Casting a flamboyant spell from a private plane

Depriving Tiny Rowland of a private jet would be like keeping a Rolls-Royce in the garage to save on petrol. His style requires such apparently flamboyant gestures, just as it requires his polished manners and his immaculate suits. (In fact, he owns one of the most renowned tailors in Savile Row.)

Not that a private plane should be seen simply as a luxury for the chief executive of a conglomerate with business interests in more than two dozen countries scattered round the world. Rowland's royal progress through Africa, which I first witnessed with awe in Malawi 30 years ago, has made his company the leading British trader on the continent and given him a deeper knowledge of African politics than MI6 and the Foreign Office combined (as I've heard both acknowledge).

The way his alleged pounds 5.5m perks-and-salary 'package' has been presented to the press bears all the hallmarks of a calculated leak from the camp of his partner and rival, the German Dieter Bock, in an attempt to discredit him ahead of today's meeting. It is hard to believe that his admittedly high level of expenses was not known, and much of it approved, by the Lonrho board.

I must be one of relatively few people privileged to hear at first hand Rowland's view of Bock and Bock's view of Rowland. Curiously, Bock gave me his views on board the company Gulfstream on a trip last year to secure a gold mine concession in Tashkent. The gist of it was: 'If Tiny wants the plane as the price of his friendship, then fine - but I'll expect a lot of friendship for this.'

One can only assume that he feels Rowland has failed to deliver. Not that Bock has been notably friendly himself, systematically stripping Rowland of his allies on the board and imposing non-executive directors. Bock has skilfully exploited the post-Cadbury principles of strict corporate governance to put Rowland at a disadvantage. Whether he actually believes in them may be another matter, just as it is unclear what he plans to do with Lonrho once he escapes Rowland's long shadow (if he ever can).

I first came across Rowland at a Government House reception in Zomba, Malawi, in 1964, when he arrived with Angus Ogilvy to buy Nyasaland Railways. His height, striking good looks, old-world courtesy and general style made a memorable impression on everyone. I've since seen him exercise the same spell over Africans, including Nelson Mandela, Arabs, Indians, Mexicans, Russians and Iranians.

His many trips to Africa, even his unscheduled calls on guerrilla leaders in the bush, are like state visits, with minimal airport formalities. The jet is undeniably comfortable (apart from the time it was shot at by Angolan rebels), but the journeys are long and gruelling and Rowland, now 76, is prey to occasional asthmatic and malarial attacks. This is not sybaritic jet-setting (he is a non-drinker) so much as hard work.

As with the plane, his elegant homes in Buckinghamshire and Chester Square, London, are in effect Lonrho offices, as his loyal and supportive wife Josie, aged 50, must ruefully observe as yet another evening or weekend is given over to entertaining yet another Third World leader.

Because he has deliberately shunned the establishment, the City knows little about Rowland except his public feuds and obsessions. They know nothing, for example, about his lively and mischievous sense of humour, which lights up all his personal contacts.

He may need that sense of humour today if the board seeks to strip him of all power in the company that has been his whole life. There have been some very high payouts in recent months to unwanted Lonrho directors: the imagination boggles at what it might cost to remove a man with a pounds 5.5m annual price-tag.

The author was editor of the Observer during the 12 years it was owned by Lonrho.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam