As Thailand woke on Monday morning to the confirmation that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the reclusive but beloved billionaire owner of King Power retail and Leicester City football club, had been among the five who died in the helicopter crash outside the stadium, the tributes began pouring in.
Figures in the world of Thai politics, football and even the royal family spoke of a “warm” and “generous” man, who had brought national pride to Thailand in his role as a businessman and as Leicester City chairman.
Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile in Hong Kong, said he was “honoured and blessed to have known Vichai for all these years and am deeply saddened by the loss”, describing him as a “great businessman and loving father”. Vichai had been a close friend and associate of Thaksin’s, even after the former prime minister was ousted from power in 2006 and their relationship was integral to the growth of King Power into a multi-billion dollar retail empire.
Nualphan Lamsam, who manages Thailand’s national women’s football team, sent “thoughts and prayers” to Vichai’s family, while Anutin Charnvirakul, leader of the Bhumjai Thai political party, told local media that he considered Vichai to be like a “big brother”
“He is a self-made man, worked hard and loved friends dearly,” he said. “We just lost someone who made big contributions to the public. I am sure his legacy will live on.”
Little was known about Vichai, owner of the King Power duty free retail empire, who opened his first shop in 1989 and by 2006 had been given a monopoly over the main Thai airports. Much of his success was credited to his ability to weather Thailand’s turbulent political environment, a rare ally of both Thaksin and the current ruling military junta.
However, it was his purchase of Leicester City in 2010 that pushed Vichai into the public eye. Thailand, a football-loving nation, became as swept up in the club’s remarkable ascendence to Premier League triumph as fans in the UK and prompted swathes of Thais to switch their allegiances from the popular clubs Manchester United and Liverpool to become proud Leicester supporters.