2 Jun 2015 at 09:45
All politicians, no matter how loathed, are publicly loved after death. Usually through gritted teeth. Charlie Kennedy was different. He was loved during his lifetime in an environment which can be brutal, hypocritical, malign and utterly ruthless. To say he was without enemies would be a lie. But they were few and far between. The reason? He had no side to him. He was as charming and decent in private as he was in public. He was not the sort of fellow who at the age of fifteen wanted to be Prime Minister. And not the sort of greasy little chancer which seems to infest political life, whose eyes are only for the main chance, with an insatiable ambition to climb the greasy pole over the bodies that he or his cronies had murdered. For a leader of a political party he was surprisingly without ambition. I remember over a gin or five he confessed that he did not want to be leader of the Lib Dems when Paddy stood down but felt he was expected to. I believed him.
His gift was normality. Not the ghastly ‘speaking human’ that spin doctors paste onto the charmless and the dull. Charlie was human. He didn’t look at politics through the prism of an ideology. He had the gift of reaching out and connecting to people whom politics was of no interest, but living a life was. He didn’t have to pretend to be a man of the people by faking to be fanatical about football. In fact, when we used to do our weekly LBC radio show with Ken Livingstone and Michael Parkinson we all used to stun Parky that none of us were in the slightest bit interested in sport. He never understood it. We used to have some great lunches with Parky which would finish at about 7pm. Once he had wheedled out of Charlie his desire for a well known actress at the time. He invited her to join us. Sadly, he had just come from a meeting from her gynaecologist and she relayed the gruesome details. Charlie’s ardour was dampened. They never met again.
When Parky went the wonderfully fun Simon Bates took the chair. One evening we had all been out on the piss and we’re still out of it reeking of booze on air the next day. It was wonderful, surreal radio with Charlie ending up feeding lettuce to Ken Livingstone’s tortoise.
Then there was the Anglia TV Christmas Quiz. Charlie used to be hilarious as did John Gummer. One evening we were nearly all thrown out of a restaurant due to boisterous joke telling. And that was the point. Charlie was fun. He could also be quite mischievous. One morning over a drink he damned dear old Paddy with faint praise. ‘Paddy is a remarkable man. Everyday before breakfast he thinks of five new ideas. Unfortunately they all concern the Internet.’
So cheerio old friend. Thank you for your kindness, your fun, your compassion and your company. Your young son Donald, will be very, very proud of you.