‘I have such re­spect for their brav­ery’

‘I have such re­spect for their brav­ery’

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Michael Hock­ney, the founder of the Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch, talks to Michael Mur­ray-fen­nell

He never talked about it,’ Michael Hock­ney says of his fa­ther’s ex­pe­ri­ence serv­ing in the army dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, ‘but I do know that he saw some har­row­ing things to­wards the end when the Al­lies were break­ing through and go­ing into the pris­oner-of-war camps.’

In­stead, it was his time work­ing as an ad­viser to the Min­istry of De­fence dur­ing the 1990s that first opened Mr Hock­ney’s eyes to the army and, in par­tic­u­lar, the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by some soldiers on their re­turn to civil­ian life. Their plight prompted him to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to join ABF The Soldiers’ Char­ity (orig­i­nally the Army Benev­o­lent Fund, founded in 1944) as a trustee. A few years later, he founded the an­nual Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch, which, next month, will be fill­ing Guild­hall in Lon­don for the 10th time as it raises money for the char­ity.

Cur­ries are a sta­ple of army messes and part of the Big Curry Lunch’s ap­peal is the in­for­mal, demo­cratic aspect. ‘ev­ery­one sits at long ta­bles on benches,’ ex­plains Mr Hock­ney, ‘and there’s no seat­ing plan—you could find your­self sit­ting op­po­site the Sec­re­tary of State for De­fence or the Bishop of Lon­don.’ So far, the event has gen­er­ated £1.55 mil­lion and both the Lord Mayor and Mr Hock­ney would love to see this year’s lunch take that to­tal to £2 mil­lion.

This year, the fo­cus is on those soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr Hock­ney is keen to stress that, for the vast ma­jor­ity of the soldiers who leave the army, there are no is­sues; if any­thing, their time in uni­form gives them an ad­van­tage. ‘They’re fit, they’re welld­is­ci­plined, they’re used to work­ing un­der pres­sure. A lot of them have learnt amaz­ing skills.’

Some, how­ever, do face dif­fi­cul­ties, both phys­i­cal and men­tal. ‘No­body who ap­proaches the char­ity with a gen­uine need is

Ago­ing to be dis­ad­van­taged by a lack of fund­ing,’ con­firms Mr Hock­ney. As­sis­tance could be ‘a small num­ber of pounds to pos­si­bly help­ing an in­di­vid­ual for the rest of their life. I per­son­ally can’t imag­ine the in­ten­sity of some of those con­flicts in Afghanistan. I have such re­spect for their brav­ery and com­mit­ment’. num­ber of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries at­tend the lunch. ‘It can range from some­one who has lost a limb or who has been se­ri­ously burnt in a con­flict to some­one whom the char­ity has helped with fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion. You can see that there’s an in­ner strength to these peo­ple that’s help­ing them get through these dif­fi­cul­ties.’

One of the aims is to raise aware­ness among the City’s younger gen­er­a­tions of the role of the armed forces. Mr Hock­ney, whose dis­tin­guished ca­reer in ad­ver­tis­ing and man­age­ment con­sul­tancy has been founded on a bedrock of qual­i­ta­tive re­search and sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis, sees the is­sue as one of num­bers. ‘Sta­tis­ti­cally, 30 years ago, vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one in the coun­try would have some­one in the fam­ily who had been in the armed forces be­cause of the Sec­ond World War. As we come to the end of that gen­er­a­tion, the pro­por­tion of peo­ple with such a con­nec­tion has re­duced and there is a risk among the younger age groups of for­get­ting the sol­dier.’

He con­tin­ues: ‘There has been huge cov­er­age of the con­flicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and that keeps the army in peo­ple’s minds, but often they think of it from a po­lit­i­cal di­men­sion. One of the things we are very keen to do is to re­mind ev­ery­body of the in­di­vid­ual soldiers and the con­tri­bu­tion and sac­ri­fice they’ve made.’

Mr Hock­ney stresses that the City has been ‘ab­so­lutely amaz­ing’. He high­lights the sup­port of the Cor­po­ra­tion and Livery Com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing his own, the Wor­ship­ful Com­pany of Mu­si­cians, which reg­u­larly gives awards to young mil­i­tary mu­si­cians.

Mu­sic is one of Mr Hock­ney’s pas­sions. He was deputy chair­man of the english Cham­ber Orches­tra and Mu­sic So­ci­ety and classical mu­sic fills the rooms of his Twick­en­ham home. A 1960s copy of an Ital­ian vir­ginal sits in one cor­ner. ‘Same ac­tion as a harp­si­chord,’ he con­fides, ‘the plec­trum plucks the string and then draws back.’

When not in the cap­i­tal, he and his wife, el­iz­a­beth, are in Dorset, where he plays the or­gan in their lo­cal church. He was first in­tro­duced to the in­stru­ment while grow­ing up in Liver­pool and hear­ing it in Giles Gilbert Scott’s vast cathe­dral. The or­gan­ist at his par­ents’ church taught him ‘the re­ally im­por­tant things— how to ac­com­pany hymns and psalms, how to im­pro­vise and how to do all that in a way that fits the ser­vice. He taught me the or­gan­ist isn’t a show­man.’ One can’t help but think it’s a les­son he has ap­plied to other ar­eas of his life, not least his un­ob­tru­sive but ca­pa­ble con­tri­bu­tion to sev­eral char­i­ties.

Wine is an­other pas­sion. While restor­ing their Lon­don home, he dis­cov­ered the orig­i­nal 1635 brick­work be­hind the mod­ern breeze blocks in the cel­lar. Out came the blocks, in went his col­lec­tion of wine, pre­vi­ously lan­guish­ing in stor­age. Some of the finest bot­tles fea­ture in the in­ti­mate fundrais­ing din­ners for var­i­ous causes that he and his wife host at home.

Which wine would he rec­om­mend with a curry? Ap­par­ently, it’s a topic of some de­bate among con­nois­seurs. ‘There are those who say you need a re­ally beefy red wine to go with curry,’ he ad­vises, ‘but there are oth­ers who say a softer wine. The first group might say a Shi­raz, the sec­ond a Mer­lot.’

For his part, Mr Hock­ney rec­om­mends dry Ries­lings with spicy foods (‘there are some very good ones from New Zealand as well as Ger­many’), but, with a curry, he prefers to drink beer, Co­bra to be pre­cise.

What­ever one’s pref­er­ence— wine or beer—he re­as­sures read­ers that there will be an un­lim­ited sup­ply of both at the Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch. Michael Mur­ray-fen­nell

‘I can’t imag­ine the in­ten­sity of some of those con­flicts in Afghanistan

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