Special Friends and Special People

Foreword - An Apology

This is dedicated to the special friends and relatives in my life, who have either kept in touch or tried to keep in touch with me over the last 10 years or so, when I have been going through a bit of a personal crisis.

Looking back, the start of this “personal crisis” coincided with the beginnings of the break-up of my marriage to Michele, and it is always difficult to explain to mutual friends why this happened. I did not want to put anyone in the awkward position of “taking sides”. Because I was the one to initiate the divorce, and also the one to leave the UK for a new life in Crete, it did not seem right to me to give good friends this dilema, and so – rightly or wrongly – I avoided keeping in contact.

For this, please accept my sincere apologies. 

Chris and Jenny Efstratiou

I have known Chris (CJ) and Jenny from our earliest days together at Merchant Investors in 1974. They are my oldest friends and have been incredibly generous over many years to me and my family. They have three children, Melissa, Marcus and Rowena, and I was honoured to be asked to become Godfather to Marcus (probaly the worst Godfather in history): I have followed the progress of Marcus via LinkedIn and am proud to see that he is a very successful copywriter – despite receiving no assistance from me!

Chris qualified as a Chartered Accountant, but in true entrepeneurial fashion, he eschewed this in favour of making his own way in life. Originally from East London, and a Greek Cypriot, his background was about as different to Jenny as it could possibly be!

Jenny is a tall and very attractive girl, whose parents were what you might call upper class. Some branch of her Scottish family tree still owns an ancestral castle, linked to the Hay Clan. Jenny spent a number of years in Kenya, when her father was posted abroad, and so we had something in common, with our childhood spent in Africa.

I do not know the full story of how they met, but as teenagers they were dance partners, and became incredibly successful together – ranking very highly in the UK National Amateur Ballroom championships.

At Merchant Investors, Chris – with Jenny’s help – was probably the most successful salesman we had, and went on to run his own Insurance operation, Berkeley  Walbrook, in the late ’70s.
Chris was a gifted businessman, and while I spent money on a flashy Etype, he and Jenny “made do” with a Mercedes 450SL and bought a London flat at Westbourne Terrace, London W2 – their first property. Getting started early on the property ladder was probably the best move they could have made.

As their business continued to do well, in the early ’80s they bought a superb new holiday apartment in Puerto Banus, near Marbella Spain, and they were most generous hosts when Michele and I visited them.

Their next property move was a big financial stretch to buy what has been their family home for many years – a beautiful Manor House with large grounds at Stadhampton, in Oxfordshire. Again, my family visited often, sometimes staying overnight, and enjoying their hospitality on so many occasions. 

At about the same time as the insurance industry became more difficult to work in, because of government regulation, Chris turned his attention to Commercial Property, using his business skills to leverage funds. Starting with retail properties in Oxford, he later turned his attention to Wanganui in New Zealand, where Jenny’s parents had retired.

Jenny also had her own business interests, and together they have always made a formidable but “low profile” team.

Researching Google for anything about CJ is not very productive but I was amused to read an article from a local paper in New Zealand in 2011. Like me, Chris and Jenny have an instinctive dislike for the Press, and any form of publicity which is business related.

But to their friends, they are most generous, and two of the nicest people you could meet. I love them both!

Tony and Nona Haslam

I first met Tony in about 1985 when we joined the Riverside Club

Tony was the Club Manager, and knew the Beckwith Brothers personally: they could not in my opinion have made a better choice, because Tony ran a “very happy ship” and made the Riverside Club a special place.

Tony is ex-army, and utterly charming: if you give him half a chance, he will rattle off half a dozen hilarious stories about his time in the Regiment. A natural comedian and raconteur, he is the “life and soul of the party” – but perfectly capable of switching into “serious” mode when required.

Nona is also tremendous fun and was previously a soloist at the Royal Festival Ballet. She continued to  maintain her love of dance  by volunteering to work with the Royal Ballet, and Michele and I were lucky enough to attend some performances together at Covent Garden. However when she first met Michele and I as new Riverside Club Members, she was unhappily married. 

It soon became apparent to us that there was a definite attraction between Tony and Nona – I believe Tony was also going through a divorce at the time, made more awkward because of the children involved. To cut a long but romantic story short, we became great friends and socialised together, and were honoured to be witnesses at their Registry Office marriage some 30 years ago.

Unluckily for all of us at The Riverside Club, Tony resigned circa 1994 after “falling out” with the Board: however the Haslams continued to lived locally, and they remained the closest of friends for many years, even to the extent of regularly supporting our various amateur dramatic events! 

The O'Connor Family

On my father’s side of the family were two cousins, Shirley and Betty, both lovely people. Shirley married Tom O’Connor, who was a successful architect living in Essex, and they set up home first in Southend. As Tom’s career progressed, they then moved to a large house in Hockley, Essex with about 10 acres of ground, where they brought up their family of four daughters, all very attractive and with different personalities.

I first met them when I was 12 and about to start at King’s Canterbury – my parents organised a trip to the UK from Uganda to be with me and organise things like the school uniform etc. – and we visited the O’Connor family at their home in Southend.

I remember being totally stunned by Carol, the oldest daughter who was 16 at the time, beautiful vivacious and blond: if I remember correctly, she had a bit of a reputation as a “wild child”, and of course it was 1960, when “flower power and revolution” was in the air! The second daughter was Patsy, who went on to become an actress, the third was Dianne – about my age – and the youngest was Maralyn.

