One of the consolations that comes with being a Catholic is being able to pray for the dead. Through prayer one can remain with those one loved, and do something to mitigate their suffering in purgatory – particularly valuable when one feels one might have done more for them when they were alive. On the feast of All Souls the names of those for whom one would like the priest to pray are placed before the altar, and in anticipation I keep a list of deceased friends and members of my family which, given my age, gets longer by the day.
The most recent addition was the Spectator columnist and editor of The Oldie, Alexander Chancellor. I first met him 55 years ago when were both in our third year at Cambridge. My first two years had been disappointing: after mixing with interesting adults in Paris and London in my year out, I then found myself largely confined to the company of young men and women fresh from school. All that changed after I met Alexander. He was handsome, charming, amusing and kind – the Sebastian Flyte of a small circle of friends; an accomplished pianist who accompanied himself singing saloon bar songs; always cheerful and extraordinarily generous and so always in debt. He became and remained my closest friend.
Behind the charm, and the manner of an aristocratic amateur, there was a strong will and a genius for journalism which lifted the Spectator out of the doldrums when he was appointed editor by Henry Keswick in 1975. He was the founding editor of the Independent Magazine, editor of “The Talk of the Town” at the New Yorker under Tina Brown, wrote a column for the Guardian and latterly the “Long Life” column back at the Spectator. He took over from Richard Ingrams as editor of the Oldie, and was commissioning an article from his hospital bed the night before he died.
Alexander was not religious, though he felt a great affection for the Church of England. He was patrician without being at all snobbish – proud of his Scottish ancestry and forefathers such as Sir John Chancellor, the governor of Palestine.
He had a wide-ranging curiosity and humourous take on what was going on in the world – whether it was Brexit or the life of his ducks and hens at Stoke Park, his house in Northamptonshire – and wrote in a distinctive, mellifluous style His last column for the Spectator was a diatribe against Donald Trump.
He remained as generous as he had been at Cambridge, and so was always short of money. His drank and smoked to excess. His personal life was complex. He had a vast army of friends. I can think of no one who was so loved by so many.
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