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Founder and chief executive of Radio H-P, Britain’s most successful private networking site,
strongly influenced by the Household Division’s ethos
by Paul de Zulueta
formerly Welsh Guards

 ‘I will have Hadden-Paton in my Regiment whether he has a Maths O-Level or not’, wrote Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, Colonel of The Blues and Royals, to the Army Board. The Field Marshal’s confidence in Nigel may have been influenced by his wife, Peggie, whom Nigel remembers as largely conducting the interview herself over tea and cucumber sandwiches at their Chelsea home.

Ironically, it was this experience and the faith shown in him by the Field Marshal and his wife that emboldened Nigel, forty years on, to launch Radio H-P, a brilliantly conceived tech start-up for networking. ‘The young inspire me’, Nigel said. ‘They’ve not had an easy a time as our generation, financial and mental pressures, getting a job, I wanted to give them a leg up, much as I was given one all those years back’. He went on, ‘I also wanted to give something back to the Regiment which had given me so much, so Radio H-P listeners using the site also make a donation to the Household Cavalry Foundation. Nigel, one of life’s ‘doers’ volunteered and was chosen to be a ‘ski buddy’ in March this year to wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan in the charity ‘Supporting Wounded Veterans’ annual ski rehabilitation week in Klosters. He’d first heard about the initiative through a posting asking for volunteers on Radio H-P.

Inter-Regimental Polo. 1975
Left-to-right. Nigel Hadden-Paton, Hugh Pitman, Andrew Parker-Bowles, Somerville Livingstone-Learmouth

Field Marshal Templer’s letter to the Army Board may have dealt with the matter of the elusive Maths O-Level and soldiering, a part of Nigel’s blood on both sides of his family; his maternal great grandfather, Captain Jack Manners-Smith winning a remarkable VC in the Hunza-Nagar Campaign in India (now NW Pakistan) where he stormed an enemy cliff top sanger, dispatching all the occupants with his pistol. But Nigel’s passage to a commission in the Household Cavalry was not an easy one. Two Brigade Squads, three attempts at the Regular Commissions Board, rehabilitation at Headley Court, and more Commandant’s ‘March and Shoots’ than any sane man should have to endure, Nigel finally achieved his ambition of a commission in The Blues and Royals. As Nigel remarked, ‘I learnt to persevere, it’s stood me in good stead ever since’.

The Household Division has a collective ethos but each of its seven regiments has its own hallmark.  ‘He’s a good Mick’, a friend might say and you know exactly what they mean. ‘He’s a bit Grenadierish’ someone once remarked to me about a cousin’s fiancée and, once again, I knew what to expect. I asked Nigel what it meant to be a Household Cavalryman. He paused for a moment, a half smile crossing his face, before responding, ‘I think we can be unfairly stereotyped, especially by the Army’s roundheads, but I like to think that, as a Regiment, we really knew how to work hard and play hard. The Regiment and individual Squadrons more than played their part in Northern Ireland, the Falklands Campaign, Iraq and Afghanistan’.

I asked Nigel what had been the time in the Regiment of which he was most proud. Nigel chuckled, ‘It’s the “play hard” bit without doubt, 1975 Polo season, we won everything, the Inter Regimental, Captains and Subalterns, and every major low goal tournament in the country without exception. Major-General Claude Pert described us as “the best mounted and drilled low goal polo team ever seen since the Second World War, and unlikely to be seen again”’. (Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Pitman, No 1. 3 Goals; Major Andrew Parker-Bowles, No 3. 2 Goals; Captain Somerville Livingstone-Learmonth, No 4. 2 Goals; Captain Nigel Hadden-Paton, No 1. 1 Goal).

I remarked to Nigel that everyone can have an unlucky roll of the dice but, by and large, the Household Division produced a good few officers whom one could admire, and whose example remained with one. ‘So true’, Nigel said, ‘But I’d point to my own father first and foremost, he’d been adjutant to the Royal Dragoons in the war, immaculately dressed, beautiful manners, the highest of standards which he expected everyone to adhere to. On joining the Regiment, I was fortunate to have Brian Lockhart as my Squadron Leader; Andrew Parker Bowles to whom I was adjutant, wonderful leader, charismatic, colourful and venerated by the men; Fluffy Birdwood, everything that a Household Cavalry officer should be; and then, of course, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Eric Penn GCVO OBE MC (Grenadier Guards, later Comptroller to the Household). Eric coordinated the Royal Wedding between Prince Charles and Diana, I was adjutant on the day. The thing about Eric was that he’d won the MC leading a company of Grenadiers to take a hill at Tromonsolui in the Italian campaign, January 1944, shocking conditions with eight Spandau MG posts to overrun’.

