Welcome aboard, Lord Mayor of London

Who needs QE? The US has just injected $5bn into its economy in the course of electing a leader – a process that has left me exhausted, and I don’t even live there. China, too, has just arrived at naming a new leader. The process to anoint Xi Jinping possibly did not cost $5bn, but it has certainly been a lengthy one.

While all this has been going on, London has also acquired another leader, in the shape of a new Lord Mayor of the City of London. The office holder is the civic leader of the Square Mile and is sworn in at what is intriguingly called the Silent Ceremony. It is all very civilised; the outgoing and incoming Lord Mayors meet for lunch at Mansion House, then process to the Guildhall for a meeting with the aldermen, followed by a period of eerie silence when, apart from the making of the declaration by the Lord Mayor Elect, nothing is said. So it was that on November 9, Roger Gifford became the 685th Lord Mayor of London.

Roger was running a Swedish bank in Japan when I first met him more than a decade ago. We were both members of the Holiday Youth Club, an organisation for families with children at UK boarding schools. But I have always been struck by his talent and love for music; I am a complete philistine in this area, so it is good for me to spend time with someone who chairs the English Chamber Orchestra, as well as being an accomplished flautist and choir singer. Roger’s wife Clare Taylor, a consultant haematologist, accompanies him on the viola ... and did I mention that they have six children between them? It will come as no surprise that Roger will be using his time in office to set up a new charity, the City Music Foundation, to support young musicians.

In his job, which is apolitical, his main responsibility is to promote the City of London – and thus the financial services sector – to the rest of the world. But the post does bring some more unusual privileges. He would, for example, be entitled to assist the royal butler were there to be a coronation banquet in Westminster Hall during his year in office. As no such event has been staged there since 1821, I doubt this will be necessary.

Last Monday Roger threw his first big dinner, the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall. Mr M was persuaded to get out of his track suit to accompany me. Longsuffering Lily emailed him to remind him of this about a week before, together with the dress code. When I got home that night, there was a forthright discussion about the merits of having to dress up in white tie. (My Australian husband, as I have said before, finds all the dressing up that goes on in the UK to be quite extraordinary, and refers to it as “Poms at play”.)

It’s just as well that we dressed up, because we were placed only two and three seats away from the Lord Mayor. My neighbours were the male medical doctor spouse of the principal of St Andrews university and the former diplomat spouse of the Master of Trinity College Oxford. The latter rose to the occasion by wearing a black and white Shanghai Tang stole. Bravo! Sir David Tang would approve.

Roger spoke movingly of his long career in banking, and was followed by David Cameron, who made it clear that people who trash the banking industry are also trashing a major contributor to the UK economy. We also heard from Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury (surprisingly funny; he should go on the stage), The Lord Chancellor (also very funny) and the oddly titled “Late Lord Mayor”, who seemed alive and well to me.

Roger’s speech was only one of more than 800 he will make during his year of office, during which time he will devote 90 days to spreading the word overseas about the City of London. And all this in an unpaid job. It is enough to make anyone feel exhausted.


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