The photo is horrific: rivulets of blood running from his eyes and mouth and pooling onto his hospital gown, Sir Christopher Meyer looks as if he has been hauled out of a war zone.
Seven months ago, on a July afternoon, the 74-year-old retired diplomat — Britain’s former ambassador to the USA — was pushed with such violence at London’s Victoria Tube station that when he fell, perilously close to the platform edge, he lost consciousness.
Today, all memory of the attack — provoked, it seems, by an altercation with a 16-year-old youth as Sir Christopher was leaving the train — remains obliterated.
Only the photograph, taken by his wife Catherine as he lay in A&E, provides graphic testimony of its viciousness.
His wife, Lade Catherine, was so perturbed by his horrific injuries she shared a picture of her husband in A&E, feeling that the world had to see what the youth had done
Dressed in immaculate casuals — Ralph Lauren shirt and blue corduroys teamed with his signature red socks — he is chipper, impeccably mannered, lively company
‘When Catherine saw me she was so shocked, outraged and furious, she thought, “The world needs to see this.” The photo was published all over the place. But I didn’t see it for several days,’ he says.
‘Catherine tried to keep me away from the mirror for as long as possible. But when I saw myself I thought: “Jesus Christ.” I looked like a gladiator dragged from the arena.
‘I was in hospital for six days. I’d split my lip when my head hit the platform. I had an enormous haematoma under my left eye, which was drooping. It had to be drained twice and the wound stitched.
Sir Christopher and Lady Catherine Meyer
‘There was a massive gash on my left hand where I’d put it out to break my fall. I’ve no idea how many stitches I had. It’s still tender.’
Today, dressed in immaculate casuals — Ralph Lauren shirt and blue corduroys teamed with his signature red socks — he is chipper, impeccably mannered, lively company.
He is speaking fully about the attack for the first time, but Lady Meyer — who is in the House of Lords on the day I visit — remains ‘too upset’ to talk about the whole episode.
Last week, the teenager who assaulted her husband was spared jail after pleading guilty to causing grievous bodily harm without intent on July 11, 2018.
Instead the youth, now 17, who cannot be named, was given a 12-month intensive referral order and ordered to pay £500 compensation.
Police, piecing together evidence from 25 witnesses and CCTV footage, said Sir Christopher was trying to get off the train when his exit was blocked by the defendant.
Pushing past the youth, Christopher apparently called him a ‘bastard’. He has no memory of the altercation or conversation, but says: ‘Only one witness said I used that word.
‘I don’t think I would. It doesn’t sound right. Words were exchanged, but God knows what we said to each other, then, in a fit of rage apparently, he pursued me down the platform and pushed my back with great violence with both hands.’
He adds: ‘I went down, bang! and lost consciousness. When I came to a few minutes later, I just remember lying on my side surrounded by feet.
Sir Christopher Meyer and Lady Catherine Meyer at the Spectator Summer Party in Westminster, London in July 2017
‘I was watching people getting on and off trains and wondering what the hell I was doing there on the ground.
‘I think there was some kind of first aid. Someone said: “Can you see out of your left eye?” My glasses were smashed and pieces of glass were embedded in my face. My eye had swollen and I couldn’t see much, and the question kept coming, “Can you see? Can you see?”’
Sir Christopher is an imperturbable man with a diplomat’s habit of emollience. But even he was angered by the ferocity of the assault. ‘In the early days, I was feeling pretty vengeful, I can tell you,’ he says dryly. ‘I thought he deserved to be banged up.
‘But then I thought: “What bloody good does it do to put you in a jail or young offenders’ institute, which can be academies of crime?” The vengeful feeling began to wear off.
‘Then after the sentencing, I thought: “The judges know what they’re doing. They have guidelines and this is probably the right thing,” even though GBH is a very serious offence.
‘And he had pleaded guilty, he hadn’t wasted the court’s time or forced me to go and give evidence.
‘Then I learned that after he had knocked me over he’d stayed with me and hadn’t tried to run away. He gave himself up to police.
‘All that, plus his age, made me think the referral order is probably the right sentence, even though a lot of my friends think he should have gone to prison.’
Since the attack on Sir Christopher, passenger Lee Pomeroy was stabbed nine times — dying from his injuries — on a train near Guildford, Surrey.
Such seemingly random assaults now occur daily. Home Office statistics show fatal stabbings have reached a record high with the number of young people killed by knives rising by nearly 50 per cent last year.
Sir Christopher said: ‘Catherine and I discussed the Guildford case and we concluded that people are now very quick to anger. I realised afterwards how damned lucky I was that my attacker wasn’t carrying a knife.
Sir Christopher and Lady Meyer at the West End opening night of ‘Great Britain’ a play by Richard Bean in 2014
‘Catherine says the assault on me was very serious, and that he should pay for what he did to deter him from doing anything like it again, by doing something valuable in terms of public service. She feels strongly about violent crime in London. It really distresses her and she’d come down very heavily on general lawlessness.
‘But in this case, she agrees with me: it’s better he doesn’t go to jail.’
The assault happened as Sir Christopher was en route to Whitehall, where he had been due to address post-graduate students from the University of North Carolina.
Donald Trump was visiting the UK, and Sir Christopher had been booked to commentate on the tour for the BBC and CNN. Both appointments were cancelled as he recuperated.
