How We Met: Martin Sorrell; &; Simon Schama

By Interviews Daniel Rosenthal 2 Photograph Trish Morrissey | The Independent (London, England), November 21, 1999 | Go to article overview
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How We Met: Martin Sorrell; &; Simon Schama

Interviews Daniel Rosenthal 2 Photograph Trish Morrissey, The Independent (London, England)

Martin Sorrell, 54, is group chief executive of WPP, one of the world's largest advertising companies. Educated at Cambridge and Harvard Business School, he was group finance director of Saatchi & Saatchi for nine years, before founding WPP in 1986. Married with three sons, he lives in London

Simon Schama, 54, historian, is University professor in art history and history at Columbia University, New York. Educated at Cambridge, his books include `Citizens', `Landscape and Memory' and the recently- published biography, `Rembrandt's Eyes'. Married with a son and a daughter, he lives in New York

MARTIN SORRELL: Simon and I were born a day apart: 13 February 1945 for him, 14 February for me. We both grew up in north London and met at Haberdashers' Aske's School when we were 11. I was a weekly border and Simon was a day boy, and I really got to know him from 13 onwards, when we were streamed, and by an amazing accident I was in the `A' form along with Simon.

Even at 13, he was already a brilliant historian. I remember our history master giving me a superb essay Simon had written on George III. He was very articulate from an early age and we'd enter debating competitions together. We didn't do everything together, though. Simon wasn't really a sportsman like I was, although he played tennis, with a very strange serve.

In 1963, we went up to Christ's College, Cambridge, together. I read economics and Simon read history. We lived on opposite sides of the same courtyard, in blocks which looked like part of Alcatraz. We were among the first Jewish boys to be excused dining with the rest of the students in formal halls every night so that we could keep kosher, and as a result we used to cook our meals together. Once Simon allowed a gas ring to burn through the saucepan he'd left on it, almost causing a fire.

In 1964 we went to the Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City. Simon was there as a reporter for Varsity and I was reporting for New Cambridge, another student newspaper. We moved from the Democratic platform hearings in Washington to the convention, and somehow managed to get in every day with press passes that were valid for Washington but had no validity whatsoever for the convention. That whole trip was a tremendous experience, giving us a real understanding of US politics. We always had a hoot together.

The following summer we toured East and West Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Vienna, including a visit to what had been the Nazi deportation camp at Theresienstadt, outside Prague. We saw the extraordinary drawings done by the children who'd been held there, and the railway line which had carried the Jews to the death camps. Those sorts of experiences at that age create a strong bond.

My father ran J&M Stone, a radio and electrical company which was the Dixons of the Fifties and Sixties, and from my teens I wanted to follow him into business. It was equally clear that Simon was going to be a historian. To my mind Simon is a modern AJP Taylor. I just wish he could keep his arms from waving like a windmill when he's on television. We didn't have a "Person Most Likely To Succeed" award at school, but it was a fair bet that Simon would do very well. He's a sort of Renaissance man - nothing he does surprises me.

SIMON SCHAMA: My first impressions of Martin came from seeing him at Jewish prayers at Haberdashers', and around the school generally.

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