Payne Hicks keeps Team GB sailors buoyant

If all you want out of the ­London 2012 Olympics is to see Great Britain win a gold, then a good bet would be to keep an eye on the sailing.

There is no doubt that the GB sailing team is world-class. Sailing has been Britain’s most successful Olympic event for more than a decade, with a haul of medals that tops anything won by the athletics, cycling and rowing teams.

In the same vein, if you wanted to sponsor an Olympic hopeful, then going for one with a good shot at bringing home a gold makes sense from a branding ­perspective.

Certainly, no one would be shocked to discover that this was Payne Hicks Beach’s ­reasoning when it chose to sponsor five Team GB sailing hopefuls.

It also helps that one of the firm’s department heads is a world and five-times British dinghy ­sailing champion.

“I grew up in Torquay and ­started sailing when I was 10 years old,” says Richard Butcher, dispute ­resolution head at Payne Hicks. “In Torquay there’s great sailing because there’s not much tide. Then, when I went to grammar school, I kept at it, and my sailing career kept progressing.”

In 1972, while in his second year of studying law at Southampton University, Butcher became British champion. The following year he won two more British Championships, the two-man ­Fireball and 47 Olympic classes. He went on to win two more titles, in 1977 and 1978, taking his total to five.

He became world champion in the two-man Fireball class in 1973. Fittingly, the competition was held in Torquay, “a home-water ­advantage, perhaps”, says Butcher.

Butcher had Olympic aspirations too. In 1975, a year before the Montreal Olympics, he was running a preparation campaign while completing his ­articles of association at Torquay firm ­Hooper & Wollen. After a day at work he would go for a run, go to the gym or drive to Grantham, near Lincolnshire, to sail.

Despite his commitment, things were looking bleak for Butcher – the £14 a week he received as a trainee did not cover the considerable expenses that go with the sport.

But then an interview with Butcher was replayed on Radio 4, leading to the chairman of John Player cigarettes giving the crew £500 to travel to Canada to take part in a pre-Olympic regatta in Ontario. Butcher and his crew ­finished seventh out of 80 boats.

He never did make it to the Olympics though. The following year Butcher was forced to choose between sailing and law. He chose law and stopped competing.

“There was no money in sailing in those days,” says Butcher. “Not that there’s much now for most of the Olympic competitors either. It was therefore a case of utilising five years of training and three of professional practice or ­abandoning that and becoming a sail-maker or something similar.

“Having said that, it was a tough decision, as sailing was also my ­passion and something I’d been doing for 20-odd years. My regret to my dying day is not to have won an Olympic gold medal.”

Practising as a litigation lawyer is Butcher’s outlet for the ­competitive streak that drove him to compete at the highest level, and even miss England’s 1966 World Cup victory to train, much to the annoyance of his crew.

And although he no longer ­competes, he does remain close to the sport, acting for Dame Ellen MacArthur and three-time Olympic sailing gold medallist Ben Ainslie, as well as advising the Olympic hopefuls on their funding agreements with the Royal ­Yachting Association.

Butcher points out that the advice to the Yachting Association can be incredibly complex, particularly for a litigator. But then, it does not sound as if Butcher is one to shy away from a challenge.

Payne Hicks is sponsoring two-time Olympic gold medallist (Finn and Starr class) Iain Percy, Olympic gold winner (Laser class) Paul Goodison, Olympic bronze medallist windsurfer Nick Dempsey, and Bryony Shaw, who won a bronze at Beijing, leading the BBC to apologise to viewers after she said in a live interview that she was”so f***ing happy” to have won. The firm was also ­sponsoring double Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton before she pulled out before the selection ­trials for London 2012.