Sketchy though his recall of the day is, a few graphic images remain. He says: ‘From the moment I recovered consciousness and saw people in blue uniforms round me, I had the feeling I was in very good hands. I was lying close to the edge of the platform, beyond the yellow line, when I came to, then I must have been moved. I went in and out of consciousness.
‘I don’t remember how I got into the ambulance but I do recall saying I lived near St Thomas’s Hospital, so could I go there? But they said they were taking me to St Mary’s, Paddington, because there was a major trauma centre there.
‘The big concern for me was Catherine. I was saying her phone number to myself all the time so I wouldn’t forget it, and I asked the policeman with me, “Please get hold of my wife.” ’
Just two days earlier, Lady Meyer had celebrated her formal robing ceremony in the Lords.
‘It was a really joyous day,’ he recalls. ‘We quaffed champagne and ate scones on the terrace overlooking the Thames. I’m so proud of her. I tear up when I think about it,’ he says, getting misty-eyed at the recollection.
‘I blub very easily,’ he admits, ‘but Catherine is not a crier. She’s one of the most stoic people I know.’
This quiet fortitude was, perhaps, instilled years ago when Catherine’s sons from her first marriage, Alexander, then nine, and Constantin, six, were abducted by their German father after their divorce. She did not see them again until they were adults.
She met Christopher during a quest to find her boys, seeking his help when he was UK ambassador to Germany.
‘It was a coup de foudre!’ he cries. ‘I was determined to lead a monastic life, devoted to work, but within a month Catherine came to see me, trying to get justice for her case.
Sir Christopher: ‘I realised afterwards how damned lucky I was that my attacker wasn’t carrying a knife’
‘She was wearing woollen tights,’ he reflects, as if this explains everything, ‘and when I announced (within weeks) that I was going to marry her, my mother thought I was a complete raving lunatic. She said, “The trouble with you, Christopher, is that you like anything with a good pair of legs.” ’
Twenty-two years on, they remain devoted. He shows me a framed photo taken at the House of Lords. In it, he is standing proudly next to his wife, the newly appointed Baroness Meyer of Nine Elms.
‘That photo was taken on the Monday, and by Wednesday I was bloodied and bruised, lying in hospital looking like something out of Night Of The Living Dead. Catherine was in the Lords when the phone call from the police came.
‘She was told I’d been attacked and she came whizzing along to St Mary’s. She was shocked, appalled when she saw me and it really kills me, what I really regret, is that she and my kids saw me all lacerated and bleeding. I remember this entire medical team, six of them dressed in green scrubs, peering down at me, and I knew I was in the hands of competent people.
‘I was feeling quite chirpy by then because I knew nothing had been broken. I had a brain scan and there was no damage. But the emotional effect on Catherine was enormous.’ He feared, too, that some of his physical injuries would be permanent. ‘My drooping eye stayed for a long time, but an eye specialist said I should rub it gently every day and, lo! In a couple of months it got better.’
He had plastic surgery to repair the damaged tissue in his hand: his heavy fall worsened by the fact that he has Dupuytren’s Contracture, a condition in which one of his fingers is permanently flexed.
I wondered if there was a legacy of fear about using the Tube, but he is adamant he is not remotely wary. ‘I love the Tube!’ he cries. ‘In 50 years of using it I’d never seen or experienced any violence until I was attacked. I didn’t want to feel intimidated by it, so the first thing I did was go back on a train. I also thought it might jog my memory about what happened. It didn’t.’
He and Catherine live in the heart of London. The Tube and bus are their prime means of transport and he has no intention of frittering ‘a fortune’ on taxis.
‘I love the Tube!’ Sir Christopher cries. ‘In 50 years of using it I’d never seen or experienced any violence until I was attacked
We meet at their penthouse in a vast tower with stunning views over a busy stretch of the Thames. ‘We moved here because we’d started to fall down stairs,’ he explains merrily. ‘I suppose it’s an ante-chamber to assisted living. We have a concierge, a porter and an NHS medical centre round the corner.’
Although he jokes about old age, he is spry — spending 40 minutes a day in the gym — and has a passion for heavy rock. ‘AC/DC? I’d love to have seen them when Highway To Hell and Back In Black were really fresh,’ he muses.
He spots a limo with out-riders gliding over nearby Vauxhall Bridge and remarks that it probably belongs to the U.S. ambassador.
It prompts recollections of the days when he and Catherine were Washington’s most glamorous diplomatic duo. During his six-year tenure he smoothed the way for the ‘special relationship’ between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
It was said they entertained 35,000 visitors a year: his easy, public school charm complementing her effortless European chic. He must, surely, miss it? ‘We loved every minute, but no, I don’t miss it at all,’ he says. ‘The Foreign Office was going through one of those spasms of intense political correctness that drove me ape-s**t.’
Then I ask about Trump. How would he like to be our man in America dealing with the current president? ‘Oh I’d love to grapple with that challenge!’ he cries.
Sir Christopher is a man of sanguine disposition and resilience. But he sounds a note of caution.
‘I’d advise anyone not to have an altercation on public transport.
‘Anything can happen. I’ve no idea what can be done about that. I just watch in despair.’