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7th February 2017

Philip R Wood CBE, QC (Hon), 73

Philip is one of the world’s experts in financial law, working full time as Special Global Counsel at Allen & Overy. He has written 19 books, the latest of which, ‘The fall of the priests and rise of the lawyers,’ will be launched on the 26th April.

“Most jobs are 95% dull and a lot of mine involves commas and tedious administrative chatter. It doesn’t matter though, so long as you do something. When I see people performing tasks which they feel are futile and have no impact, I feel ‘don’t worry’ because for us to do anything in the world we need this multiplicity of little efforts just to push the tide. The people I admire most are the ones who I think are conscious of more than just their own pleasure and feel a sort of duty to help in order to survive in the universe.

I have always felt that the one thing we all do have, which is divine, is love.

I was born in the middle of Central Africa, where my parents had emigrated in the 1930s. My early youth was spent in a place called Livingstone by the Victoria Falls and I must say it was a charmed existence, although it was sinister in terms of insects, disease and the heat. I never developed any patriotism for Africa as we were foreigners there, so as a result I have always identified with the people of the world; that’s not just a piece of waffle, it’s true. I have always felt that tribalism is fine for football but not for important things. It’s too dangerous. I’ve ended up in a law firm which shares that view.

I have always felt that the one thing we all do have, which is divine, is love. Love is a time of ecstasy and real delirium, when you don’t care whether you live or die. I still feel that. I met my wife on holiday in Marbella and we have been married since the late 70s. I do feel grateful for it. I have never felt disappointed or sad or melancholy because I have love. Family helps a lot too – we had four children and I gloried in having them.

We live just outside a village called Shere near Guildford now. Our house is on a hill and enjoys beautiful views. I find Britain extremely reassuring and endlessly charming – all the seasons are just magical. I even like the rain! My wife designed our gardens from nothing and she wants people to see them so we open the house and grounds to the public.  I suppose it keeps things interesting.

I’ve always liked running. I used to run from Waterloo into the office and back in the evening and I still run four times a week. I have done a few marathons but the Paris marathon [which he ran at age 72] was a disaster – I was fit, but we got up to the Eiffel Tower and there were some young ladies cheering me on so I broke into a sprint, showing off! I ran about 75 metres and pulled every muscle in my body! But I thought ‘I’ve come here to finish the damn thing,’ so I carried on. I walked the rest and I got the medal so technically I did it, but it was so humiliating!

Obviously as you get older there are some things you don’t do quite so well – running marathons being one of them. But I have always accepted the shape of life. I don’t get sulky. That is not an effort, I think it’s just the way I am.  Getting older has never bothered me. I recently had a horrible operation and for various reasons the chances were one in 20. I didn’t feel frightened. I have never felt a terror at dying but I have felt a terror at us all dying. It came to me like a thunderbolt – we may just all return to blind particles of nothing! That was a terrible realisation to me.

I don’t have regrets. That doesn’t mean that everything has gone well in my life, but I am philosophical – I just feel fortunate to be here. The worst thing for me would be just to exist. The world is so rich, there is so much you can do, it’s hard to choose. But you have to choose – there are certain selections you have to make throughout life. One must be bold and courageous about them.

Often, people tend to follow the path they believe they have been given – even though it’s not actually there. They could go off and do something else and realise different potentials. As people get older they sometimes realise that the path was never real. It was merely an illusion.

When I got my CBE, I had to have a coat of arms drawn up. For that, I had to think about what my motto was and I finally settled on ‘Lux et Fortitudo’ which is Latin for Enlightenment and Courage.

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