WHEN I call Bob Kiley at 7.30am, as he requested, to arrange to meet later in the day, he retorts testily: "It's a little early to be calling me, isn't it?"
But Mr. Kiley, I protest, you said I should call at 7.30am.
"Yeah, but it's goddamn 6.30 in the morning," he replies in his mid-western American drawl.
I realise he's forgotten to turn his clock forward for three days he's been living out of sync and when I tell him, he laughs heartily, the sign of a man unshackled from business meetings and other daily cares.
I expect to find Kiley, the man once charged with turning around the capital's transport networks, delighted to be enjoying his semi-retirement. After all, he negotiated a i 1/22million severance package, continues to live rent-free in his i 1/22.3million grace-and-favour Belgravia townhouse, and his i 1/2737,500 consultancy
fees (covering 90 days of work a year for two-and-a-half years) makes him the highest hourly-paid public sector employee in Britain.
Yet when Kiley, 72, opens the door ostensibly to talk about various issues on his mind including his support for the local "Save Sloane Square" campaign, of which more later, he is clearly in a melancholic mood.
"Not having work is extremely frustrating," he says, slumping on his sofa.
"Yes, I've still got an office at Transport for London, but if you ask me what I actually do to earn my consultancy, I'd have to tell you, in all honesty, not much.
"Do I offer the British taxpayer value for money? I'll leave that for you to decide." To those who know Kiley famous for his combative style and for his refusal, hitherto, to comment on any aspect of his consultancy pay arrangements with TfL this frank admission will come as a surprise. Yet Kiley, dressed in denim shirt and trousers, his grey-white hair wayward and wispy, is just getting started. Today is to be a watershed.
Rumours and innuendo have swirled around City Hall for some time that Kiley has developed a problem with drink. By the time I leave his home, he will have courageously spoken about two things he has never publicly discussed: his descent into alcoholism, and the tragic car accident more than three decades ago that wiped out his first wife and two young sons, and from which he's never recovered.
"I'm an alcoholic but I'm not going to make excuses and say the reason I'm an alcoholic is because I lost my family because, facts are, I always liked a drink," he says. "It is true, though, that things have got worse now that I'm not exactly overworked. I've always had high-pressure jobs that kept me extremely busy; now that I've got time on my hands, I start drinking, usually vodka, in the afternoon.
"And when I drink&" he pauses, his gaze drifting away, "who can move on from something like that?"
HE SITS silently for a while, gathering his strength. "Bear with me," he begins, the rims of his eyes reddening.
"Ask me about anything, like the congestion charge, and I'll tell you whatever you need to know, but this," his voice is barely audible, "it's not a story I even know how to tell.
"I had flown from New York to Minneapolis to see my father who was dying, but when I got to the arrivals hall, my name was being called over the Tannoy, so I went to take the call. This person told me there had been a terrible accident on the freeway on the outskirts of New York. Two or three cars were involved.
"In one of them was my wife, Patricia we'd been married 15 years and my sons, David and Christopher, aged three and five if I remember correctly.
"Apparently they were hit by a car going way too fast and were blown off the road. They died instantly. That's it.
In a stroke, my whole family vanished.
And then two months later my dad died.
My mother was already dead. So I was completely alone." At the time, Kiley, a Harvard graduate and for seven years a CIA operative, was running the transport system in Boston and living between New York and Boston, but after that, he threw himself into his work. …