As the unconvicted murderer Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth II shook hands today, I was reminded of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This is why.
Many years ago – along with six other blokes – I sold our communications agency Aspect to a Boston group known as HHCC – Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulous. My main contact there was one of the remaining founders, Jack Connors. Boston has a thriving business sector known as the Marketing Mix (Micks): it’s all about a touch of the Blarney, for sure and good luck.
I liked Jack. If I’m honest, he was a bit of a bandit, but he had a keen sense of humour about himself. I wouldn’t say we became friends, but we both told a good story, and there was a mutual respect. I loved Boston, and still do: apart from the John Hancock building, it’s generally low-rise, and compact. You can walk round it in two hours at the perimeter, and be out of the place into stunning New England scenery in under fifteen minutes outside rush-hour. Just a spit and throw down the road is Cambridge Mass, and it was in a restaurant there called Harvest – doubtless now long gone – where my partner Chris, Jack, HHCC’s FD and I scoped out the deal one Sunday evening in 1986. The payout enabled me to start a pension (somewhat late at the age of 38) that was looking quite good until Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi got hold of it. But who’s complaining?
After a few months of working together, one afternoon Jack invited me out to dinner a deux – a great honour I’m told, only otherwise bestowed upon massive clients, or his faithful mistress and personal assistant. So I dropped the invitation to an intimate supper at the White House, and joined him. During the meal, we fell to talking about backgrounds, and discovered we actually had lots of genes in common. Then out of left-field, Jack asked, “Are you a royalist?” I told him I was. He shrugged.
“She is one tough lady,” he replied. I asked him in turn why he thought that, and he recounted a fascinating story to me.
A few years previously, the Queen had toured America, and come to hear a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Lest we forget, not too long before that the IRA had unceremoniously blown up (and killed) the Queen’s cousin Dickie Mountbatten. So being sensitive to the end in such matters, the IRA decided to blockade the BSO performance, and not let anyone out afterwards. This was in the days before 9/11, when Irish Boston’s donations to the IRA were still disgracefully enormous.
Stuck inside the concert arena, Jack found himself standing within a few feet of the British monarch. And never one to stand on ceremony, he ambled over to QE2 to apologise for the behaviour of his fellow Bostonians. The Queen turned to face him, offered a thin smile, and said, “Well, what can you expect from the bloody Irish?”
Jack said to me, “I had two choices: get on the front page of Time magazine, or retreat. I chose the latter.”
I note that today, when the Royals/McGuinness conversations were taking place, all the microphones were switched off. Remembering this anecdote now, I can sort of understand why.