Christopher Shale: Conservative Party activist who became a trusted aide and friend of David Cameron

Martin Childs
Tuesday 28 June 2011 00:00

Christopher Shale, chairman of West Oxfordshire Conservative Association (WOCA) and a "close and valued friend" of David Cameron, as the Prime Minister referred to him, was found dead on Sunday morning in a portable lavatory at the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset. Although suicide had been suggested, the most likely cause of death is a suspected heart attack. Further toxicology tests are being conducted to establish the exact cause. Shale, who was attending the festival with his wife Nikki and their family, had disappeared almost 24 hours earlier before being discovered in the festival's VIP backstage area.

Shale, who worked in public relations, management consultancy and marketing, was a successful businessman and the chief executive of Oxford Resources Ltd, a corporate cost-reduction consultancy company based in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. He was known to be a traditionalist who held forthright views on the way the Conservative Party should be heading.

In a statement Cameron said he was "devastated" by the news of Shale's death, and added, "A big rock in my life has suddenly been rolled away." He praised Shale's "massive contribution to the Conservative Party, both locally and nationally".

Described by one senior Conservative politician who knew him as "a man in a permanently good mood", Shale became a regular at national Conservative events and is said to have helped establish the party's Patrons Club, a scheme to raise money for the Tories.

It is believed that Shale died shortly after receiving a call from Downing Street warning him that criticisms he had made in a memo about the Tory party were due to be published by the Mail on Sunday newspaper. In the memo, he had written that there were "no reasons" to join the Conservative Party. "Over the years we have come across as graceless, voracious, crass, always on the take," he wrote. People do not want to join the party, he continued, because they "think we'll beg and steal from them. And they're right."

Friends and colleagues from the Conservative Party in Oxfordshire do not believe that the Downing Street call or the fact that the memo had been leaked was unlikely to have caused him any undue concern or contributed in any way to his death. Richard Langridge, the deputy chairman of WOCA, believed that while Shale was disappointed the memo had been leaked he was happy with its content.

Langridge added, "It is certainly not a question of him ruffling feathers or people being upset at what he said, and he wasn't spoken to by anyone higher up in the party about its contents. The report was for members, it was a local initiative done with the full agreement of the national party."

Born in Northampton in 1954, Christopher Shale was the oldest of five children – he had three brothers and a sister. At the age of four, heattended Great Houghton, a local prep school, before moving on to Oakham School, where he excelled at rugbyand cricket and became head boy.While he was at Oakham, Shale'sfamily moved to Machrihanish, near Campbeltown in Scotland, before moving to Edinburgh.

Shale left school to attend a business course in London for a year. He then had to decide whether to go to university or join the army. He chose thelatter and attended Sandhurst, receiving his commission in 1975, when he joined the 17th–21st Lancers in Fallingbostel in Germany. He was an extremely popular officer, both with his men and his fellow officers. While with the Army he went on a major expedition to the Himalayas, which he adored and where his organisational skills came to the fore.

When he left the army, Shale joined Neil Durdon-Smith at Durdon Smith Communications but within 18 months had left to establish his own company, SGL Communications. He later set up a management consultancy business, Oxford Resources Ltd, a corporate cost-reduction consultancy company based in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

A monarchist and a philanthropist, Shale was seen as nurturing a traditional brand of Toryism; he was also a director of the Centre for Policy Studies between 2001 and 2005 and a sponsor of the Eurosceptic think-tank OpenEurope. He later joined his wife in her property business.

Since 2007, Shale had been involved in a Conservative Party project, Project Umubano, a scheme to help people in Rwanda, and went on its inaugural visit. He also personally sponsored young survivors of the conflict there through university, which has involved more than just providing funding for their education but also providing personal guidance and support. This project became dear to him and on the project's website he wrote: "I have hundreds of happy moments from Rwanda." Earlier this year he visited the country for the fifth time.

With the Shales wanting to spend more time at their home on the island of Lamu off the Kenyan coast, in 2010 they decided to sell their six-bedroom house outside Charlbury, near Chipping Norton, following a two-year renovation project. Despite this, Shale took over as chairman of WOCA in the Prime Minister's constituency, in March this year, after supporting the party in the constituency for the past 10 years.

Shale is survived by his wife Nikki and a 20-year-old son, Albemarle, and two stepchildren, Natalia (30) and Edoardo (27).

Christopher Shale, entrepreneur, philanthropist and politician: born Northampton 23 August 1954; married Nikki (one son, one stepson and one stepdaughter); died Glastonbury, Somerset 26 June 2011.

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