I can watch the sport upstairs and the kids can watch their TV downstairs.”
First degree – economics and politics - University of Bristol Graduated 1983
Post graduate – marketing diploma – University of Northumbria Graduated 1985
2006-to date: managing director, Energy Saving Lighting
2008-to date: associate director, Capita Symonds
2000-to date: director, Cantle-Jones Associates, project management consultancy
2006-to date: panel member, facilities advisory panel, The Football Foundation
2005-2008: member, London 2012 Nations and Regions Committee
2005-2008: chair, North East Olympic Forum
2004-2007: chair, North East Sports Board
2003-2006: board director, Visit Britain, England Marketing Board
2002-2005: board director, ONE North East
2001-2003: Event Partner South Africa
1997-2000: director, Millennium Festival
1996: Euro 96 Newcastle co-ordinator, European Football Championships
1991-1995: project manager, UK South Africa Sports Initiative
1990 – 1991: project manager, West End Health Resource Centre.
1989-1990: assistant director, leisure services, Tynedale
1987-1989: regional officer, Sport England
1984-1987: recreation officer, City of Newcastle upon Tyne
What car do you drive?
Mercedes C Class, but my next car is a Nissan Leaf
What’s your favourite restaurant?
Francesca’s in Jesmond
Who or what makes you laugh?
What’s your favourite book?
The Dune Anthology by Frank Herbert
What’s your favourite film?
Pulp Fiction or The Godfather, can’t decide
What was the last album you bought?
Bruce Springsteen box set, the first 7 LPs
What’s your ideal job, other than your current one?
If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you’d teach it to say?
Haway the Lads
What’s your greatest fear?
Losing my good health
What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
Begin with the end in mind – Stephen Covey and others
Worst business advice?
Don’t worry something will turn up.
What’s your poison?
Usually I am a lager lout.
What newspaper do you read, other than The Journal?
Tend to catch up with the news on Sunday with Sunday Times and the News of the World.
How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
£10 per week, stacking shelves at Laws stores, which is now Tesco Extra in Jesmond.
How do you keep fit?
Playing football and sometimes going to the gym.
What’s your most irritating habit?
You would have to ask my wife!
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Which historical or fictional character do you most identify with/admire?
Admire – Martin Luther King.
And which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Quentin Tarantino and Bruce Springsteen.
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who made a difference.