The founder of one of the UK’s most successful business empires will turn 95 on Sunday as his foundation celebrates 21 years of improving opportunities for young people across Essex.

Sir Jack Petchey, who was ranked seventh on a county rich list last year, established the Jack Petchey Foundation in 1999, a grant-giving organisation that has so far invested more than £133 million in programmes to benefit people aged 11 to 25 across London and Essex.

He said: “I want the young people we work with to learn to believe in themselves and that’s where we get our saying from: If you think you can you can. If they’ve got belief in themselves then, as a foundation, we’ve done our job properly.”

Born in 1925 in Plaistow to parents Dorothy and Stanley Petchey, Sir Jack left school at the age of 13 to work for a local greengrocer.

He joined the Royal Navy four years later and learned vital skills in maths, algebra and geometry and was put forward for officer training. He didn’t get through the selection process though, and was transferred to the aviation branch of the service after asking why he was rejected.

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Sir Jack Petchey was knighted in 2016

Following the Second World War, Sir Jack was discharged from the Navy in January 1947 and returned to his former job as an office boy at the Solicitor’s Law Stationary Society in East London.

Ambitious, Sir Jack asked to be trained as a manager but was told he was “not management material”. Rather than accept rejection, he handed in his notice and set up his own business.

With no income, the philanthropist bought an old car and started a taxi service taking soldiers home from the docks into central London.

This business expanded as the former director of West Ham United and owner of fellow Premier League club Watford acquired a fleet of cars to hire, before realising selling vehicles was more profitable. This saw him buy a chain of garages, only to then realise selling properties was a better way to make more money.

Sir Jack made his first move in the property business in 1954 and this quickly grew into Petchey Holdings, which now manages a commercial portfolio including more than four million square feet of industrial properties and 350 residential flats in central London.