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John Gaze (1947 – 2011)

December 31, 2011

It hardly seems possible that my friend, larger than life John Gaze, died this year. We met many years ago when he lived in Fournier Street on what I would describe as the ‘other side of the tracks’, the posh side of Brick Lane. At the time I was a Labour Councillor serving Spitalfields ward. Most of the people who contacted me lived in overcrowded conditions and depended on benefits. John contacted me seeking assistance for his temporary lodger.

John Gaze aged 16

John Gaze aged 16

John Gaze, early 1990's. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John Gaze, early 1990’s. The Albany, Piccadilly London

I recall our first meeting where he probed my politics with some alacrity. I assumed from the outset that he was deeply Tory but soon found that he defied classification. He was capable of damning both Tory and Labour politicians (something we both had in common). I often teased him about his involvement with livery companies and City institutions. He barely tolerated this but was happy for me to wind him up about his membership of the Carlton Club. I dined with him in his different clubs as he regailed me with anecdotes regarding the antics of members he introduced me to. It amused him to introduce me as ‘a socialist from the East End’ – an acolade I never objected to; for himself he enjoyed the label of a ‘Piccadilly shop keeper and grammar school boy’.

John Gaze, early 1990's. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John Gaze, early 1990’s. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John was keenly aware of the class system in society and was dismissive of public school education.  On the other hand he freely admitted his desire to be accepted by the establishment but never sought to hide his sexuality within the walls of the deeply conservative City Establishment.

John Gaze, early 1990's. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John Gaze, early 1990’s. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John’s appeal was in his contradictions. He was able to drop names without a hint of vulgarity: moving effortlessly from his recollections of Elton John in the 60’s to Edward Heath in the 80’s. Following his kidnapping in Spitalfields he moved to the Albany in Piccadilly, a place he had always wanted to live in. He recalled asking his father about the Albany when they passed it in his childhood. His father described it as “a place for gentlemen” and John told his father that one day he would live there.

John Gaze, early 1990's. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John Gaze, early 1990’s. The Albany, Piccadilly London

His role as Parish Clerk of St Michaels Cornhill ensured his acceptabilty at the elite address but eyebrows were raised when a fundraising party for people with AIDS was hosted by a well known drag queen. Letters weren’t sent to the Times but an article appeared in the Telegraph. He cursed whoever leaked the story but also had the cutting framed.

He bought me a portrait of Lenin from the former Soviet Union. On the day I was to pick it up he was walking down the corridor at the Albany with Lenin as his neighbour the politician Alan Clark approached him. “Where the fuck are you taking that?” he said and John reassured him it was destined for a less salubrious address in Whitechapel. Whenever I look at the painting I always think of John, his contradictions, generosity, magnificent wine cellar, the Church of England and likewise its myriad contradictions.

John Gaze, early 1990's. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John Gaze, early 1990’s. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John Gaze, early 1990's. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John Gaze, early 1990’s. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John with Hazuan Hashim 2007

John with Hazuan Hashim 2007

 John Gaze, early 1990's. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John Gaze, early 1990’s. The Albany, Piccadilly London

John in Ennismore Gardens 2010

John in Ennismore Gardens 2010

John with Phil Maxwell 2007

John with Phil Maxwell 2007

John in Ennismore Gardens 2010

John in Ennismore Gardens 2010

I will miss nights of Tchaikovsky, stories from Russia, fine port and Fortnum & Mason pork pies. The last time I saw John he told my partner Hazuan to make sure he looked after me; John was always on the look out for his friends but had a cavalier attitude towards his own health. His prolific consumption of cigarettes and alcohol mirrored his bohemian embrace of life. He once told me that the death of a close friend was like losing part of yourself. How right he was.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. june moynihan permalink
    December 31, 2011

    philip wonderful words
    love june

  2. Desperate Raj Wife permalink
    January 1, 2012

    Very moving Philip x

  3. Kevin Moore permalink
    March 12, 2012

    Thank you for such a moving article – he was one very special gentleman. Very much missed.

  4. Joe Taylor permalink
    August 9, 2013

    I knew John from the Carlton Club. I haven’t been in for a while and was unaware of his passing. He was enormously entertaining and endlessly kind. A proud Huguenot, liveryman and Piccadillian.

  5. August 22, 2013

    I have only today, stumbled upon this wonderful homage to the late John Gaze / St Michael Cornhill. He is missed by all who knew him. RIP.

  6. Clive Harvey permalink
    October 26, 2015

    Only today I learned of the passing of John Gaze. I had not seen him in many years, none – the – less I am deeply saddened to know that this colourful character is no longer with us. I first met him in 1968 at a party at what was then the totally unfashionable end of Chelsea and thus our paths were intertwined through mutual friends for many years afterwards. I will always remember him with affection and amusement even though we had not seen each other for a very long time.

  7. Arthur Carter permalink
    February 1, 2016

    I first met John at St Magnus-the-Martyr Church in 1975 and kept in touch until I left London in 1981. He invited me to dinners of the Plumbers and he came with me to the Bakers. I found him wonderful company with a host of stories and, in my old age I thought I should get in touch again. Only now have I found of his passing but he will live in my heart for ever.

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