A memorial service on Thursday to remember Lord Bell – founder of Bell Pottinger and prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s favourite advisor, who died last August – proved a gathering of the great and the good in British PR, advertising and media, as well as the Conservative Party.
Sitting around your diarist – somewhat surprised to be placed in the reserved seating at the front – were Sir Martin Sorrell, VCCP partner Charles Vallance and the one-time chair of Chime sports marketing, Lord Coe; at least two of whom looked well-tanned for a cold lunchtime in February.
Media luminaries at the event at St Paul’s church in Knightsbridge included one-time Channel 4 boss, Lord Grade; George Osborne, former Chancellor and now editor of London’s Evening Standard; and Lord Heseltine, owner of Haymarket Media Group (which publishes PRWeek and Campaign).
Lord Grade raised the rafters with a eulogy to Bell that talked about his off-the-wall pitching spiel and the time he slipped and landed in the Malaysian president’s lap when trying to win that account.
From the world of PR, the guest list included Ogilvy UK boss Michael Frohlich, Hanover founder Charles Lewington, PRCA supremo Francis Ingham and ThreeSixty’s Oli Wheeler. Bell’s fellow Tory PR peer, Lord Chadlington, was naturally one of the ushers.
Bell’s three children read, rather beautifully, Bell’s (and Margaret Thatcher’s) favourite poem, ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. Many speeches attested to Bell’s unrivalled expertise as a crisis advisor as well as his charm.
After the highly entertaining, occasionally moving, sometimes incredulous ceremony – which included the former Secretary of State for Industry, Lord Young, claiming that Tim Bell’s campaigns in the 80s had stymied ‘the hard left’ to this day – the right-leaning glitterati retired to the ballroom of the Berkeley Hotel.
There, as Tim would no doubt have wanted, Champagne was quaffed by former Tory leaders Michael Howard and Iain Duncan-Smith, the former MP Michael Portillo and current party chairman, James Cleverly. Tony Blair’s wife Cherie – who was an unusual friend of Bell’s – was at the ceremony but not the drinks.
Flack left reasonably early but this looked to be a party that would last most of the afternoon. As Lord Grade said: “I’m sure Tim would look at this gathering and view it as the most amazing networking opportunity.”