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DJ Taylor: How Simon Barraclough went from anonymous teenager to power geek


Simon Barraclough was a painfully anonymous teenager. In fact the "Leavers' Notes" column of the very minor public school he attended in the 1990s said only of him that "S. Barraclough (Winstanley's) was a member of the debating society."

At Cambridge, he was known as Geeky Simon, and an aristocratic acquaintance, the heir to broad acres and grouse-filled moors, observed that, "Barraclough was so wet you could shoot wigeon off him." Of medium height, bespectacled and with a lot of badly cut brown hair, he was the kind of undergraduate whose appearance the reference-writing tutor is sometimes unable precisely to recollect.

Graduation came and the little band of convives departed – mostly to London and jobs in the law, media and the City. Thereafter, nothing was heard of Simon for some years, other than that he had joined the thoroughly respectable, but rather dull, accountancy firm of Tender & Mainprice. The haughty and glamorous girls to whom he had always been rather afraid to talk crossed him out of their address books and the two or three genuine friends he had made in the college branch of the Christian Union stopped sending him Christmas cards. It was said that, after qualifying, he had taken a job in Hong Kong.

Ten years passed. The glamorous girls, by this time, were writing columns for Vogue or at work on their first novels; the men were scaling the ladders of venture-capital firms. Still nothing was heard of Simon, until the evening someone saw him at a reception attended by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. Enquiry revealed that Geeky Simon had recently been appointed head of Tender & Mainprice's corporate finance department at a salary of £650,000 a year.

He is a rather different-looking Simon now. The wavy hair has been pruned back on American corporate lines; the spectacles have gone. As to how this transformation came about, no one could say, but its consequences were enough to inspire one of the glamorous girls to invite him to the launch of a book she had written. He stayed 20 minutes, drank one glass of white wine and allowed her to understand that the recent re-financing of the firm that had published the book had been undertaken by one of his senior managers. Meanwhile, the Master of his old college, who wrote imploring him to address a graduate-recruitment seminar, has not yet had a reply.