Category: Friendships
Hits: 2785

My friend, and friend to many, Leonard Johnson, has boarded his last flight it seems and I'm struggling to fully comprehend what that means.

Lenny (as most of us knew him) stood out from the crowd and was very much a solitary friend. His turns of phrases, his quips, his jokes, his stereotypes, his questions that he knew were troublesome, his carefree casual charm, and above all his sense of friendship.


I met him by chance - it was Barcelona, I was messing around during a lunch waiting for my boyfriend Wussell (as Lenny always pronounced Russell), and I became aware of this larger than life character next to me. He spoke Spanish and knew BCN better than I and he became my guide for the day, the evening, the early morning and much of that week.

Of all of the characters of life that float past your door Lenny was, if nothing else, memorable. He had so many Jewish jokes that for some time I thought he might be Jew-ish. When Russell and I got engaged to be married the phone call was immediate, loud and a laughing smokers voice shouted Mazeltov at me from, I think India, or one of his long haul stops.

The stories, the tales of fun, escapades and scrapes were worthy of Peter Ustinov, Terry Gilliam or Stephen Fry in their international flavour, their cheeky wickedness or ultimately their charming simplicity. But with those skills of being British Airway's very own raconteur, also went a delivery, a build up and a sense of drama worthy of Kenneth Williams. After all, I have never heard again, and probably never will heard the words Duct-Tape sound so laden in both innuendo or sinister overtones. But unlike the precision of Kenneth Williams, Lenny's stories tumbled over each other in his excitement to tell them, and in time, with considerable repetition, began to merge and become the same story told differently each time. But despite the noise, the flounce and the camp effect of a smokers voice rasping above the crowd, Lenny could be astonishingly discreet. He only ever said to me that he knew things that would make your eyes water about "Ma Baker" but was never indiscreet enough to reveal anything to me at least. But it was always a knowing wink and nudge where he alluded to everything and told you in fact nothing.

Indeed it was this sense of trust that meant that Lenny was one of the first people I turned to when I was worried I was slipping into depression. Ever the life of a party, he was usually the person who started the party, but he was also very attentive to the whole room and not just the melee of excitement. His response to my request for help was substantial, thoughtful and to this day helpful.

Seeing Lenny was always structured chaos, a joy, infrequent but fun, and the ensuing social melee had the inevitable consequence of you being late the following day or at least hungover.

Seeing Lenny in the Ramblas of Barcelona, in his then home in Dalston, in a north London hospital Accident and Emergency Unit (that was a weekend to remember), in our own home in West Hampstead (he was clear it was not Kilburn, not with that number of noughts on the purchase price he asserted) - all were different places, all were the same Lenny. Warm, genuine and to an extent that worried me he would be selfless (leaving himself tired and shattered). My last visit to him in Barcelona was after his near-meeting with death. He was much reduced, but optimistic, I tried to help, he was grateful but refused most of my offers. But to this day, I was delighted I saw him on that trip - I went to his flat three or four times, and gradually we progressed to a Tapas Bar - me in shorts and trainers, him in slippers and baggy trousers, almost pyjamas.

So now, as I type this, I think of my deeply affectionate, quick witted friend, my slightly mad friend, and I realise I don't have anyone else quite like him in my life at all anymore. He was for me, one in a million, and I am lucky indeed to have known him, enjoyed him and laughed with him. Fly well my friend, fly well.

Ed x
Tuesday 27th September