Neil Laselles Prendergast
Neil Laselles Prendergast – First Wolverhampton Black Millionaire
Neil was born in the parish of St. Ann’s Jamaica on 23rd May 1939. Like many Caribbean’s he headed to England in 1956 at the age of 17 to find his future. Not much is known about Neil prior to him setting up his business, but we can assume like so many Caribbean’s he would have worked in factories as a means of survival.
At the age of 30 in 1969 Neil started up his ‘fizzy drinks’ business Top Pops with just £600.00. The recipe for the drinks was based on flavours of the Caribbean, Neil employed the knowledge and skills he acquired in Montego Bay at a drinks factory where he worked. Even the bottles used mimicked those of the Jamaican drinks outlet. Top Pops was an immediate hit with the community of Wolverhampton. The flavours were those that they could associate with the Caribbean.
Neil’s beginnings were one based on positive foundations. As a Boy Scout Neil stated: “A scout smiles and whistles over all difficulties. He is a friend to all, a brother to every other Scout, no matter what Country, class or creed the other may belong”. He also used to say: “Remember, we are not primarily put on earth to see through one and other, but to see one and other through”. Neil held the belief: “Once a true Scout, always a Scout”.
Neil permeated this belief throughout his business career. Those who worked for him commented what a gentleman he was, always willing to give support to his fellows.
Neil was the first black man in Britain to own an Aston Martin his car registration number NP1.
His wealth of course attracted many. Women flocked to him like bees to honey. The Aston Martin of course was a ‘babe magnet’. Wealth also attracted those who did not adhere to the ‘boy scout’ ethos.
In September 1970 Neil was driving his Aston Martin coming pass St. John’s Church in Wolverhampton. He was on the dual carriage way, when he lost control of the car. Neil almost died and was unconscious for three days. When he came out of the coma he merely asked where he was. He was told that he was at Wordsley Hospital Stourbridge after a very serious accident. Neil was hospitalised for six weeks. A director of Top Pops visited him in hospital and informed him that £20,000 in cash had gone missing from the company, and that Top Pops, no longer existed. The company had failed. Neil replied: “You must be joking! Not Top Pops- the foundation is too strong for it to be shaken”. He quoted the Gospel from St. Matthew: “And the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew and it beat upon that house and it fell not because it was founded on rocks, So it is with Top Pops – its foundation cannot be shaken”.
Neil left hospital and rebuilt Top Pops
Top Pops’ popularity grew and Neil opened his first distribution outlet on the Park Lane Trading Estate in Wolverhampton, where he had two units. Neil was on his way. He registered three companies: Top Pops (UK), Top Pops (Midlands) and Top Pops (London).
The distribution of his ‘fizzy drinks’ went as far as Scotland, and as far south as Portsmouth. Top Pops challenged the then home drinks delivery giants Davenports and Corona.
Neil’s wealth grew, and became a major employer throughout the UK, especially in Wolverhampton. Corona offered him one Million pounds for his business in 1970.
Neil continued to look at other ways to expand his empire and started to compile a selection of Proverbs and Commonsense Books. He self funded his first publication in 1972 with second and third editions in 1987 and 1993.
Neil also started an Investment Company, which he hoped would have developed into the First Black Bank in Britain.
Unfortunately, Neil’s business accruement suffered and all of his companies went into liquidation between 1994 and 1996. This was due to unscrupulous employees and Neil’s trusting nature, that all those connected to him would adhere to his ‘boy scout’ ethos.
Neil spent his last days in Parkfield Nursing Home (Wolverhampton), where he died on 1st May 2013. No longer the playboy, no longer the millionaire, but a frail elderly man at the age of 73.
With thanks to:
Extracts from Interview with George Gordon 16th August 2013 Report written by Keptreene Finch ( 18th August 2013)