Scotsman Obituaries: Sir Roger Gifford, Scottish banker and Lord Mayor of London

Sir Roger Gifford, banker. Born: 3 August 1955 in St Andrews. Died: 25 May 2021 in London, aged 65

Sir Roger Gifford in ceremonial regalia
Sir Roger Gifford in ceremonial regalia

When I went up to St Andrews University in the autumn of 1973, it was impressed on me, as a young, keen singer, that I should join the St Andrews Renaissance Group, the premier choir of the University. It was run by a charismatic Professor of Spanish, Douglas Gifford, more expansively titled Colonel, the Reverend Professor Douglas Gifford.

That New Year, the group had been invited to replace the Lincoln Cathedral Choir over the holiday and we all convened in the splendid surroundings of the cathedral, where we met the Dean, the Precentor, and also Douglas’s son, Roger, who had begun his studies at Trinity College, Oxford, and there began a great friendship, only ended by Roger’s recent sad death .

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By the time he died he had become Sir Roger Gifford, banker and champion of green finance, and had served as Lord Mayor of London from 2012 to 2013. This jolly student turned into one of Britain’s most important financiers, on first name terms with royalty and heads of government.

Luckily, he inherited his father’s charisma. Everyone loved Roger, and enjoyed his company, and his natural joie de vivre was infectious. He also set himself a path to success, beginning with the investment bank S G Warburg, and, in 1982, joining the Swedish Bank SEB, an important bank, but one slightly off-piste, as it were, in the heady world of the City of London.

Moving through the gears, he attracted attention as someone going far. He moved to Tokyo in 1994, as head of SEB’s Japanese business, returning to lead its UK operations, until 2017, when he took the title Senior Banker. So far, so traditional.

What was not traditional, and what endeared him most to me, was his love of singing, kindled through his father’s choir and his Oxford days, which expressed itself in his connection with the Holst Singers, an elite amateur group in London. I joined them for a tour to Norway in the late Eighties, which was notable for some great singing and also some heroic partying, in which Roger took full part!

Roger possessed a lovely light baritone voice, which gave him endless pleasure, and used some of the wealth he acquired to help and sponsor young musicians. He was Chairman of the English Chamber Orchestra, a trustee of St Paul’s Cathedral Foundation, and a co-founder, with his second wife Clare, of the City Music Foundation. A past Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, he became an Alderman of the City of London, and then Sheriff, in which position it fell on him to provide lunch for the Judges of the Old Bailey, before becoming Lord Mayor in due course.

One of a family of four, Roger, with his first wife Jane, had five children of his own. Sadly, one, Augusta, my goddaughter, died very young, but I was honoured to be asked to be her brother Hector’s godfather later on. I know Roger was very proud of his children, and I am only sorry that he didn’t live to see them mature further.

They at least were able to watch their father become Lord Mayor, and preside over the famous Lord Mayor’s Show, and spend some time living in the amazing Mansion House, situated above Bank tube station in the City.

Roger was knighted in 2014 for services to international business, culture and the City.

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My last meeting with Roger will forever remain a bittersweet memory. For some years he had owned a property in Perthshire, a marvellous, mainly Georgian, country house with several acres of land, and a forest. Towards the end of his career, he had become an important voice in green banking, and worked closely with government to further this cause. In addition, he was involved in many new tree planting initiatives, particularly in Epping Forest and Scotland, and was proud of his woodland in Glen Farg.

A decision had been made to sell the Glen Farg house, and I had been invited, just a few weeks before his death, to see the place for the last time. Although he had been ill a couple of years ago, there was no hint that the cancer had come back, and we enjoyed a most convivial afternoon with some of his family and many of his neighbours.

It could safely be said that Roger and I had differing political views, but he was always happy to engage in serious conversation with anyone who could offer an opinion. He was prepared to listen to other arguments, and it was fascinating to talk with someone who had the ear of people in power.

I think it was the occasion of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral that found him on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, stumbling slightly and almost beheading the Queen with his ceremonial Mayor’s sword. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh started giggling when they saw what had happened. There was no danger, but it was rather amusing!

Shortly after this trip to Perthshire, Roger returned to London, and tests confirmed that the myeloma, a form of blood cancer, had returned, but the speed of his departure shocked his friends, and the realisation of his loss is a heavy burden for all his friends and family.

However, the memories will outweigh the sadness. Roger was very proud to have been born in Scotland, and his influence, not least in musical circles, with his financial support for various music projects, will be much missed. I will miss him particularly, as a great friend and companion.

He is survived by both his first and second wives, Jane and Clare, and his four children, Olivia, Fergus, Fred and Hector.

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