No-one can accuse Garry Lace of having lost his ability to provide us all with a surprise. While rumours of apparent discord between him and Robert Campbell have been circulating for some time and led many to conclude he’d be off (most notably in March, when he ceased to be a director of their business), Lace’s departure from Beta to the English National Opera still prompted some industry astonishment.
Garry Lace, an opera buff? Who knew? Maybe this talented but mercurial man sings arias too?
In fairness, some of his closest friends did know about his passion for opera, but, to the wider industry, it added an extra layer to a confusingly enigmatic man.
With his paradoxically easy-going nature and effortless charm, Lace was probably one of the finest and most charismatic suits of his generation, and rose rapidly to the very top. Sadly, his descent from some of these positions proved almost as quick.
It's difficult not to conclude that Lace's hand was always irresistibly drawn to a self-destruct button
Having left TBWA\London, his arrival at Grey as its chief executive (on a reported £800,000 salary) was not without incident. He left after 15 months following an e-mail scandal that lives long in the memory.
His subsequent and unexpected arrival at Lowe London also provided much for the industry’s chattering classes to chew over. He was suspended after a period of turmoil and an investigation into his time running the agency. Lace later resigned.
Penance was served in lavatories, running Admedia, before a return to agencies in 2009, when he promised that he’d "learned some hard lessons".
And so to what we assume – but can only assume – will be his final act, a job at Covent Garden with his beloved opera.
There’s a revealing and quite funny scene in an interview on Beta’s website, presumably filmed at a relatively early point in Lace and Campbell’s partnership. Campbell introduces himself: "I’m Eric." To which Lace replies: "I’m Ernie." Lace changes his mind: "Actually, I’m Laurel." To which Campbell replies: "And I’m Hardy ever here." They both collapse in a fit of giggles like a couple of schoolboys.
While Campbell then goes on to do a bit of a pitch about the agency, Lace seems more insistent on talking about how he’s there to have "a giggle" and "to have some fun". This childlike desire to have fun – and maybe cause some mischief – seems to have been his undoing in the past, and it’s difficult not to conclude that his hand was always irresistibly drawn to a self-destruct button. Maybe just for fun.
Lace has provided some great headlines over the years and, whatever his faults, the industry has been a richer and more interesting place with him. For that reason, I’ve got a feeling his chutzpah be missed.
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