I met Ian when he joined London Fire Brigade as our first public affairs manager, in 2006. He was a precious find and an incongruous addition to an organisation that values a crisp white shirt and a tie. LFB isn’t an easy organisation to join, but he was quickly adopted as a friend by the same group of people who generously adopted me when I joined in 2001. We met often over after work drinks, (Ian less than me, but enough) to gossip and support each other.
His first major project was to produce a strategy for the introduction of reduced ignition propensity cigarettes, where he ably supported the then Chair and Commissioner who fronted the work. He also designed and executed a campaign for sprinklers to be fitted in schools and for changes in legislation regarding the storage of acetylene cylinders which can explode like a bomb in or near a fire and which also caused major transport and business interruption in London earlier that year when Kings Cross station was closed for two days because of a fire near some cylinders. It will have been easy work for someone with Ian’s prodigious abilities, but we were all impressed.
In 2008 political control of the Authority changed. Months before, Ian’s boss had taken him to a meeting with the then prospective Chair of the Authority, to which Ian wore a friends of the earth pin (probably his old brown jacket too). It was suspected that Ian had done so because he thought it would be amusing to provoke him, which of course it did. After the election, neither could bear the idea of working with the other and Ian told me he would leave. It was unfair but Ian judged it right. But after a further political change in 2012 he was able to rejoin us and in this second stint he was able to continue the work he had started. In addition, he was able to work on a much wider canvass of public affairs objectives, including providing invaluable guidance to our post Lakanal work and one of my own passions, scrutiny and reform of fire safety legislation.
Ian was a joy to work with. Obviously not a very conventional employee and others made representations to me about his lack of sartorial elegance and his habit of disappearing each morning with the magazines and journals… And we could never have provided enough of a challenge for him so I suspect that a good portion of his time at work wasn’t actually spent in production for LFB and others could see that and felt sore about it. But as far as I was concerned that was the price for having access to his fantastic skills and experience.
After we both left LFB, Ian and I remained in contact and most recently worked together on a submission to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, urging new statutory powers and duties that would offer better fire safety protection, more transparency and enhanced political accountability. He also helped me with a couple of related articles published in The Guardian. We would have done more on this.
We met sometimes for lunch at the Cork and Bottle (which always involved desert wine, but never desert) and from time to time Ian also signed up to plans to meet with others and then didn’t turn up. One friend asked me if Ian really meant it when he said he’d like to meet up and I replied that he did when he said it. One evening our group arranged to meet with Ian in an outside bar in The Cut, but when the weather changed we went to another bar a short distance away. Ian hadn’t joined us by then so I spent the next few hours messaging him and literally running between the two bars, in the rain, trying but failing to track him down. I suspect that he never actually set out to join us that evening. But he meant to, when he made the plan.
Ian also sent music for me to listen to. Madrugada, of course, because some of my FB postings caused him to think I liked baritones and some of his own music too. I’ll miss all of that.
Ian was a unique addition to life, both private and public. Others have commented on his intelligence, which was on the intimidating end of the scale, but in my experience he shared it generously and I’m sure I won’t be the only person he helped to be better; I was and remain grateful to him.