Lord Mayor David Wootton cuts a powerful figure. He’s a large man; the kind who –in a bygone era –might drape himself in fur, quaff ale from a horn and tussle with dogs the size of ponies. Within the Square Mile, only the Queen has more authority and his life is spent in the impressive Georgian palace that is Mansion House, around which he strides with confidence and composure. Except at night. Because that gives him the willies. ‘If you come downstairs at night, it’s spooky!’ Spooky? ‘Yeah, it’s all dark and big…’
As Wootton works in the Venetian Parlour, his office in Mansion House, a tall window spills light on to a mahogany desk. Plasterwork vines curl across the ceiling, an antique clock ticks on a marble chimney place and in adjoining rooms greying men in robes do his bidding. ‘It might be my house,’ he chuckles, ‘but it’s not the kind of place you come downstairs in a dressing gown. You’re living in the office.’ Well, it’s probably important for the Lord Mayor to be on call all the time for the… for the… sorry, what is it the Lord Mayor does, exactly? ‘I’m an ambassador. I give over 800 speeches a year promoting the City,’ he explains, failing to mention that he’s also admiral of the Port of London, Chancellor of City University, trustee of St Paul’s Cathedral and the City’s chief magistrate. No word on who’s chief destroyer of discarded KFC boxes, but I have my suspicions.
Wootton unfolds himself and moves over to a bureau. ‘There’s a lot of exchanging of gifts as part of civic life,’ he says, gesturing to a pile of presents. There’s a silver engraving of a temple from the president of Vietnam, plus a tie, some Chopin CDs and a book from the Polish finance minister. The gifts are labelled with a series of cards, each inscribed with a day of the week, and in front of each one is a document. ‘Those are speeches I’ve got to deliver,’ explains Wootton. ‘I’ve got two speechwriters who do them. We have dinners about three times a week, and there’s an unwritten rule that either I, my wife or one of the sheriffs has to attend.’
Sheriffs? ‘They’re like sub-Lord Mayors. There are two of them.’ With this slightly arcane terminology, it’s not hard to see why this world of aldermen, robes and curiously named committees (the Lord Mayor presides over the City of London’s governing bodies – the Court of Aldermen and the Court of Common Council) is so impenetrable to the outside world.
‘We do manage to unintentionally give the impression that it’s a closed world,’ he sighs. ‘It’s much more open than people think, but to realise that, you’ve got to get into it. I’m urging the City of London Corporation [which runs the City’s services] to make it a lot clearer that it’s open.’ To everyone? What about women? ‘We’ve got an increasing number of women.’ Ethnic minorities? ‘There’s an increasing number of them too. Although there’s more to do on that.’ And what about getting rid of the robes? ‘Actually, sometimes you have to wear it so people know who you are. At events you get people going, “Where’s the Lord Mayor? All I can see are a load of suits… oh, there’s the scarlet robe.” ‘Alexi Duggins