Yes, I'm an Alcoholic and If You Asked Me What I Do to Earn My I?1/2700,000 TfL Fee I'd Have to Say, Not Much; Bob Kiley Talks for the First Time about His Drink Problem, the Accident That Wiped out His First Family and Working with Ken Livingstone
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. "It was my survival instinct I had nowhere else to throw myself," he says.
A few years later he would meet Rona, his current wife, with whom he'd have two sons, David and Benjamin, both consultants in their early thirties and living in America.
His career, meanwhile, was on the up: after Boston, he took on and revamped the ailing New York subway system and, in 2001, he was given a i 1/22 million four-year
contract by Ken Livingstone and asked to do for London what he'd done for the Big Apple. "Red" Ken and "CIA union-busting" Bob were strange bedfellows but from the start they saw eye to eye on vigorously pushing through the congestion charge and opposing the Government's plans for public-private partnerships (PPP) in running the Tube.
"I've always had this struggle between the tough, arrogant Bob Kiley who runs the show and takes no s**t from anyone, and the other Bob Kiley who only my wife sees and who's sitting here, quite unexpectedly I might add, with you today," he says.
"I don't sleep much at night, never more than a few hours, and I have nightmares about the accident. There was a time when not a day would go by without me crying. And when I started, I couldn't stop. Rona helped me through.
We're incredibly close." There is a plaintive pause. "She's currently in New York seeing our son.
She loves London, but we'll move back there when my consultancy ends in June 2008." He pauses again. "She's been having a tough time with my drinking, actually." Far from the loudmouthed power-broker, Kiley looks deflated and vulnerable.
"It's hard to know where to draw the line, but it can get away from me extremely fast and once I've lost control, it's hard to pull back. I hope it hasn't got to the point where I'm perceived as a drunkard. For someone who still has one toe in the public eye, I don't want to come across as some sort of drunk.
"I'm dealing with it now. I've started to go to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]. And physically, I'm still in pretty good shape I'm up every morning at six-ish and out on the road running a couple of miles by 7am."
SO IS drink the real reason why he quit his job in January last year, just months after signing another full-time contract with TfL. Kiley suddenly lunges forward.
"Do you actually think that's why I left? Because of drinking? That's not why I left." Was it because, as some insiders say (citing a series of blazing emails), he fell out with Livingstone? "Ken and I never fell out. Ken and I understood we would never be kind partners, and history bears that out because our disagreements spilled out in a very public way, but that's the nature of a strong, robust relationship and our achievements were massive. The truth is that Ken and I we had dinner the night before last get along pretty well."
Why did he quit, then? "It was time to leave. I never stay in a job more than four or five years." But Kiley can't explain why he signed a contract to take him through to 2008 and then left months later. "The new guy, Peter Hendy, is doing a terrific job," is all he'll add.
I ask him if Livingstone has ever confronted him about his alcoholism.
"No," he says emphatically. "Because I wasn't drinking while I was at work. My drink didn't affect my work while I was full-time employed, and anyone who says it did is talking bulls**t." Isn't it a problem, though, that taxpayers are funding his massive i 1/2737,500 fee and yet he's not able to function properly?
"It's a deal that was struck. Basically, it's like [additional] severance pay."
Why the charade that he's working there, why didn't Livingstone just say as much? "Good question," he nods, "but maybe you should ask him." TfL provides a personal assistant to work for Kiley for 10 to 15 hours a week, he says.
There's also the question of the rent he says it's i 1/23,000 a week that he says TfL pay for his smart five-storey house.
Isn't it a bit big for just two of them? He gives a lopsided grin. "Well, I don't want to overstate this but actually I do some work. I do things related to the US and Europe. Perhaps I was a little flippant back there. We're thinking about how to integrate transport from a trans-European standpoint, with Transport for London and Paris Metro doing things jointly. "It might sound far-fetched, but why should it still be such a f***ing disaster to get from London to Paris? "And there are my thoughts on the congestion zone in my opinion, we need to extend it to all heavily-congested areas around London, not just to west and central London." The Save Sloane Square campaign is, he says, "a storm in a tea-cup" but worth fighting for. "I have great liking as a person for Daniel Moylan, the deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea, but his plan to dig up Sloane Square at a cost of i 1/25.5 million and replace it with a crossroads
is just ludicrous.
"For years, while I was the transport commissioner, I kept it out. The fact is that you don't improve a square by making it into a crossroads: it's usually the other way round." Look Bob, I say, as I prepare to leave, are you okay with me writing about your drink problems? "Yes," he says, giving me a bear hug.
"Most people who know me well know I'm alcoholic. So why should I worry about the rest of the world? It's been good to talk.
"Just make me one promise: give me my dignity, tell it with respect.
"What I've been through," he adds, "is indescribable."…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Yes, I'm an Alcoholic and If You Asked Me What I Do to Earn My I?1/2700,000 TfL Fee I'd Have to Say, Not Much; Bob Kiley Talks for the First Time about His Drink Problem, the Accident That Wiped out His First Family and Working with Ken Livingstone. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Evening Standard (London, England). Publication date: March 28, 2007. Page number: Not available. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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