Right and Honorable in San Francisco (Meeting Tony Blair)


Yesterday I had the special chance to meet Tony Blair–ahem, pardon me, the right honorable Tony Blair–at a reception hosted by George Shultz, a fellow at the Hoover Institution. The event was coordinated by the British Consulate in San Francisco, which has always been exceptionally friendly with its Marshall scholars.

An ice sculpture of sitting on the patio of George Shultz’s penthouse with North San Francisco in the background.

Aside: I’m a Los Angeles region Marshall, but the San Francisco region Consul-General Martin Uden was very generous in making contact with all the Bay Area scholars. He invited us to his home for a reception in May, individually introducing us to a roomful of British members of parliament. Previously I had the privilege to have lunch with Mr. Uden and Marshall Chairman Jonathan Taylor (who is also the chair of the Booker Prize Foundation) with Stanford Marshalls at the Stanford Bechtel International Center, which coordinates Stanford’s Marshall scholarship program. At this lunch Mr. Uden expressed his uniquely British (and singularly contagious) sense of humor when, upon being prompted regarding reaching underrepresented sections of the population with the Marshall scholarships, he suggested that he’d like to see the Stanford Tree (the band’s mascot) apply–“Not the new one, the girl… who was thrown out of the basketball game,” at which point his face turned red and he could no longer keep up his dead-pan delivery. At the Marshall reception at his house, he first introduced Dan Zoughbie–a Berkeley Marshall–he noted, “[Dan is] from Berkeley, so ‘go bears.’ I’m not sure where they’re going, but I’m sure the other [Stanford] scholars have some suggestions.” Needless to say, Mr. Uden is one of my favorite people.

A news crew, some neighborhood residents, and one of many police officers look on as Tony Blair’s staff prepares for his arrival at 999 Green Street.

Anyway. The Right Honorable Tony Blair’s visit to San Francisco (and later Los Angeles) was the first time a Prime Mininster has ever visited the State (another news byte), and so security was quite tight. Due to an unfortunate sequence of events, I arrived 10 minutes late and missed Mr. Blair’s short speech. (I missed it not because I arrived after the speech, but one of Blair’s security personnel wouldn’t let me in and then forgot about me, leaving me outside in the cold. So, after waiting outside for 45 minutes, I finally was let into the penthouse where Mr. Uden had been wondering where I’d been all this time. To top it all off, upstairs I bumped into fellow Stanford Marshall Mark Otuteye, who told me how he arrived just 10 minutes before me and squeezed in because he was valet parked. Thus there is one overzealous member of Mr. Blair’s security staff that I’m not very fond of.)

I missed a photo opportunity with Tony Blair and the other three Marshalls (Mark, Dan, and Rajaie Batniji), but Mr. Uden went out of his way to introduce me to Tony Blair and ensured that I had a quick photo with him. I hope the SF British Consulate will send us copies of the photos. But in case they don’t, I’ve made my own artist’s rendition of the event:

I was still quite cold and grumpy that I’d missed half of the party, but started to cozy up a little bit after I noticed some familiar faces. Given the significance of this event, several Bay Area VIPs were invited–unfortunately, being the plebian that I am, I didn’t recognize many of them. However, I was able to spot several prominent Stanford figures, which did make me feel a little more welcome.

First up is a photo of me, Rajaie Batniji, [former Stanford President] Gerhard Caspar, and Daniel Zoughbie. Professor Caspar was absolutely delighted to meet the Marshalls and was tremendously welcoming. He especially enjoyed this photograph, saying, in his avuncular German accent, “we will have a picture with two Stanford scholars and one Berkeley scholar together with a former President of Stanford!” He also told me, with the smile of somebody who is truly enjoying himself, that he was very good friends with the vice chancellor at Cambridge, so that if I had any serious complaints after my experience, I should drop him an e-mail.

