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Obituary: Sir John Riddell

Accountant and banker who went on to become private secretary to the Prince and Princess of Wales

Born: 3 January, 1934, in Hepple, Northumberland.

Died: 24 July, 2010, at Rothbury Community Hospital, Northumberland, aged 76.

An ASTUTE if not a natural accountant, talented banker, holder of multiple directorships, private secretary to the Prince of Wales, not to mention a Baronet before he was a year old, Sir John Riddell was a man of whom much was expected and who rarely disappointed.

Born in 1934, John Charles Buchanan Riddell was the only son of Sir Walter Riddell, the 12th Baronet and a civil servant and academic who had been both the principal of an Oxford college and the chairman of the University Grants Committee.

Riddell's father died in the year he was born, and as the only son he assumed the title of Baronet and head of the family seat.

Whitfield House, at Hepple, Northumberland, the residence of the Baronet, had been purchased by Sir John Buchanan Riddell from the Duke of Portland in 1804 but the family had strong Scottish roots.

Among those ancestors were lawyers and politicians, with the 9th Baronet an MP for two constituencies north of the Border. The house was Riddell's pride and he took immense pleasure in the restoration of his birthplace over a period of many years, ensuring that the building remained standing and returned to its original condition.

He was educated exclusively at Eton after which he did his required stint of National Service between 1952 and 1954.

As would be expected for a Baronet he was enrolled as an officer but had no military ambition and left at the same rank as he began, Second Lieutenant in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps.

After ending his military service he opted for the academic rigours of Oxford, where he took a history degree at Christ Church.

Following university Riddell was keen to reverse the economic damage his family had suffered and decided to undergo training as an accountant, a field he did not feel in the least bit comfortable in.

He passed the examinations to become a Scottish chartered accountant and began tentatively to forge his career.

In 1969 he crossed the Atlantic to take on a role at the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (BRD) in Washington. It was a move that defined his career and he made his name as a banker of the highest order.

He left the IBRD in 1971 to become the associate director of the First Boston Corp, a role he fulfilled until 1975 before moving to become director of First Boston (Europe) Ltd until 1978. From there he moved again, and again within sections of the First Boston organisation, to become director of CS First Boston.

He left CS First Boston in 1985 to become the private secretary to the Prince and Princess of Wales, an appointment that provided Riddell with numerous shocks and surprises.The closer he worked with the royal couple the more it became evident that their marriage was under great strain, not only from within, but from the external pressures of the media that constantly tracked their every move.

As the media attention intensified, the problems multiplied. Riddell had a front row seat, a position he did not enjoy.

As a man of the highest integrity, the situation was unfathomable for him as he watched the Prince and Princess have their lives torn apart.

A year after being specifically singled out for the job of private secretary, Riddell took on the responsibility of treasurer to complement his other duties, his banking background providing the perfect skill set with which to deal with the royal accounts.

As private secretary he was mainly involved with the logistics of visits to foreign destinations and the Prince's Commonwealth duties. With his treasurer's hat on he had a big hand in the financial affairs of the Prince's Trust.

In 1990, after five years with the Prince and Princess of Wales he returned to CS First Boston as deputy chairman and he remained with the company until his retirement in 1995.

As is the case with many energetic and successful businessmen, retirement meant little to Riddell and he continued to take on responsibilities and positions of importance.

He was appointed CVO and Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland in 1990 before being elevated to Lord Lieutenant in 2000.

In that same year he became the chairman of the ill-fated Northern Rock, before leaving four years later.

He was also a director of Northumbrian Water and the chairman of the Northumbria regional committee of the National Trust as well as being a board member of Regeneration Community Association and the Guinness Trust.

He was a member of the Bloomsbury District Health Authority, a trustee of the Buttle Trust, deputy chairman of the IBA and an executive director of MC Securities Ltd. He liked to keep himself busy.

An interest in politics had taken Riddell to contest two by-elections on behalf of the Conservative Party in 1974. Both proved ill-fated moves, culminating in resounding victories for his opponents.

Considered a man of great humour and of an affable nature, Riddell was known among colleagues and friends as being an excellent judge of a situation while at the same time being self-deprecating about his own abilities.

One particular quote from Commander Richard Ayland upon Riddell's resignation from the royal household exemplifies how he was often the fixer of problems to which he could not find a more effective solution: "I cannot count the number of times I have been into John's office with a disastrous problem to solve, to come out again with the problem still unsolved but feeling that the world was a much nicer place."

A current deputy clerk at Northumberland County Council, Bob Biggs, said: "We are all very sad to hear the news (of Riddell's death]."Sir John was a very popular figure in the county and did a wonderful job during his time as Lord Lieutenant.

"He had the rare ability to put a smile on the face of everyone he met. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be able to know him and work with him will miss him very much. He was a delight to work alongside."

Sir John Riddell, 13th Baronet of Riddell died of cancer on 24 July. He was 76 years old. He is survived by his wife and three sons.

 
 
 

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