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High-flyers (Nonesuch autumn 2014)

Lord Paul Boateng

Lord Paul Boateng (LLB 1973, Hon LLD 2007)

Laurence Barron

Laurence Barron (LLB 1973)

5 November 2014

Lord Boateng, former British High Commissioner to the Republic of South Africa, met Laurence Barron, CEO and Chairman of Airbus Group China, on the first day of Freshers’ Week, 1970. More than 40 years later, they share the secrets of their enduring friendship.

Lord Paul Boateng (LLB 1973, Hon LLD 2007) (PB) Laurie and I met in the Wills Memorial Building in that frantic rush to meet new people. Often you spend the rest of your student years avoiding the people you’re flung together with in Freshers’ Week, but Laurie and I have stayed friends ever since.
Laurence Barron (LLB 1973) (LB) Only Paul calls me Laurie, it’s quite special to our friendship.
PB We were always nervous at exam time, which we countered by bouts of intense study.
LB Over Easter, Paul would come to stay at my home near Dover. We went to the library every day, and were spoilt by my mum.
PB There were also lengthy periods of concerted indolence...
LB ...speak for yourself...
PB ...music, theatre, debating, and the wholesale consumption of tea and tea cakes.

PB We had, and still have, a Monty Python-style sense of humour.
LB Not to mention The Goons. I still have your LP of Bridge on the River Wye somewhere...
PB The secret of our friendship is that we’ve never lived in the same house – nor, since we left Bristol, in the same country. We would have driven each other mad.
LB You were messy. I was neat, tidy and organised. My flatmates and I cooked real food every night and a roast on Sunday (emulating our mums as best we could). Our girlfriends called us ‘the cookers’.
PB We had lots of fun. We even managed to enjoy Student Council. We were elected without the backing of any political grouping, on a joint ‘cut the crap’ ticket.
LB Paul was my best man when I got married, and has visited us in Spain and Beijing. I’ve visited Paul and his wife, Janet, twice in South Africa. In Cape Town, a waiter assumed Janet and I were an item and Paul was our tour guide.
PB Janet is glamorous and black. In Cape Town, tour guides tend to be mixed race. The waiter put two and two together, and got five.
LB Janet and I laughed until we cried. Paul was not amused...
PB I had the last laugh. Janet and I got into the Daimler; Laurie got into a Toyota.

PB We don’t give each other advice. I don’t know anything about financing aircraft. Laurie’s forgotten most of his law and I’m not sure he’s ever voted in England...
LB ...or in France, even less so in China. Whenever we get together, it’s just like old times. We’re now in our 60s but revert to Goon-like humour and laughing at each other as if we were still ‘green around the gills’ first-year students.
PB He gives the impression of effortless success...
LB ...have you been drinking?
PB He is, in fact, a consummate, international businessman and a very hard and focused worker. We began as The Likely Lads; now it’s more One Foot in the Grave. But it’s a friendship I value hugely...
LB ...as do I, you loveable old rogue! Bristol was the best time of our lives. We had none of the responsibilities later life brings. We only had to get our degrees which, somehow, we managed while also having a lot of fun together on the way!

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