Along with Professor Caspar, I spoke to Jean Chu: the spouse of Physics Nobel Prize winner Steve Chu (more on him later), a former aide to the President at Stanford (i.e. formerly aide to Professor Caspar), a former chair of the Stanford Rhodes/Marshall Scholarship selection committees, a former Stanford Dean of Admissions, a former physics professor at San Jose State, and and former Oxford physics student. Mrs. Chu was also very friendly and we both shared similar tastes in hors deurves (both sweet tooths). She was also delighted to hear that Stanford had four Marshalls and two Rhodes this year.

Afterwards I was able to speak to Professor Steve Chu. While our conversation wasn’t much longer than that I had with Professor Caspar, it had special significance for this blog, so I post it separately [link removed] (see below).

Another person who I was able to sneak a peek of was San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was not only the tallest person in the room, but definitely the most suave.

Also, Stanford Hoover Institute fellow and Economics Nobel laureate, Milton Friedman, whose stature was a bit in contrast with Mr. Newsom:

Finally, I discovered that the Right and Honorable Tony Blair has a son, Euan, who is my age and even briefly worked with my congresswoman:

Euan Blair on the left, unfortunately I do not know who the woman on the right is, but I get the feeling that she’s very important.

I didn’t get to snap many photos of the food (how odd would I have looked?), but I couldn’t resist this shot of a waiter offering me fish and chips:

Jean Chu suggested I get used to the British pub staple food, though Professor Caspar said I’ll have plenty of time and that it’s not really appropriate food for a reception like this. He wasn’t amused when the mini cheeseburgers came around, preferring, instead, little bits of crab in flower petals and caviar.

Anyway, I realize I have no photos of Tony Blair in here, so I’ll close with a snapshot of our parting gift:

During his undergraduate years, Tony Blair was the guitarist and lead singer for a rock cover band called Ugly Rumors. They gave us a CD of Blair’s favorite British rock songs, “compiled on the occasion of his visit to San Francisco, July 29, 2006.” The CD’s contents:

  1. It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll but I Like it, The Rolling Stones
  2. I Want to Hold Your Hand, The Beatles
  3. In My Life, The Beatles
  4. When I’m 64, The Beatles
  5. Crossroads Blues, Robert Johnson
  6. Sultans of Swing, Dire Straits
  7. Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
  8. Cancel Today, Ezio
  9. Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones
  10. Live With Me, The Rolling Stones
  11. Frame by Frame, King Crimson
  12. 21st Century Schizoid Man, King Crimson
  13. With or Without You, U2
  14. All Right Now, Free (… isn’t this the Stanford Band song?)
  15. Wishing Well, Free
  16. Sunshine of Your Love, Cream
  17. Stayin’ Alive, N-Trance

The band was dressed in “Ugly Rumors” t-shirts in Mr. Blair’s honor.

Finally, I attach a few videos of the view from Mr. Shultz’s penthouse.

Update: BritainUSA has posted a brief summary of Tony Blair’s visit, including a photo with the other Marshall scholars (the photo I missed on account of having to wait outside!).

2 Responses to “Right and Honorable in San Francisco (Meeting Tony Blair)”

  1. 1 robert

    You might be well advised to temper your enthusiasm for T Blair when you arrive in the UK, where he is almost universally loathed. The absence of any of the Cliff Richard canon from his list of cool tracks is noteworthy, particularly as the family Blair has holidayed free of charge in the Bachelor Boy’s Barbados palace for several years now, and Tony has highlighted Sir Cliff’s campaign to change copyright laws as a priority for reform. Sad to say, Flip, he’s a total shit. Now how did that song go again?

    Blood rack barbed wire
    Politicians funeral pyre
    Innocents raped with napalm fire
    Twenty first century schizoid man.

  2. 2 B. Johnson

    Interesting comment Robert, but, if Blair is “universally loathed” in the UK how did he manage to win last year’s General Election to become Prime Minister for the third time?.
    Maybe your oppinion is a little less than universal.

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