Sir Andrew Parmley


A year of promoting the city's interests domestically and internationally has come to a close,
but you may still find him on the organ bench at St. James Garlickhythe

LONDON -- "The Archbishop of Canterbury is on the phone, and he'd like a word."

If you'd ever found yourself in a meeting with Sir Andrew Charles Parmley while he was Lord Mayor of the City of London and heard a staff member interrupt with that announcement, it was code for "your time is up." The household staff in the mayor's office -- based in the Mansion House in the heart of the city -- often came to his rescue when meetings ran long and the mayor was needed at another appointment. "I'd say, 'Thank you for coming. It's been a pleasure, but I've got to go,' " said Sir Andrew, who served in the post from 2016-17 and was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 2018 New Year Honours.

The daily schedule of a lord mayor can be punishing. Sir Andrew usually had 12 to 20 meetings a day, all done in 30 minute slots -- anything from audiences with the prime minister, to an abseil down 'The Cheesegrater' [a rappel down the Leadenhall Building]. On the day of a Business Insider reporter's visit, his schedule included lunch with the archbishop -- a real one, mind you -- a visit from the city's chaplain, and a dinner to celebrate the opening of Bloomberg's new £1 billion headquarters.

"Last Monday was a 20-event day," he said, adding that he was down to about three hours' sleep per night as he dealt with his duties. As well of promoting the city's interests domestically, the lord mayor's role is international. Sir Andrew's yearlong term took him to China, South Korea, Nepal, Colombia and many African countries to discuss how the city could work with those governments. One frequent collaboration was helping find financing opportunities for infrastructure projects. "I've learned ... the significance of infrastructure, how one finances infrastructure, and the benefits it brings to people, particularly when it comes to roads and railway lines."

Sir Andrew also tried to foster good relations between London and the U.K.'s regions. One notable example, he said, came during a meeting with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham. "I happened to be sitting in Andy Burnham's office on the day that [Transport Secretary Chris Grayling] announced that we're going to have Crossrail 2, but we weren't having HS2 and HS3," he said. "I had to explain that I'm not a politician, and I don't have any greater access to the prime minister than he does. But I said, 'What I do have access to is people who know where to find financing arrangements. So, if you and I can agree that you need HS2 and HS3, and we need Crossrail 2, why don't we crack on and get all those things built at once for the greater good of the country?' "

Sir Andrew had been an elected member of the City of London Corporation for more than 20 years, 10 years as what is called a common councilor, and 15 years as an alderman. It's from the pool of 25 aldermen that London chooses its sheriff and the lord mayor, who is accorded precedence over all individuals within the city except the sovereign. [The more powerful mayor of Greater London is popularly elected and presides over a much larger area.] London's first lord mayor was Henry fitz Ailwin de Londonstane in 1189; Sir Andrew was the 689th. Along with the job comes the traditional Lord Mayor's Show, a three-mile procession -- 7,000 people, 200 horses and 140 floats -- that can never be fully assembled because the route -- from Mansion House, past St. Paul's Cathedral to the Royal Courts of Justice and back to Mansion House via Victoria Embankment -- is less than two miles.

'Being lord mayor was a door-opener and conveyor, and of course you lose that once the year ends," he told The [Blackpool] Gazette, "but the knighthood continues that and allows for conversations with people who can make things change. It used to be that if you became lord mayor you got the gong [knighthood] automatically, but now you have to have made a significant contribution to life as well. I'm especially pleased that it has taken into account the significant contribution [his late wife] Wendy [at right] and I made, to do our bit for music and education."

"I was told as a little boy I was going to learn the piano, and I did not wish to play the piano. I can remember practicing scales on a Saturday morning, when the butcher’s boy came around with meat in a basket on the front of a bicycle, as they used to do, [and] said to my mother, 'He should learn to do that properly.' When I went to big school, he was the head boy, and he said, 'Come here, Parmley, I’m going to show you how the school organ works.' I didn't know you could make that much noise on your own, so I was immediately hooked."

Organists tend to be loners, he said, "because you do it on your own in a darkened church by and large. But I’m from Blackpool, and in my youth churches thrived, so organs and choirs thrived. We also had the second-largest number of live theater outside the West End, so I grew up surrounded by very high-class church music, by very good quality symphonic music. ... It seemed the natural thing to come to London and study hard. I first thought as a provincial lad that I wouldn't survive in London and had not imagined I could make a success of it. But I came here [more than 40] years ago and I've been here ever since.

His favorite spot is the organ bench at St. James Garlickhythe, at left, in the City. "The organist asked me to stand in for him, and he never came back -- so I've stood in for him for 35 years. I've still to be paid! After the first service the clergyman said, 'What do we owe you?' and I said 'Don't worry, I'll see Mr. X,' and I never did see Mr. X. Years later I tracked down his email address and I sent an invoice for £207,000, which was a sum I invented. No check ever came."

"Inside the church was a beautiful, run-down we thought was a Father Smith of 1697; it turned out to be a 1718 Knoppel. It's a three-manual organ with pedals, and was added [to the church] in 1888. The three-manuals are tracker and the pedals are pneumatic, so they speak a little after your hands if you're not careful." Sir Andrew raised £325,000 to restore the organ in 2007: running four London marathons and getting some money from a lottery. "I've stayed there and built up something of a tradition -- there wasn't a regular choir in those days and there was only one service a month."

"A crane from a building site fell through the roof and completely smashed the church [in 1991] -- the chandeliers disappeared, the pews disappeared, but the organ was saved because the 14 tons of concrete fell right of the middle of the nave; the organ jumped up and down a bit, but it wasn't damaged. We managed to restore the church ... [and] when we reopened, people wanted to see the church where the crane had fallen through the roof, and so we started having services every Sunday." St. James now only has a morning service, he said, because no one lives in the parish, yet it's home of the Prayer Book Society, a mixture of choral groups and the monthly English Chamber Choir, plus 20 or so of the City livery companies have their annual services there.

"In 2012 we had a fine tower but no bells, so I set about raising the money to get eight bells. It happened to coincide with the queen's diamond jubilee, and the first float in the [Thames] River procession was of our bells. After they floated down the river, they were put up in our tower. The Stellae Cantores choir are home-grown ringers."

Sir Andrew attended Thames Road Primary School and Blackpool Grammar School, where Aspire Academy is now based, before winning a place at the Royal Academy of Music in Manchester. On graduating, he worked on the Showtime on Ice and Holiday on Ice productions at Pleasure Beach, before moving to London where he is principal at the Harrodian School in West London. "As a long-term teacher of music and diction as part of that, I'm not sure about rolling the title into my name 'Sirandrew.' I'll certainly be staying Andrew to my pals."

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