Who is the real Philip Hammond? – BBC News
Chancellor Philip Hammond will deliver his Autumn Statement on Wednesday where he will set out his economic vision. But what do we know about him as a man? BBC Newsnight’s political editor has been speaking to his some of his closest friends and colleagues.
For years Philip Hammond has been dubbed the ultimate boring accountant whose idea of fun is to spend his holidays poring over spreadsheets.
Well, he is certainly not an accountant.
And there is mixed evidence on the boring front. Hammond does – according to his former ministerial colleague Sir Peter Luff – infuriate his wife Susan by taking spreadsheets to the beach.
But friends dating back to Hammond’s days at Shenfield High School in the 1970s recall a long-haired teenager who, with a twinkle in the eye, drove fellow sixth-formers to the pub for lunch.
Nina Stratford, one of his pub lunch partners, told us something about Hammond that has probably never been said publicly before about a chancellor of the exchequer.
“I remember going round to his house once. We got hold of half a bottle of sherry and proceeded to drink it, and very randomly we ended up having a bit of a cheeky snog,” she says. “Who’d have thought that Philip Hammond was such a good kisser?”
It was the era of 1970s Glam Rock and Hammond launched a highly successful career as an entrepreneur by running discos. After Oxford he made a mint in residential and commercial building in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Hammond fortune, which gave him the keys to a smart Jaguar car, allowed him to fulfil the Michael Heseltine criterion to ensure success in politics.
He entered Parliament at the relatively late age of 41 in 1997 as a millionaire, ensuring he would not be beholden to anyone.
And now, two decades later, Philip Hammond has achieved his dream job in circumstances he could never have imagined.
He has taken charge of the UK economy at what he regards as a potentially perilous moment after the Brexit referendum.
In a series of interviews with friends from his school days in Essex and from his earliest in politics a quarter of a century ago I have been introduced to the two sides of Philip Hammond.
First there is an unsurprising figure: “Spreadsheet Phil” who devoured the Daily Telegraph at school and whose hour may now have come at this tricky moment for the public finances.
And then there is Phil, the resourceful entrepreneur and confident charmer who served Bacardi to his mates in his Shenfield bedroom which was out of bounds to his parents.
The chancellor will need to draw on both these sides of his personality as he embarks on two historic challenges which may dwarf even those faced by his two immediate predecessors who lived through the global financial crash and its aftermath.
In the first place, Hammond believes he needs to prepare the economy for what he fears could be a bumpy ride once the Brexit negotiations are formally launched in the spring.
And then there is the other challenge he is pursuing on his own terms – ensuring that Britain achieves a soft landing as it leaves the EU.
Former school friends painted a picture of a highly intelligent teenager who had the confidence to challenge, in a friendly way, his left-wing history teacher.
Fellow-pupil Richard Madeley, the television presenter, recalls: “He would always finish his work in class work ahead of everybody else. He was very very bright.
“And then he put his big boots on the desk and start reading the Telegraph and swapping political dialogue with our history teacher who was a Guardian reader.