Tributes were paid yesterday to Sir Simon Milton, London's deputy mayor and Boris Johnson's chief of staff, who has died at the age of 49. Sir Simon, a previous leader of Westminster Council who was credited by many for effectively "running" City Hall, had been suffering from leukaemia for more than 15 years.
David Cameron said he had been a "tower of strength" at City Hall while Mr Johnson said he was "universally acknowledged to be brilliant at his job... He could magic tens of millions from the flintiest developers to pay for more affordable housing," he added.
"He had the tact to persuade architects to lop many storeys off their latest proposals for the sake of protecting London's views. "
Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor added: "Although Sir Simon came from a different political background to me, I always enjoyed working with him because he was interested in what was best for London. He was a distinguished and dedicated public servant who was respected right across London local government."
Sir Simon was educated at St Paul's School in London and Cambridge where he was chairman of the Conservative Association. But he did not go into politics immediately – instead he travelled to America where he learnt to become a master baker and went to work for his father who ran a chain of bakers in north London.
It was a background that sparked his political leanings. He once described his anger at seeing the impact of high taxation on the business and his father's health.
For 20 years he served as a Westminster councillor and was leader from 2000 to 2008, during which time the council received exemplary Audit Commission ratings and levied some of the lowest annual council tax rises.
He was knighted for his services to local government in January 2006 and was appointed senior planning adviser to Mr Johnson in May 2008, becoming deputy mayor for policy and planning in September that year and chief of staff the following June.
He and his partner Robert Davis, a fellow Westminster councillor, were together for more than 20 years and entered into a civil partnership in 2007. He was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1990. Sir Simon had a bone-marrow transplant eight years later but caught pneumonia while recovering which damaged his lungs. He died at the London Clinic on Monday after a short illness.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson said he was the man who was able to make his boss's ideas a reality. It was Sir Simon who was instrumental in bringing to fruition plans to build a cable car across the Thames as well as working on the details of Crossrail and major infrastructure projects. He added Sir Simon was also one of the rare people trusted by Mr Johnson to write drafts of his speeches and had a wry sense of humour. As Mr Johnson recollected in an article for the Evening Standard: "He and I were once watching some unfortunate footage of me falling into a river. Simon turned and said: 'I've got the Standard their headline – "River crisis – Mayor steps in".'"