Saturday 31 December 2016

2016 - My Year in Review - Monarchy, Brexit, Protocol & Trump

Apologies, dear readers, for neglecting my blog for most of 2016. The year now departing has been exceedingly busy; and, despite best intentions, my attempts to regularly maintain this blog were repeatedly thwarted.

This post is intended to provide the briefest summary of some of the more interesting highlights and media appearances of my past year, including The Queen's 90th Birthday, the Brexit referendum and the Trump presidential campaign.

I have selected one event for each month of 2016, followed by a random selection of other activities that readers may (hopefully!) find interesting, entertaining or amusing.


Lecturing at The Ritz hotel, London

I delivered a lecture to the new debutantes at The Ritz hotel about the Monarchy and the House of Lords, royal protocol and how to address the different ranks of the peerage. The phenomenon of debutantes is spreading globally, with debutante balls now held annually in North America and Asia. This lecture formed part of the debutantes year of training before "coming out" at the modern revival of The Queen Charlotte's Ball organised by the London Season.


With Michael Wood and Rebecca Dobbs as they receive their award for their landmark BBC TV series "The Story of China"

My business partner and I were pleased to become Official Partners for The Hurun Report's Chinese New Year Dinner, held at London's Mayfair Hotel.

I was pleased to be joined by our guests of honour, the celebrated historian and broadcaster Michael Wood and his wife Rebecca Dobbs (both pictured above). My partner and I had nominated them to receive "The Award for Outstanding Contribution to UK-China Relations, 2016" for their landmark BBC TV series "The Story of China".

The Hurun Report (China's equivalent of Forbes Magazine) is publisher of the 17th annual Hurun Report Rich List and Hurun Report Art List.

Country Life magazine illustration for their article on RTs (Red Trousers)
In March I was interviewed for Country Life Magazine for an excellent article by Flora Watkins about the history and symbolism of that most divisive item of gentlemens’ clothing: red trousers (a.k.a "RTs").  The Country Life article may be read at this LINK.

In a politically heavy year, this "comic relief" story was picked up by the BBC, Daily Telegraph etc. and within a week had become something of a viral phenomenon. I also appeared in a Mashable article on the subject, which may be read HERE


The Queen reached her 90th birthday on 21st April – and I was delighted to be at Windsor Castle and also in London providing live coverage for both the BBC and CBC.


Arrival of HRH The Princess Royal at the Royal Windsor Horse Show
(Note the two Mounties either side of HRH)

Having been interviewed in the Official Programme for the Royal Windsor Horse Show's 90th Birthday Celebration for The Queen, I was delighted to be invited to attend a gala evening at the show.

The Royal Windsor Horse Show brought together the finest equestrian traditions and representatives from the Commonwealth and around the world. A truly special occasion. I was particularly pleased by the presence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their famed Musical Ride (performed to the accompaniment of “The Maple Leaf Forever”).

My amateurish phone video of the arrival of HRH The Princess Royal may be seen here:


Brexit Debate - 23 June 2016
L to R: Stanley Johnson, Lord Liddle, The Moderator, Sir Bill Cash and Me

I appeared in various media outlets over the summer to discuss the merits of Brexit. Amongst my appearances, I was pleased to take part in what may have been the very last debate of the campaign. 

On the evening of 23 June, a couple of hours before the polling stations closed, I appeared on France 24 TV’s international channel to debate the merits of Brexit with the long-standing Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash MP. Our opponents were Stanley Johnson (father of the current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson) and Lord Liddle (former special adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair). 


 I was a panellist for “Brexit: Where Do We Go From Here?”. Created by the “Invoke Democracy Now’” organisation, the panel was composed of pro-Leave speakers representing a broad church of Brexiteers from across the political, cultural and social spectrum.

Other panelists included Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas and Brendan O'Neill, editor of Spiked Online. We spoke to a packed house in London's "Rich Mix" venue.

Following the announcement that the Emperor of Japan would abdicate at some point, I appeared in Japanese media to discuss the tradition of abdication around the world.


I delivered a lecture on Royal and Aristocratic Protocol to a delegation of distinguished Americans. The event was held at London’s historic Polish Hearth Club.


I appeared on BBC World TV to discuss the importance of diplomatic protocol and cultivating a positive public image. This was in connection with a news story about the controversial President of the Phillipines and his plain-speaking manner.

Emirates Tower, Dubai: With the Executive of the Young Presidents' Organisation (Levant Chapter)
I was pleased to travel to Dubai to lecture to the Young President’s Organisation on Cultural Intelligence in International Business. The lecture took place at the Emirates Towers – coincidentally, the event took place 3 years to the week since I last spoke in that venue.

2016 inductees to the College of Fellows of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society
I was honoured to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. 

Other Fellows of 2016 include The Chief Justice of Canada (Hon. Beverley McLachlin), Usher of the Black Rod of the Senate of Canada (Greg Peters), HE The Danish Ambassador to Canada, BBC TV Presenter & Historian Dan Snow, Senator Don Plett, Senator Vernon White, Dr. Susan Eaton (one of Canada's greatest female explorers) and Dr. Daniel Lebel (Director General of the Geological Survey of Canada).

Amongst other esoteric highlights of 2016:

* 7 June was a noteworthy day for me as I broke all my previous media records: in 4.5 hours I completed 22 radio interviews (both live and recorded).

