My friend Paul Garner, who died on 19 January, was best known in the opera world as personal assistant to Placido Domingo. He was popular for the urbane charm, caring warmth and affability he naturally displayed in his work with some of the most prominent opera stars of the past half-century.
Born in St Catharines in Ontario, Canada on 28 March 1928, he displayed significant musical talent as a child and completed his piano studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where he won the gold medal for his performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1. William Glock, who was later the BBC controller of music and responsible for the Proms, was adjudicator at the performance. One of Paul's contemporaries at the conservatory was Glenn Gould, who helped him rehearse the concerto by playing the orchestral part on another piano.
Soon afterwards, Garner decided to come to England to study acting at Rada, in the first of several career changes. There his contemporaries included Peter O'Toole and Albert Finney. He spent some years acting in repertory theatre companies in Britain, and appeared with some of the leading actors of the day, including Patricia Routledge, Thora Hird and Harold Pinter.
Then, turning his back on acting, he joined Decca Records and was soon employed by one of the Decca artists, Joan Sutherland, and her conductor husband, Richard Bonynge, as personal assistant. This took him around the world, one highlight being the famous pair's long-awaited return to Australia in 1965. By 1970, Paul's work for them meant remaining in their permanent home in Switzerland for long periods. The Swiss authorities declined to grant him a work permit as a foreigner, so eventually Paul had to leave.
While with the Bonynges, he had met Placido and Marta Domingo, and in 1975 he began working as Domingo's personal assistant, a post he held for 26 years, again travelling around the world, but now with even greater frequency, until the aftermath of heart bypass surgery compelled him to retire.
Paul won the affection not only of the Domingo family, but of all who knew him. He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered by them, including the many Domingo fans with whom he had formed firm friendships.
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