I don’t know who it was who said that ‘only the good die young’, but they certainly had a point. Only two months ago I wrote about my friend Corinne de Souza, who died from cancer at the age of 58. Well yesterday I attended the funeral of another friend who also fell victim to that same dreaded disease at the age of 54.
Andy Wilson is not someone many of you will know, but to me and many others he was a total inspiration. I first met Andy back in 2006 when I had the idea of launching Total Politics magazine. I went to see Michael Ashcroft to see if he would back it. He was very enthusiastic and suggested I took the idea further with the man who handled many of his investments. His name was Andy Wilson. Right from the off, Andy became a confidant and a business guru, but also quickly became a friend. But more than anything else he was an enthusiast. He didn’t come from the world of politics or publishing but was fascinated by both. He was a man of ideas and positivity. He understood a company balance sheet like no one else I have ever met, and was able to explain basic accounting issues in a way that even an accounting ignoramus like me could easily understand.
Above all, Andy was a people person. He understood the power of motivation and certainly knew what motivated me. He had the power to make you feel good about what you were doing, even in difficult times. And believe me, when you launch a political magazine at the beginning of a recession, there are difficult times to go through. Even when I had difficult news to impart to him, I would always leave the room feeling much better than when I went in, and there aren’t many people I can say that about.
We didn’t always agree – that would have been odd, but in eight years of a business relationship we never had a cross word. We could be totally straight with each other without either of us taking exception to what the other was saying. He taught me more about running a business than anyone else in my career and I will always remain profoundly grateful for his guidance and inspiration.
His brother in law Damian Thornton gave the most fantastic eulogy yesterday and nothing I can say can improve on what he said. Andy bore his illness with the most tremendous courage and fortitude. He worked for as long as he could., but when he didn’t come to the Political Book Awards in March I knew things must be bad. I never talked to him about what he was going through as I decided that he probably had enough people asking how he was. And I knew if I did ask him and he told me the truth I would become too emotional, and he could do without that.
I mentioned the Political Book Awards. Everyone thinks that event was my brainchild. It wasn’t. It was Andy’s. And next year I want to name an award after him. He was a lover of books and in his eulogy yesterday we learned that on a family holiday at the age of 14. Andy polished off 15 books in 14 days. I would always send him every single book published by Biteback. Every so often he’d send me an email saying “loved that book” or “mystified as to why you took that one on”, and he’d also come up with ideas as to authors we might approach. But it was always done in a spirit of helpfulness. He was always optimistic and positive.
It is largely thanks to Andy that Biteback is now a profitable company. It took us longer than I would have liked to get there, but I do know that without Andy we wouldn’t have got there at all. I’m just so sorry that he didn’t live to see us achieve what he was always confident we could. In my moments of doubt he would take me aside and tell me how well we were doing and success would come.
He also knew how important my broadcasting is to me. I remember telling him LBC had offered me a permanent show, back in August 2010. I explained to him that I had had two dreams in life. One to be an MP and another to have my own radio show. Well the first dream had been extinguished and I really wanted to see if I could live the second. I felt I needed Andy’s and Michael’s blessing as it would effectively mean taking on the equivalent of two full time jobs. They didn’t hesitate to give their approval and I shall remain forever grateful to them both, as it would have been perfectly understandable if they felt that it would have been too much.
This tribute has already become far longer than I had intended, but that’s because there is so much I wanted to say about Andy. I can’t begin to understand how his wife Emma and their three children are coping. But they know from the turnout at the funeral yesterday the level of love and admiration there was for Andy. He was just the most kind, generous, most empathetic man you’re ever likely to meet. As an illustration of that, three years ago John and I were thinking of buying a house in Norfolk, but we couldn’t get a mortgage on it because of the fact it was of non standard construction. We didn’t need a massive mortgage so it was incredibly frustrating to see it slipping through our hands. I was sounding off about this to Andy one day and he immediately offered to lend us the money himself, personally. I was totally bowled over. In the end we didn’t win the auction so it didn’t happen, but I will never forget what he was prepared to do.
I still can’t believe that I won’t see him again. But when I think of him, I will always think of him with his infectious grin. Andy, what a very special man you were. Are. I don’t think you could have possibly comprehended what a massive hole you would leave in the lives of all who knew you. Rest easy, my friend.