Home News A brief interlude with the Gorbachevs

A brief interlude with the Gorbachevs

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During my career, I was lucky enough to meet many notable people. But there were not many world leaders among them. If I exclude being in the same room as Margaret Thatcher and bumping into Bill Clinton in Piccadilly on Saturday afternoon, my tally of statesmen is low. In fact, the only Great Person I can claim to have spent any time with is, surprisingly, Mikhail Gorbachev when he came to my office for a farewell dinner in 1993.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s death yesterday at the age of 91 brought back memories of the period of November and December of that year when my company had the task of organising a speaking tour of Britain by the former General Secretary.

My then colleague Geoffrey Bowden handled the task on behalf of the company, but it was down to me to lay on the final event when the great man would dine with leading British politicians in our offices in Little College Street, next to College Green, across from the House of Lords.

Welcome

On the evening of 7 December 1993, a long procession of cars drew up outside the house where I was waiting with colleagues to welcome Mikhail Gorbachev and his late wife, Raisa Gorbacheva. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was terrified.

In the record of the signing of the visitors’ book above, you can see Mr Gorbachev flanked by Geoffrey Bowden and Michael Evans, now impersonating the editor of Macfilos. What you don’t see are the stone-faced security men surrounding us on both sides. To this day, I am still fascinated by the powerful signature and the Russian date form — 7.xii.93goda.

I can remember the moment as if it were yesterday; there are some things in life you just don’t forget. It was wholly unnerving to stand next to a man I had seen previously only on television, bestriding the world stage. I visualised him smiling alongside Ronald Raegan or Margaret Thatcher, both of whom did so much to encourage him in his policies of perestroika and glasnost leading up to those momentous events of 1989. Yet the presence, the confidence of a great man, was palpable. Raisa was charming and a stark contrast with previous Soviet First Ladies, it has to be said.

Raisa Gorbacheva signs our office visitors’ book. She is flanked by (left to right): a Russian security man, colleague Geoffrey Bowden, my former business partner Richard Faulkner (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) and the latter-day editor of Macfilos
Over dinner: A charming couple

That pen

Slight unease rippled across my mind as I handed over my prized sterling silver Montblanc fountain pen, 1 which I had purchased, not expecting such a happy set of circumstances, in Berlin on the day the Wall fell. Would I get it back? One thing is for sure; I could never have asked for it back…

This is how I came to spend an evening with a great statesman and his wife, enjoying a formal dinner in our company offices. It’s one for the book of memories, and they are all the more potent on the day Gorbachev died.



  1. The significance of the pen? I had bought it from a smart pen shop in Fasanenstrasse, Berlin, on the morning after the Wall fell. The evening before, I had watched East German citizens streaming over the border, most of them streaming with tears. Wittenbergplatz, Breitscheidplatz and Kurfürstendamm were crowded throughout the night, and Coca-Cola vans were handing out free drinks on every corner. There was so much emotion, especially when my old friends from East Berlin came over to the west for the first time in nearly 30 years.

15 COMMENTS

  1. President Gorbachev was a breath of fresh air, compared with earlier and later Russian heads of state.He partly unwound the coils of a communist dictatorship, before diehards changed gear and reversed direction. Gorbachev will always have a beneficial place in world affairs. How wonderful that he was allowed to live so long. A rare and precious moment in your former business life, Mike. Thank you for sharing this story.

    • Thank you, David. Yes, a memorable occasion, and it also brings back to be a yearning for the fun of running the business. Much was routine, but there were highlights, of which this was one. I retired early after selling the business and wanted to spend the rest of my life travelling. I soon got fed up with that, and, in retrospect, I should have taken another job. I was a bit lost until I found Macfilos, and I now treat it as a little business to run, not that it brings in any money. But it keeps me happy.

  2. Wow, it’s nice to know he had a human side,here in states media always presented imperious personage! What a pair of dining partners.

    • Since neither spoke English (or didn’t choose to), the well-known interpreter was there, the discussion around the table tended to be communal rather than the usual chatting to your neighbour. I bet they wondered what on earth they were doing, but I suppose that’s life for statesman

  3. A rare privilege Mike. Life sometimes lands us in strange circumstances. Thank you for sharing that with us. Did you get the pen back?

    • I did, thank you, and I still have it. But at the time I wondered what Russian conventions were on such matters. Perhaps it was accepted that the signer should keep the pen. Phew!

  4. Thank you for this snippet of history. I was reading his obituary this morning and had forgotten that he was loved abroad, but hated back home. He certainly seemed like a breath of fresh air, but as is often the case freeing up an ossified state is never easy.

  5. As your roving reporter, there is a lovely Panasonic S 18mm f/1.8 lens coming to fill out the already comprehensive Panasonic f1.8 lens line….Leica must appreciate Panasonic and Sigma making the L mount a success and without stealing sales from them 😂 as they do not have many competing products.

    And then there are the Sigma 20/1.4 and 24/1.4 lenses available for preorder. My 20/1.4 is forecast to arrive in later September. Three cheers for L mount!

    • I have finally got around to covering the 20/1.4 and 24/1.4, and the article will appear next week. I noted the piece about the Panasonic S 18mm in Leica Rumors this morning, and, again, this is something I will cover when the press release arrives. I believe there is also a new M lens due, but it will have to wait until I get Leica’s press release.

  6. Hi Mike – what a fabulous story! It added a new twist to what has been wall-to-wall media coverage of the great man’s passing. And to have photographs of the occasion too! It was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I could not recognize the wristwatch you were wearing but I wonder if that is still in your possession and in good working order? Did you ever audition for a role in a James Bond movie by any chance. Your younger self looks like an ideal fit as either M or Q! Once again, a wild and most entertaining article! Keith

    • Thank you Keith. Unfortunately I don’t have the watch — a bi-metal Rolex Perpetual Oyster (I think it’s called). About 20 years ago I had a phase of buying nice watches but in the end cleared everything out except a lovely IWC Pilot Chronograph. I still have it, but it hasn’t been worn since I bought my first Apple Watch. I don’t suppose I will ever wear it again and I really ought to sell it. I can live with M or Q (after all I own both!). But 007 isn’t my style I’d be dead in ten minutes.

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