Obituary: Tiny Rowland

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The Independent Culture
IN 1973 I wrote a leading article for the Spectator attacking Edward Heath's denunciation of Tiny Rowland and Lonrho as presenting "the unacceptable face of capitalism" by paying directors through the tax haven of the Cayman Island, writes Patrick Cosgrave [further to the obituary by Nicholas Faith, 27 July]. I wrote without consulting Lonrho.

The grounds for my attack were threefold. First, there was, at the time, a continuing boardroom battle for control of Lonrho: in my view the Prime Minister was acting improperly in - effectively - intervening in that battle. Second, no Lonrho director had acted illegally: if the Prime Minister thought that the state of the law was unsatisfactory he should change it, not preach about it. Third, I thought that, if the Prime Minister really thought that Rowland's conduct was unacceptable, he should say so outside the safe haven of the House of Commons, and risk a libel suit.

The following morning my telephone rang. A quiet voice, with a hint of a stammer, asked to speak to the writer of the leader. I identified myself and the voice went on: "My name is Rowland. I want to buy 30,000 copies of your paper and I want to invite you to lunch." At that time, in a good week, the Spectator sold about 10,000 copies.

From time to time over the next few years I lunched in the Lonrho boardroom, having learned early on that Rowland would almost never accept an invitation for elsewhere or, if he did, he would cancel at the last moment. I had not seen him for some time when, on the Monday after the 1979 general election, I was summoned to lunch again.

He had one question: what was the new Prime Minister going to do about Rhodesia? Although I had worked for Mrs Thatcher, I had only the haziest notion about her African policy, and said so. "Then guess," Rowland said. I said I thought it probable that she would move to recognise the government of Bishop Muzorewa. "I see. What are you doing for the rest of the week?"

I told him that I had an engagement in Oxford the following day, but was free thereafter. "Right. If I introduced you to an African politician who would explain why that course would be unwise, would you undertake to send a note of your conversation to Mrs Thatcher?" Imagining lunch somewhere in London with one of his African friends, I said yes.

"Good. Have a drink and wait for me here."

He was back within half an hour, and spoke without preamble. "You're having dinner with President Kaunda at State House in Lusaka on Wednesday. We'll get you there." That was the first evidence I had seen of the ramifications and strength of Rowland's African links. On Wednesday I duly dined with the chairman of the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Governments' Conference; and I was to get to know a good many more of Rowland's African friends in the years to come.

I had, however, lost touch with him by the time I received an invitation to give a lecture in South Africa in 1982. I had, in 1979, promised Lonrho's man in what was now Harare, Nick Kruger, that I would look him up if events ever took me to Southern Africa, so I rang Rowland's secretary for Kruger's number. Later in the day Rowland himself rang me, and asked if my wife was coming with me. I said that she was. "Good. Then you'll both be our guests in Zimbabwe."

When the munificence of Lonrho's hospitality became apparent, my wife, not unnaturally, asked me what I would be expected to do in return. "Nothing," I said. "That's just Tiny's way of doing things. He always said that he never forgets a friend, and never forgives an enemy." Men who have found him either a friend or a foe would testify to the truth of that maxim, central to the character of the most mesmeric man I have ever met.