Lord Browne traded the High Court for the Oxbridge debating club of his youth Thursday as he made a remarkably composed public appearance just two days after his sudden resignation as chief executive of BP.
Despite leaving BP after admitting lying to a court about his relationship with Jeff Chevalier, his Canadian former boyfriend, he fulfilled the longstanding engagement in Brussels – and even accepted questions from the floor at the open event organised in honour of Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate.
The assorted suits attending – and a few ponytailed environmental campaigners – were a sympathetic bunch, drawn mainly from the alumni of Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, where Mr Sen teaches, and European officials.
When a British journalist attempted to ask Lord Browne whether he could face perjury charges, he was shouted down by the crowd. Lord Browne, 59, said: “The last few days have been testing for me personally and I would like to express my deep gratitude for all the support I have received. I learned many things from my late mother, a survivor of Auschwitz. I learned that it is the future that is worth looking to.”
There was plenty of support on show as Mr Sen referred to him as a “visionary”, great leader and a philanthropist.
Looking as unflappable as ever, Lord Browne told the Financial Times afterwards that many people had been in touch to offer sympathy.
Far from being ostracised by the City, he said: “I have received plenty of offers.”
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, had approached him after he announced that he would be stepping down in July. “He asked me what I was going to do. I think it is a bit too early to think about that option,” he said.
He declined to comment on the court case but – still referring to the company at which he spent 41 years as “we” – he said he would like to take part in the fight against climate change.
Brussels is a popular place for British stars looking to avoid the limelight. Stephen Fry, the actor, went to ground there midway through a West End play run and Sol Campbell, the Arsenal and Portsmouth footballer, fled there after a crisis of confidence.
But Thursday Lord Browne chose it for his first step towards public rehabilitation.