Obituary: Peter Boizot MBE (1929-2018)

Peter Boizot had four great passions: pizza, jazz, Peterborough and Liberalism! With all four he was liberal in his support, both with finance and in enthusiasm. He had great entrepreneurial acumen so that his delightfully naive belief that what he was enthusiastic about would also create paying customers often proved to be the case, making him a very rich man. He was not at all embarrassed by being rich as he simply regarded wealth as a means of supporting his passions and financing new ideas.
His innate liberalism also showed in ways that others would regard as eccentric. When businesses started up in other parts of the country or abroad copying the Pizza Express style and menu, rather than suing them he regarded it as a tribute to his success and as an encouragement for their customers also to patronise his restaurants. Having introduced a string quartet in Pizza Express on one evening a week, his accountant produced figures to show that the extra cost meant they were losing money, Peter ignored the evidence on the grounds that music and food went well together and that it would encourage repeat visits. Also, rather than give cash to beggars encountered on his way through Soho to his restaurant, he would offer them employment.

Even personally he was a delightful contradiction: he was a bachelor who always had a string of beautiful girl friends, and he was lifelong vegetarian who always had meat dishes on his menus. His love of pizza was sparked by trying it at a specialist restaurant in Italy. Unable to find a decent pizza in London in 1965 he simply bought a pizza oven, knocked down half a wall to get it into a building in Soho, hired specialist staff and insisted on only the best ingredients – even travelling to Italy to source the best tomatoes! He inaugurated the idea of having the cooking done in open view of the customers. Being concerned at the environmental threats to Venice he launched a special vegetarian pizza, the Veneziana. It became a best-seller and, with 25p of each one going to a fund to protect Venice, by 2011 it had raised £2 million.
Loving jazz, in 1969 he opened the basement at Pizza Express in Soho as a jazz club, booking not only internationally famous stars, such as Ella Fitzgerald, but also my very old-fashioned Liberal jazz band. He bought the historic restaurant, Kettners, in Romilly Street, Soho, and made it into an upmarket pizza restaurant without upmarket prices. I recall attending one of Peter’s birthday parties there and being impressed by the star jazz men and women present – including Larry Adler, Kenny Baker leading the band and, amazingly, Adelaide Hall being  persuaded to sing – an artiste who had recorded with Duke Ellington back in 1927! Inevitably he was one of the key people behind the high profile annual Soho Jazz Festival in 1986.
Peter was born, bred and educated in Peterborough and it was easy to persuade him to be the Liberal candidate there in February 1974. Despite it being the most marginal seat in Britain he managed to squeeze 20% of Liberal support. He fought again in the October election that year but his vote was reduced as there was a tactical vote swing to Labour. He became the President of Peterborough Liberal Democrats despite, as he said, “being a Liberal more than a Liberal Democrat.” In 1986 the Liberal party nominated him for an MBE for political an d public service.”
His final wild scheme was to buy Peterborough’s football team with the idea of putting enough money into it to improve the run down ground and to get the team into the top division. This was a challenge way beyond even Peter’s entrepreneurial instincts and skills and, putting £1 million annually into the club, it finally almost bankrupted him. He had to sell the Pizza Express business and other assets and he retired to a modest flat in his beloved Peterborough where he died on 5 December 2018.

* Michael Meadowcroft has been campaigning for Liberalism for sixty-two years! He has served in just about every capacity in the party and in elected offices, including MP for Leeds West, 1983-87. He then spent twenty years working in new and emerging democracies across the world

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  • Joseph Bourke 4th Jan '19 - 10:44pm

    I never knew the man but have been to his Pizza Express restaurant in Soho. I can empathise with his efforts to improve the the fortunes of Peterborough football club. It is a tough financial challenge in the lower leagues. A lovely obituary, Michael.

  • Martin Land 5th Jan '19 - 9:09am

    One of nature’s gentlemen. He always gave what support he could to the local Lib Dems. Last time I saw him he was living in the courtyard of Peterborough Cathedral, in the heart of the city he cared about so much.

  • gavin grant 5th Jan '19 - 12:02pm

    Peter was a delightful, passionate and compassionate person. As a young PPC in Southend in the 1980s I have very fond memories of Peter at Regional and Federal Conferences where is generosity was often on display as it was at the Southend East by-election. Michael’s obituary captures his amazing and inspiring spirit. RIP Peter.

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