I’m on my way down, heavily flu-stricken, to St Martin-in-the-Fields to read a poem by William Blake at the memorial service for my friend Ewen Balfour. Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be a solemn occasion. With Ewen, it never was.
Ewen was one of those people who made things work so well that you only noticed they were hanging by a thread when he stepped out of the frame. As director of public affairs at the Royal Opera House in the late 1980s he defused local opposition to the restoration, sneaked Princess Diana in when Prince Charles was not around, tranquilised a restive press and was so incredibly effective at managing relationships that, when he was sacked by a new boss, Jeremy Isaacs, the opera house fell apart faster than an atom at Los Alamos. When I came around to chronicle its collapse, Ewen was selectively indiscreet but never judgemental of those who had done him wrong.
He went on to launch Valery Gergiev at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra which, like the ROH, spiralled into nonentity after Ewen’s departure. For the next 15 years he handled a range of accounts for Brunswick, the public relations group. His influence reached into the most surprising places, the Prime Minister’s office for one, and whenever Ewen rang to see if I might ‘possibly accommodate him for lunch’, I always knew the time would not be wasted.
He was such fun, his laugh so infectious, his joy at great art so naive that one was forced to step back and look at it again. He was the great, or possibly great-great, nephew of the founder of what would become the state of Israel, but he never traded on his family’s political past and never treated anyone other than for what they were. In an occupation that invents image, Ewen was scrupulous with truth. He died in December and you can read an obit here.
I shall read William Blake for him this morning if it croaks the last of my voice.