10 / 10
Vale: Sir David Tang
I was once staying in Scotland, at a pretty grand house — the kind in which a grand piano does not look out of place. Walking down the stairs to breakfast, I was greeted by the crystalline notes of what might have been Schumann (I am no expert) floating on the still morning air. It is one of those moments that sticks in the mind, a glimpse of perfection and tranquillity that demonstrates the power of music when interpreted by a virtuoso. It was not a recording but an extemporaneous breakfast time recital by a fellow guest, Sir David Tang.
Celebrated Anglophile, Olympian socialite, entrepreneur, restaurateur, champion cigar smoker, man of taste, caustic wit, and, to my ears at least, concert-level pianist, David Tang, who died in August, became known to a wider public through his column in the Financial Times. Week after week, disguised as an agony uncle, he dispensed his world view, voicing his concerns on everything from urban planning to the design of contemporary Ferraris. He had a gift for dropping the most unusual of names with true finesse: talking about discussing Chinese food with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin one evening; commenting on the desert lunch he’d had with Gaddafi, saying that the tassels from his epaulettes would not have looked out of place on Barbara Cartland’s drawing-room curtains; and then there was the time he took tailoring tips from Kim Jong-un. It was the mark of your status as a world leader to say that you’d been Tango’d. – Nick Foulkes.
I first got to know David Tang when I went to Hong Kong in 1992. It was my first visit to the Crown colony, and in those pre-email days I went armed with letters of introduction (or had at least asked for one or two people to put a good word in for me with Tang). He could not have been kinder to me: his convertible Bentley, with driver on loan from the villain of a Sean Connery-era Bond film, was at my disposal; he invited me to the China Club, which he had then just opened; we had drinks at his apartment; and he threw a very jolly Sunday lunch at his house in the New Territories, where I had my first 60 ring gauge — I think — cigar (bear in mind this was 1992) that he’d had rolled especially for him in Havana. At that time he had also just opened his Cohiba cigar divan at the Mandarin Oriental, making the most delightful use of the sort of space that someone else with less imagination (i.e. most of the rest of us) would have turned into a storage unit. I also toddled over to his other then-newish venture, Shanghai Tang, and got myself measured for one of his sumptuous mandarin collared silk suits.
Having met the man and experienced his kindness, I took a personal interest as he charmed his way through British society, with that mixture of wit, generosity and taste that won him so many friends. He was a perfectionist; the only man I know to have had his shooting boots made at Lobb. He was the importer of Havana cigars to the Asia Pacific, and I would often see him in Cuba. During one lunch at the sprawling mansion he’d rented, replete with London-speed wi-fi (in itself a magic trick in Cuba), I remember him becoming enraged with the way the chef was turning the lobsters on the barbecue and took charge of preparing lunch himself.
He was not afraid of giving offence, if he felt offence needed to be given, and as a master of obscenities he was inventive and instructive. If one disagreed with one of his opinions, one had to be prepared for a robust defence. Given his presence at the best shooting parties and in the grandest enclosures, I suppose that many might have thought he would have liked to have been reincarnated as an English duke, and he would have made a good one. But music was his great love, as he told one of his correspondents, who wanted Tang’s advice on what erotic classical music to play on the piano (to impress his girlfriend). “On reincarnation,” Tang said, “I would, without a heartbeat, want to be an outstanding concert pianist, because I know that it is the most extraordinary life one could have.”
To be honest, I find it hard to imagine a life more extraordinary than the one David Tang lived. - Nick Foulkes