Letter to a friend, and a report of Philip Gould’s funeral
Posted on 16 November 2011 | 9:11am
If anyone has had enough of my tributes to Philip Gould, I will not be offended if you surf immediately to another website. But I feel I should say something about his funeral yesterday, where a packed All Saints church in London W1 said farewell to one of the key architects of New Labour, and a great friend.
Though I don’t do God, as the minister Alan Moses pointed out in his superb sermon, recalling the time Philip dragged ‘poor Alastair’ to his confirmation, Philip did do God, more and more so as his life neared its end.
He would have loved the beauty of the choir’s singing, the hymns and readings being sung and read so well, the prayers, (not least read by his sister, a priest), the incense, the long queues waiting to take communion.
Philip was not without ego, and he would have also loved the packed church, the photographers outside, and the big party afterwards. He would have loved the sense of drama and history attached to the event. Two Prime Ministers in the front row, and both doing readings chosen by him. Two more Labour leaders behind them. Many of the key figures of the past Labour government, and the current coalition government, paying their respects. I know he would have loved the sermon, in which inter alia Rev Moses made a rather compelling case against government education policy, with Michael Gove a few pews away.
He would have been proudest of his two daughters, first Grace and then Georgia, reading poems, their voices strong and clear and full of love. Georgia also made a fantastic speech at the party afterwards, as did Tony Blair, Matthew Freud, Philip’s old university friend Pete Jones, and Professor David Cunningham who cared for Philip at the Marsden, and said that in talking about death and cancer as he had, Philip had given hope and strength to others.
Today is the cremation, attended by Philip’s family, Gail’s parents, my family, and a couple of very close friends. More sadness, but more cause to reflect on a life well lived.
I had had an agreement with Philip, having spoken at the funerals of several friends before, and always finding it hard, that I wouldn’t have to speak at his. But as Georgia told the congregation, I wrote to him on the day before he died, and the girls read the letter to him. As they finished, he smiled and said he wanted it read at the funeral. I did see him again, but by then he had slipped into unconsciousness, so I am glad this is the last thing I ever said to him. It was meant as a private letter, but as I ended up reading it in public at his and Gail’s request, and as The Times has printed it in full today as part of a nice send-off for Philip, I thought I would put it on here too.
I hope, as do so many others, that somehow you find within you the strength to carry on. The courage you have shown since the day you were told you had cancer has been inspiring. If anyone can keep on defying the medical odds, you can.
But if this does defeat you this time, I don’t want you to go without me saying what a wonderful person you are, and what an extraordinary friend you have been. Of all my friends, you are the one who touches virtually every point of my life – past, present, politics, work, leisure, sport and holidays, education, books, charity, and, more important than anything, family and friendship. I have been blessed to know you. So has Fiona. So have Rory, Calum and Grace. For so many of the happiest moments of our lives, you have been there, indeed often the cause of the happiness.
You’ve always been there in tough times too. You remember the Alex Ferguson quote – ‘the true friend is the one who walks through the door when others are putting on their coats to leave’. You have displayed that brand of friendship so often, so consistently, and with such a force as to keep me going at the lowest of moments.
When I got your moving, lovely message on Tuesday, and was convinced you wouldn’t see out the night, I felt like a limb had been wrenched from me. You know my crazy theory that we only know if we have lived a good life as we approach its end – perhaps we only know the real value of a friend when we lose him. The loss for Gail, Georgia and Grace will be enormous. But so many others were touched by you and will share that loss.
My favourite quote of our time in government came not from me or you, or any of the rest of the New Labour team. It came from the Queen in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks ten years ago. ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ You are much loved. There will be much grief. But it is a price worth paying for the joy of having known you, worked with you, laughed with you, cried with you, latterly watched you face death squarely in the eye with the same humility, conviction and concern for others which you have shown in life.
I will always remember you not for the guts in facing cancer, brave though you have been, but for the extraordinary life force you have been in the healthy times. Your enthusiasm, your passion for politics, and belief in its power to do good, your love of Labour, your dedication to the cause and the team – they all have their place in the history that we all wrote together. I loved the defiant tone of your revised Unfinished Revolution, your clear message that whatever the critics say, we changed politics and Britain for the better. So often, so many of our people weaken. You never did. You never have. You never would. That is the product of real values, strength of character, and above all integrity of spirit.
In a world divided between givers and takers, you are the ultimate giver. In a world where prima donnas often prosper, you are the ultimate team player. Perhaps alone among the key New Labour people, you have managed to do an amazing job without making enemies. That too is a product of your extraordinary personality, your love of people and your determination always to try to build and heal. It has been humbling to see you, even in these last days and weeks, trying to heal some of the wounds that came with the pressures of power. We can all take lessons from that, and we all should.
Of course I will miss the daily chats, the banter, the unsettled argument about whether QPR are a bigger club than Burnley. More, I’ll miss your always being on hand to help me think something through, large or small. But what I will miss more than anything is the life force, the big voice. You have made our lives so much better. You are part of our lives and you will be forever. Because in my life, Philip, you are a bigger force than the death that is about to take you.
Yours ever, AC’