Leila Roy with Dynamite at the Conservative Party conference in 2019
RAISE a glass for Leila Roy. Raise a glass if you don’t want everybody in the council chamber to look and sound the same. Raise a glass for unconventional. For loose cannons. For silliness. For community. For the lad, Anton.
For a lost friend.
Many will already have done so; a stiff drink prescription was needed after the upsetting and frankly shocking news that the former councillor had passed away on Friday evening, aged only 39.
Yesterday was one of the days when so many nice things were said about her, you’d wish she’d been able to hear them – in the choppy world of local politics, people weren’t always so kind.
The term ‘force of nature’ recurred. That’s right, she followed her own senses, proving to be both reliable and unpredictable for her local Conservative group, and had a strength of character which meant the slightly patronising claims that this French revolutionary had joined the wrong party rarely left a dent.
It’s true that she probably didn’t agree with her party on everything, nationally at least – who does? – and she wasn’t a great fan of Brexit, but she found a home with the Tories here, after a time before politics in which she felt the council in Camden had been cold to her and some of the people around her. She hadn’t always had the easiest time.
Her period as a councillor did not coincide with the calmest period for the Conservatives behind the scenes either, but she made lasting and strong friendships which, along with her young age and the suddenness, explain the scale of the grief yesterday.
There would be time spent as much as friends as political campaigners in the garden together where a shed was partly made of Boris Johnson’s old mayoral campaigns stakeboards. A five minute chance meeting in the street turned into hour long chats as she detailed the latest problems of the world.
She had trained as a journalist and while this was not really where her path led her in the end, she retained the trade’s basic skill: being nosey, or more politely, being interested.
To that end, she could also be a pest, albeit a nice pest. She would be a constant buzz of constructive criticism for most of us. And at the same time she would unfailingly ask how my kids were – she sent a card when my first was born – and ‘how’s Tom Foot?’ In essence, they are ingredients of a good councillor slash campaigner – empathy, interest… questions.
It was never scripted, though. There would be times where I’d be trying to cross a conference hall floor for a rare chance to ambush a minister and, like a frantic scene in a Hitchcock film, she’d suddenly step across you and waylay the operation with a harangue about a campaign to save a shrub or why a harp should be made available to all primary school music lessons
The minister would escape, but you’d at least know that Leila’s latest chicks had hatched.
Leila is elected with Jonny Bucknell in 2014
One time we fell out in ludicrous fashion. During one of those autumn conferences, she sent one of my photos for use in the Ham and High, which seemed a bit rum given the other paper had not schlepped it around the country following our local councillors.
All very minor stuff, but as a sorry she sent cupcakes to the office. For all good integrity reasons, I returned them via her pigeonhole at the Town Hall. Leila then included this on her gifts and hospitality register as a present to her from the CNJ. She had declared her own cakes. I think David Douglas ate most of them.
If we are honest, one or two of the voices in the flood of tributes yesterday came from people who wouldn’t be able to admit now they laughed at her sometimes leftfield contributions in council meetings – not always in the kindest way. There was an occasional dismissive ‘it’s only Leila being Leila’ or ‘what’s she on about now’.
But when she invested in local campaigns, she could often prove people wrong with the results: Tesco never made it into that old bank in Haverstock Hill. She could whip up a storm.
As with so many of the escapees, whenever I met her after she lost her seat – by just nine votes at elections in 2018 – she seemed healthier than ever, sparkier. She still had projects on the go, still bubbling with gossip and, as always, enjoyed being with Anton, her son.
For Leila almost came as a two: the mother and boy were a double act for Camden.
He grew up in front of us at events, rallies, manifesto launches, ministerial visits and watching full council meetings from the public gallery. She was the most devoted mother you could ever imagine; he became wise beyond his years and excelled at his studies. Later I enjoyed his constructive criticism too and my heart goes out to him this weekend.
“Leila was a vibrant soul, one who literally lit up the room whenever she entered,” the Hampstead and Kilburn Conservative Association said in its statement yesterday.
“She was full of joy and ready to help out, no matter what the problem was. Her death – at such a young age – will deprive Camden of one of its strongest voices, one of its most determined campaigners and certainly one of its most popular community leaders. This is a loss not just to the Conservative Party but to us all.”
It’s spot on, whichever you party you support or none at all. Because Leila being Leila didn’t mean a game of point-scoring, instead she’ll better be remembered for helping residents sleeping on the leisure centre floor after the Chalcots evacuation or within her own ward. For trying to sort someone’s bin problem out; helping people who didn’t know how to complain about anti-social behaviour in their area; finding a lost cat.
That’s why the tributes and thanks will continue to come in and why she will be celebrated at tomorrow’s full council meeting.
Some pass through the Town Hall unnoticed but not Leila. Whenever you want to you’ll be able to close your eyes and hear her voice. I know I will… oh, you finally wrote something nice about what I’ve been doing! How are the kids?