IMG_2323This week the world has lost an incredible man. Michael Bond, who passed away yesterday, at the majestic age of 91, will be sorely missed by many. I will miss him as a wonderful writer – who was still writing new stories until very recently – and also as a friend.

In the late 1990s I joined HarperCollins as an editor and was incredibly fortunate to be given the job of “looking after” Michael. I will never forget the first time I had to call him. I was, of course, thrilled at the idea of speaking to this great author. I had been brought up on his warm, funny stories both in print and on the small screen. (As a child of the 1970s, “my” version of Paddington was the animation narrated by Michael Hordern – I still find it difficult to read the stories without his voice reading them to me in my head.)

When I picked up the phone to call and introduce myself to Michael and heard him answer in his inimitable gentle tones, I panicked. What should I call him? “Michael”? “Mr Bond” seemed more appropriate. But maybe he would think I was being over-formal? In the end, I coughed, said, “Hello,” and plunged into an awkward explanation of who I was. Michael immediately put me at my ease. He was extremely gracious – as the cliché goes, a real gentleman – and I could tell even from that first conversation that much of his own temperament and mannerisms had gone into his well-loved creation.

We met for the first time at London Zoo for a celebration of Paddington’s 40th birthday. I had not expected to get anywhere near Michael on such an important occasion, but he sought me out and once again put me at my ease.

Over the twenty years which followed, I was lucky enough to be invited to Michael’s house to meet his wife, Sue, and also his guinea pigs: two incarnations of Olga da Polga, Vladimir (an unexpected son!) and more recently Oksana.

I have many fond memories of meetings with Michael. It is thanks to him that I really understood how to craft and hone a story. His manuscripts were the cleanest and sharpest I have ever seen. They were delivered, typed on cream paper, with no errors of spelling, punctuation or grammar. The stories were honed to perfection. I also learned the importance for a writer of knowing one’s characters inside out and back to front. If I ever dared to challenge Paddington’s motives or actions, Michael would gently say, “But that’s how Paddington is, you see.”

Michael was not only one of the best children’s writers this nation has ever seen. He was a bon viveur who loved fine wines, champagne and good food. He adored France and loved to talk about how “the French know how to live”. He was a raconteur with many an amusing anecdote about the varied people he had come across in his life. But most of all, he was a gentle, generous man.

As the Browns said, it’s been “nice having a bear about the house”. This, at least, will still continue to be the case. RIP Michael Bond. Long live Paddington.

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