Good God, it’s been a week! Still, one can hardly complain considering the situation in Israel which is absolutely horrible and made so much worse by inexplicable delay. Straightaway I cancelled a trip to Jordan that was planned with my old school chums, and a trip to my home in Los Angeles got the axe well. With protests taking over for crime who needs it?
Instead I accepted an invitation to speak at the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford. I’ll be joined by the Environment Minister of Chile and our own Director General Ben Rimmington, whom I know well. After a few group texts we settled on dinner at The Ivy because it’s convenient, and I just like it there. Ben was only a bit late arriving due to road congestion but I teased him that Oxford isn’t conducive to a Cantabrigian.
Dominus illuminatio mea.
I was eager to see if either of them knew anything about Simon Nixon, billionaire and founder of Moneysupermarket.com. Nobody did, including me, which was odd given he’s been rather vocal about Davos, and presumably attended in past years but—nada. Google was no help either leaving me to presume he’s clearly a very private billionaire.
Before cocktails arrived I was already wrinkling my brow. No idea what the term ‘breaking silos’ meant but I made a mental note to look it up later. When we were seven, we decided to order dinner and give up on the guy from the Oxford Martin School. His absence was a disappointment as I’d wanted the quick and dirty on climate litigation as a possible means to transfer wealth. The rest I’m afraid is a bit of a blur—salmon mooli rolls, duck curry, and oh so very much gin.
Morning came early and it was hard not to want to set out on a glorious walk to clear one’s head. But work beckoned and I imagined myself in the same position as many a young Oxford Don. I lingered only a bit sipping coffee and surveying the various colleges from my balcony—absolute heaven! It was not heaven, however, for our film crew who texted that they were ‘Stuck in a bleeding LTN!’ (low traffic neighbourhood). Could this be true? A quick Google search showed most Oxfordians were fed up! Ten-minute bus journeys were now taking upwards of an hour, several teachers from the posh Magdalen College School had quit, and a Chinese take-away restaurant was closing after twenty-five successful years.
This way to the egress, Boris.
Officially I’m for anything that saves the planet but I knew all too well what Boris Johnson’s green bike lanes had done to London… snarled traffic, engines idling, and quite honestly… no one using the bike lanes. I finished my entire presentation and the Q&A that followed only to spy our camera crew entering as we stood for the applause. UGH! I gave a half-hearted smile to them and ditched. What was I going to say? That low traffic neighbourhoods were likely the brainchild of someone in this very room and sorry you came all the way here for nothing?
I did a quick search for the climate litigation guy but if he were here I couldn’t pick him out. I popped two cubes of cheese in my mouth and left. I had a date with destiny… Simon Nixon! No sooner had I set off, as I found myself in the same eco-gridlock. Blast! It was bad with entire roads blocked off to autos of any stripe. I could see where we wanted to go… I just couldn’t get there. Meanwhile, our petrol-burning engine idled. How was this helping the planet? My saving grace—I was taking a helicopter, which unlike an airplane, could take off whenever. Also it was a reasonably quick hop over to North Wales.
Simon Nixon was nothing I expected. More than unassuming, he seemed undecided as to whether he wished to promote this endeavour to me at all—his plan to make Abersoch the Côte d’Azur of Wales. Along with other properties, this North Wales retreat was to become the pillar of his latest project, www.simonescapes.com. Turns out he’d summered here as a boy before investing £1.2m into the property which was now stunning, and the views not to be outdone. But I wanted to know about his commitment to green endeavours, and if we could make him a major player at the World Economic Forum. The only morsel he gave me was that all the fish were locally sourced and he felt better about this property not sitting fallow most of the year. But guilt over waste was not a commitment.
His end goal was to boost the local economy but It wasn’t until he walked me through the property’s breath-taking glass conservatory that I was able to ask about his rather public condemnation of Rishi Sunak for not attending the WEF. In this stunning and transparent glass palace he could hardly not answer me. Turns out his interest had only ever been Britain’s economy, not the environment. He felt that having just hauled the nation back from the brink of financial disaster, Sunak should be acting the part of salesman for Britain and that there was no greater opportunity than at the WEF in Davos.
Welcome to Abersoch.
For a good long moment I didn’t know how to respond, I was incredulous. And it was like talking to my father.
‘Still…’ I said, ‘the World Economic Forum is predominantly an environmental endeavour… and you favour Sunak’s attendance’.
He replied: ‘What I said was Sunak must engage in some serious salesmanship at Davos. I said they should seize every opportunity to extol to potential investors the fitness of Britain’s economy and that there was no greater opportunity than at the WEF in Davos’.
‘Indeed’, I said, gulping for air. Surely any number of my clients would be using his properties in future so this connection would remain, but I’d hoped to engage him on the larger issues of the planet. ‘I know you have a passion for marine conservation…’ I began hopefully.
‘And a deep passion for yachting’, he responded. ‘Surely you saw my yacht “Rock Star” at Cowes Week? And there’s excellent surfing here’.
UGH! Yachting! Yes, all of my clients do it but it’s not exactly the thing to publicise.
‘Surfing is wonderful’, I continued ‘are there other environmental focuses here?’
‘Sadly yes’, he began. Wales has implemented a 20mph environmental push, which has proven a lie and now they are touting its many safety benefits instead’.
‘I see… but surely…’
‘Surely nothing!’ he responded. ‘Cars run more efficiently at higher speeds, braking is the cause of more pollution, and who is made safer when ambulances must obey the same rules and don’t make it to hospital?’
I gulped again. ‘Have you a solution?’
‘The only solution possible— and one you endorse,’ he said, motioning to the helipad.
I was defeated but not dead. And one thing was obvious. He was truly now prepared for Davos, and I said so.