* Can one buy a title? I appeared in Politico magazine to discuss the disreputable trade in the sale of bogus aristocratic and other titles of nobility. The article may be read at this LINK

* What is the husband of a Duke called? I appeared in Canada’s National Post newspaper to discuss the issue of courtesy titles for the spouses of titled women and of titled gay men. The article may be read at this LINK

* I appeared on BBC's Daily Politics programme to discuss Donald Trump's coat of arms and their authenticity as personal arms (below).

* I travelled to Romania for the first time and was delighted to visit Paul-Philippe (grandson of King Carol II of Romania) and Leia Hohenzollern a.k.a. TRH Prince Paul and Princess Leia of Romania at their home in Bucharest (pictured below, in front of a portrait of King Carol II). Although a nephew of King Michael of Romania and therefore not recognised as head of the Royal House, PP is in fact the senior genealogical descendant of King Carol II.

I attended the premiere of “Brexit: The Movie” at Leicester Square Odeon (below). The film was a crowd-funded documentary advocating for Brexit, and the premiere attracted an impressive Who’s Who of prominent Leavers (see below). 

In early June I was pleased to receive a VIP delegation from China and hosted events for them at institutions including the Houses of Parliament, Royal Ascot, Guards Polo Club and Lancaster House -- as well as a weekend at one of England's finest private stately homes.

Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot

Queen's Cup Final - Cartier Polo: Guards Polo Club

Shooting at one of England's finest privately owned stately homes

I send my best wishes to one and all for a happy, healthy and successful 2017.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

*A London Peculiar* featured in *Tydzien Polski*, Britain's oldest Polish-language newspaper

 A very nice article about my book A London Peculiar: The London You Shouldn't Miss was published in this week's issue of Tydzien Polski.

Founded in the 1950s, Tydzien Polski is the oldest Polish-language newspaper in the United Kingdom.

The featured photograph shows me standing in front of  a section of "London", the largest map ever produced in Georgian Britain (1799).

Friday 2 December 2016

Britain's Oldest Manufacturing Company To Close - Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Est. 1570)

After almost 250 years, The Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Est. 1570) is to leave this historic building
-- the company's future is uncertain
Does any city have a sound more instantly recognisable than the toll of Big Ben?  The mighty bell’s unmistakable hourly peal and the familiar Westminster Chime of its sister bells ("All through this hour; Lord, be my guide; And by Thy power; No foot shall slide") are famous throughout the world, immediately conjuring up evocative images of a foggy day in old London town. 

Bells have echoed through London’s soundscape for centuries.

When London was a walled city, church bells rang out the curfew every evening to signal the locking of the city gates. Traditionally, true cockneys are said to be born within earshot of “Bow Bells” (the bells of the church of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside), and generations of children have grown up singing “Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St. Clements”, a nursery rhyme identifying the bells of various City churches.
Since 1570 many of London’s most important bells have been produced by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the oldest manufacturing company in Britain and the most famous bell manufacturer in the world.

In 1752 America’s famous Liberty Bell was struck here and just over a century later, in 1858, the Foundry cast Big Ben, its most famous bell. Visitors to the Whitechapel premises walk through a cross section of Big Ben upon entering the front door. 

A Cross Section of Big Ben around the entrance to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Over the centuries, the bells of the Whitechapel Foundry have rung out over cities as far afield as imperial St. Petersburg, Chennai, Washington DC and Toronto.

Alas, I am sad to announce that despite this magnificent history, after over two centuries in the same ancient building, this great London institution is to extinguish its Whitechapel furnace and close its doors forever in May 2017. The building is likely to be sold. What will become of the almost 450 year old company remains to be seen.

The Foundry is currently located on Whitechapel Road in 17th century buildings constructed shortly after the Great Fire of London.  The Grade II listed heritage buildings were originally part of a coaching inn named the Artichoke before their conversion into bell-making workshops by the Master Founder of Whitechapel in 1739. 
The historic premises, frozen in time, should not give the impression that the Foundry has rested upon past glories. Through the 21st century the company has continued to manufacture and assemble a wide variety of bells and accessories of assorted shapes and sizes.

Given the Foundry’s long association with London, it was fitting that it was commissioned to design the special Olympic Bell that rang out at the opening ceremony of London’s 2012 Olympic Games, connecting the reign of Queen Elizabeth II with that of Queen Elizabeth I over 400 years earlier.

The Olympic Bell is the biggest in Europe and the largest harmonically-tuned bell in the world. 

The Olympic Bell is the biggest in Europe and the largest harmonically-tuned bell in the world. 

Also in 2012, the Foundry cast the bells used in the lead barge at The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant, and which now hang at the City church of St. James Garlickhythe.

The Queen visits the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Speaking of the decision to close the Whitechapel Foundry, owner Alan Hughes (Master Bellfounder since 1972) said:

“We have made this decision with a heavy heart, but in response to the changing realities of running a business of this kind. The Bell Foundry in Whitechapel has changed hands many times, but it has always been a family business. My own family has owned the foundry since 1904, but other families have run the firm through its history, which stretches back to 1570. The business has been at its present site over two hundred and fifty years. So it is probably about time it moved once again. We hope that this move will provide an opportunity for the business to move forward in a new direction.” Alan & Kathryn Hughes

Press Statement:

"1st December 2016

Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd announces, with regret, that by May 2017 it will cease its activities at the Whitechapel Road site that it has occupied since its move there in 1738.

The company intends to complete work on all projects presently in hand during the coming months. It will not be entering into new contracts for the time being whilst discussions with the company's staff and other interested parties regarding the future direction, ownership, and location of the company are ongoing."

We can only hope that this cherished London institution, the oldest manufacturing company in the land, will continue to exist in another form on another site.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is simply too important to Britain's national heritage to close forever.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32/35 Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1DY