Captain Nigel Hadden-Paton. On duty in the Operations Room

A Royal Wedding must have seemed blissfully stress-free in comparison, I thought to myself. Nigel read my thoughts and said, ‘I so admired his old-world charm and manners, calmness and attention to detail’. ‘Nigel’ ‘he would say to me’, ‘if you can bear it, just a touch back behind the carriage, we don’t want the Royal couple to look hemmed in’.

Nigel left the Army in 1986. His father had had a stroke aged 63, and Nigel went to run the family estate, Rossway in Hertfordshire. I don’t imagine Nigel entertained the idea of anything beyond commanding the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, a more than respectable stamp on anyone’s career, but, as he said, ‘My fourteen years gave me everything I needed in later life: perseverance, resilience, a much better understanding of my fellow man and, above all, friends for life, an honourable and trusted network which became the catalyst for the values behind Radio H-P. A bit clichéd I suppose, but that’s the truth of it’.

The trusted network did not just refer to his brother officers. Shortly after Nigel took over the family estate, a group of ‘travellers’ burst into the estate grounds ready to set up camp. The police were unable to do anything because it was private grounds and travellers employ any number of Mr ‘Gradgrinds’ to fight their corner. Serving at the Guards Depot as a company commander, Nigel called his Company Sergeant Major for help. A bus-load of Lance Sergeants, H hour at first light, and the problem was solved with the memorable denouement of a ‘traveller’ bursting out of his caravan with a samurai sword only to come face to face with the Company Sergeant Major and his quietly spoken, ‘I’d put that away laddie if I were you unless you want to wear it as a carnation’. (Say this with a Glaswegian accent).

Nigel devoted himself to the estate but with a large, rambling house to keep up, and not quite enough acres to make it all viable, he decided to sell up and build a career around entrepreneurship and helping the young make a success of their lives. Invariably upbeat and a ‘life enhancer’ by nature, this brought immediate success as his infectious enthusiasm and far reaching network helped many people from the UK, and abroad, to find their feet. One of his pet projects, the Périgord black truffle in commercial quantities, has yet to get off (or perhaps out of) the ground but he remains, as ever, optimistic as he seeks to persuade England’s great estates to plant his ‘inoculated’ seedlings.

Helping wounded veterans with their rehabilitation and journey back to work has been a constant, but it has been Nigel’s initiative with Radio H-P that has brought him the most success and recognition. In an age of fake news, online scams and sites like eBay and Gumtree open to abuse, Nigel saw the need for an online network that people could trust. The Times referred to Radio H-P as the ‘smartest and most exclusive tech start-up in the UK’. Its growth has been exponential with close to 11,000 members, all of whom need a proposer and seconder from the existing membership. Its purpose, essentially altruistic, as Nigel reminds the membership, is to give the young ‘a leg up, and promote home and owner-run businesses ‘I don’t advertise any unpaid internships, nor do I promote businesses touting to individuals’.

It also meets an important social need, particularly for the so called ‘baby boomer’ generation who often have responsibilities and a duty of care to two generations. Looking for a carer, someone to drive an elderly parent to hospital once a week, a fund-raising dinner to help the young with anxiety and depression, are also the day-to-day business for Radio H-P.

Nigel Hadden-Paton - a recent photograph

Any successful venture will attract criticism from those who wished they’d thought about it first, or dislike anything they think smacks of elitism. The Guardian: ‘Aux armes, citoyens, aux barricades, boycott Radio H-P perpetuating privilege, trading grouse-shooting tips, letting out lavish holiday homes and funnelling internships to their kids under Mr Fix-it Hadden-Paton, truffle entrepreneur (fake job)’. All good knock about stuff, and unlikely to produce anything more than a wry chuckle from Nigel. And, of course, there’s nothing worse than no publicity. Still, he is aware that, like any successful business, Radio H-P has to evolve and yet retain its integrity and the values that first inspired the initiative. One day it may make him a very wealthy man but that, as anyone who knows Nigel well, was never a consideration.

There used to be a phrase, no doubt apocryphal, in your Army confidential report that if you were a married officer, you would require the statement, ‘ably supported by his wife, Hyacinth, who takes an active role in all aspects of Regimental life’, to help your promotion prospects. Nigel has been married for forty years to Sarah (Bumble) née Mellor whose father was Brigadier Freddie Mellor (60th Rifles) and whose brother Julian served in the Irish Guards. They have three talented daughters and a son, Harry, who having starred in Downton Abbey and The Crown, has just been nominated for a Tony award for his role as Professor Higgins in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady.

‘There are no strangers in our lives; only friends you haven’t met yet’, wrote the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. Like all of us who have served in the Household Division, most would agree that friendship is its most enduring and precious gift. Nigel has built a successful business around that gift to help like-minded people in their everyday lives. Few would begrudge him his success.

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