When I started at Cranwell, and had my own transport, in the early ’70s, my parents were living many miles away near Bristol, and I was invited on several occasions to the O’Connors home in Hockley, which became for me a “second home”. I loved going there. Tom was tall and extremely intelligent, but had five women in the house to “contend with”: he would talk extremely quickly and switch subjects at a moment’s notice, which could be disconcerting – until I got used to it. Shirley was very special – a gentle person, nothing phased her and she had a smile all the time.

By this time, Carol was married to Philip – a local Chartered Surveyor and amateur rugby player and  all-round good bloke – and Patsy was busy in London doing theatrical things. So the two girls I came to know the best were Dianne and Maralyn: Dianne was terrific with a great sense of humour and a gift for languages, and Maralyn was for most of this period still at school. For me, it was like having two sisters, and I very much appreciated the welcome I received whenever I visited. And it was at the O’Connors house that I met Rosie, my first wife.

All the girls later married extremely nice and interesting “guys” with different careers, and had families together. Tom and Shirley moved to Mere in Wiltshire in the late ’80s – I think – and I seem to remember that I was invited to give a speech there at Maralyn’s wedding to Jeff Levett.

Patsy married Peter, a talented artist: Dianne married Keith who was/is in agriculture and farming, and I visited them several times at their home in Winchester. The couple I got to know best were Jeff and Maralyn, who moved to Camberley in Surrey, and we socialised together on many occasions over many years, latterly with my second wife Michele. They have two children – Amy (who is a talented singer) and Patrick.

David Day

I first met David about 20 years ago – he was one of the remarkable group of actors in the Barnes Community Players (BCP): he had also attended the Richmond Adult Community College, where he was involved with courses designed to help professional singers.

Happily married to Bridget for some 50 years, an “out and out” Labour Party supporter and former fireman (London Fire Brigade), with an interest in sailing, cooking and music of all types, David is one of the nicest people you could meet, with a great sense of humour and extremely modest dispositon.

Apart from being a fine actor – our performance together as King and Prime Minister respectively in one of the BCP Pantomimes springs to mind – he is a very  talented singer, and was very active on the SW London “pub” circuit as well as in our local Musical Theatre venues. He is also a fine amateur painter!

Always positive, he encouraged my lesser talents and we did perform together on several occasions at the same venues – usually a favourite pub in the Barnes or Chiswick area, or sometimes at our “open mic”

David is the only friend who has visited us in Crete, and therefore knows more about my new life than most. Some years ago, he moved home from Barnes in London, to Ashford in Kent, where he is involved in local “amdram” and jazz clubs – and still singing. He is very active on Facebook, and we remain very much in touch.

Charles Geoffrey Arnold Sayer

Charlie or (CGAS) is a complex character, and has been part of my business and social life for longer than anyone else. In his current LinkedIn profile he describes himself as a Direct Marketing Specialist

I first met Charles in the ’70s when I formed Noble Warren Investments – he was a potential addition to my sales team, but never committed to joining me. 20 years later, he supported me in the formation of the various telecom companies I founded, for which I am very grateful.

Charles is a bit of a “butterfly”, by which I mean he is happier flitting from project to project without being too involved in the hard graft, which most entrepeneurs need to go through before becoming successful. He sees himself as a “business angel”, identifying interesting projects and then putting the right people together to “make it happen”. CGAS was luckier than most of us because there was money in the family, and he was never going to have to struggle financially: he was also very cautious when it came to spending his own money or making investments.

I met both his parents on several occasions, and they were charming: Charlie’s father was in International Banking and had returned to London after many years living in Hong Kong, with a very successful career with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Charles was brought up in HongKong, and so we shared the experience of a former colonial life in childhood. I did detect a little family disappointment that Charles had not followed in his father’s footsteps, and did not seem to “have a proper job”!

When I moved to my Thames Village property in 1987, although I loved the location, it was a small flat on the ground floor. I had plans to also acquire the upper floor flat if it ever became available which would then have made one property of a decent size. Sure enough, after 10 years or so, it became available but I was in no position to afford to buy it at the time, and so I persuaded Charles to purchase the flat on the understanding that I would have an option to buy it from him in the future. Charles was at the time looking for a permanent home, and did not need much persuading. And so we became neighbours and I see that he is still in residence there.

I remember two “charlie inspired” business ideas that I was involved with when my own business was in a state of flux. The first involved Life Settlements, and a friend of his called Ian Dike who was running an insurance business in Hampshire: I have covered this elsewhere in the Blog, but it did involve a joint trip to Fort Myers in Florida. The second involved a 10 day trip to Sri Lanka where we stayed near Colombo in a very pleasant hotel, formerly the Governor’s Residence. Ostensibly this trip was to investigate the possibiltiy of setting up an import business for items of well known branded clothing/sportswear from Sri Lanka factories, where labour costs were low, and we did visit a few of the factiories in the local area. In reality, I think Charlie hoped to develop his relationship with the attractive Sri Lankan girl who had suggested the idea to him.

As neighbours, we were both members of the Riverside Club and played a fair amount of social tennis together. Charles became a director of and modest shareholder in easy-dial Ltd, and shared our offices in Richmond for some years. Although we have not been in touch for some time now, I will always remember our shared penchant for a nice pub lunch – for example at the Bull’s Head or Annie’s in Chiswick  – with a pleasant bottle of wine or two.

All serious comments replied to the same day !