Now President Emeritus (Life President), the octogenarian’s place in Aston Villa history is complete. “I’m still claret and blue through and through. I still miss being in charge at Villa Park but I have no regrets about who I sold to. I think Randy’s a good man and we get on well. He has kept all his promises. I have my row of seats in the director’s box, my own office and boardroom table to entertain and the same parking space. For away matches I’m often representing Randy who is away in the States. I’m helping him out, but I’m not interfering.”
Doug acquired the number plate AV 1 about twenty years ago. “A woman contacted me,” he says, “the widow of a farmer in Devon called Arthur Vincent. Before he died he said he wondered if the Aston Villa chairman would like it. I paid £18,000 for it but didn’t put it on my car for about ten years. Around Birmingham, AV 1 is so well known, cars flash you – you can’t take a girlfriend out,” he jokes. “I was coming home from Villa Park once, I’d had a scotch and I saw the blue light of a police car behind me. They pulled me over and a policewoman got out, walked round to my side and I remember putting the window down only a little bit, I didn’t want her to smell my breath. She said, ‘I’m sorry to bother you Mr. Ellis, but my driver wants your autograph.’ My wife Heidi has one too, HDE 1 on her CL500 Mercedes.
“My grandson Frank, will probably have AV 1 after me. He’s 22 now. About a year ago a man approached me and asked, ‘You wouldn’t sell it for £100K would you?’ I said no, I wouldn’t sell it for anything. It’s on my fifteenth Rolls – a Phantom. My first Rolls cost me £3,000 but this one was £270,000. I have to build a new garage to house it because the Phantom is six inches wider than a standard Rolls. These days I only take it out to go to Aston Villa.”
Doug’s wife Heidi says that now he’s retired, people wait after matches to shake his hand and thank him for what he’s done for Aston Villa. “It is appreciated,” she says. “We wish them all the best, we all want Aston Villa to be top.”
The real Herbert Douglas Ellis – chairman, multimillionaire, the man known as ‘Deadly’ – has one aim in life: to protect and nurture the ones he loves, whether that is his family, friends or Aston Villa Football Club.
Interview and photography: Ruby Speechley