This is my account of the extraordinary life of Jeremy Paxton. It’s an assembly of vivid memories I shared with a unique human whom I loved and cherished.
Woody Allen once said ‘Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.’ Sadly true when death takes a 53 year old man in his prime.
Some take life for granted. Some live each day. Some shudder at the thought of the Grim Reaper hovering nearby, whetstone out, sharpening his scythe. When someone close passes, the sharp focus of the now is fashioned in vivid Technicolor .
Life is uncertain and throws up trials and tribulations. Faith is, above all, openness; to be able to trust in the unknown. I’ve never let a fear of the unknown govern my life. This openness has its rewards and one of those is to attract a collection of amazing relationships. And once in a while, somebody prodigious wanders by in an unexpected manner, capturing my attention and trumping the pack.
First impressions can suck if we allow them to forge an erroneous opinion. I might have disregarded JP on his first impressions. I am a freewheeling romancer, programmed not to be put off by a snap impression. Experience has taught me not to disregard people, but instead to succumb to altitudes of imagination.
It was on a vivid spring day that I first met Jeremy Paxton at his beloved Lower Mill Estate. I turned off the main road which rushes traffic between Swindon and Gloucester and saw all manner of new developments crowding the banks of the old gravel pits which helped build it. It was a bewildering site of contradictions.
Our opening conversation was beside an idyllic lake, glistening with different shades of turquoise, littered with amazing wildfowl. I half expected to see a mysterious watery maiden, wearing a diaphanous frock rising up from the depths clutching Excalibur. On this bright afternoon he was on full broadcast mode, regaling me with a slew of messages about his life time project.
LME was Jeremy’s passion to develop a unique second home community with nature and world class architecture at its heart ,on a Special Site of Scientific interest. I listened to Jeremy at full tilt. Despite my initial impression, I was totally seduced by his authentic passion. His project was not a compound of vanity; this was a big vision. It wasn’t long before I was on his case, delivering ink. With each piece of coverage the jigsaw of his brand was assembled and his confidence in my ability became a fixed mark.
We quickly transcended a publicist client relationship. He understood me and the work I do, and I understood him and supported his dreams. All dreams can come true if backed by a sense of purpose and the courage to pursue them. JP had that purpose which was allied to a sharp and focused emotional intelligence. I liberated his showmanship. He was caring, ebullient vibrant, resonant, dynamic. imaginative, enthusiastic, purposeful and a bag of contradictions.
Above all JP was a generous man, with a deep-seated desire to help, and a kinetic energy to get things done. He never corralled my passion, he allowed my creative juices to flow. He trusted my judgement and provided budgets and organisation to make the wilder realms of my creative publicity live and breathe. Things began to take shape and, more importantly, happen. Few clients had the courage to support my ideas, but he did; it was his unique legacy.
The passage of time saw many stories to promote LME evolve. We had contacted John Travolta, offered to design him a home to accommodate his 747. JP managed to persuade practically every leading avant-garde architect in the world to design a series of Cotswold houses for the 21st century. And, not satisfied with simply making an enormous publicity splash by announcing the project at a Victoria and Albert Museum launch, JP actually planned to build 22 or more of the ultra-futuristic things for sale, albeit at £10m or so a throw.
There was the successful re- introduction of very rare native species . He created a rich habitat for water voles, otters, beavers, kingfishers, reed bunting, wetland plants, freshwater invertebrates, amphibians, damselfly, newts and snakes. He was obsessed about sustainable living before it was embraced as a movement. He was the first to re-introduce beavers as a ‘keystone’ species back into the countryside.
The launch saw hoards of media crawling around muddy lanes reporting the release; it made global news. My 10 year old son Joe was a Newsround Presspacker reporting the excitement for the BBC . JP protected otters, hedgehogs and endangered hair streak butterflies from extinction before folk realised the danger. All focused the lens and inked the page.
Stunting was rampant . We wrapped a house for a client who bought it, for his partner , as a Valentine’s day gift .
He created a Santa-friendly chimney for a little boy who thought his new home wouldn’t be fit for a Father Christmas visit. He created the perfect pooch-friendly home for a dog-crazy purchaser. He bought an ice cream van, personally dispensing 99s to his residents; why, because he wanted to hear the romantic sound of the iconic tune he remembered from his childhood.
He built the world’s first ‘art spa’ – offering everything from tai chi at dawn to pilates at sundown, candlelit swimming and aromatherapy treatments, and regular exhibitions of paintings and photography. There was a unique chance to swim amid lilies and reeds in the UK’s first commercial Eco Pool cleansed by a variety of rare oxygenating plants.
He offered pigs and allotments to those who bought homes. The footballer Sol Campbell popped down to Lower Mill with Kelly Hoppen. Jeremy quickly uncovered the footballer’s passion for London buses. In an instant on the back of a manila envelope he’d sketched out a home for Sol to live with his beloved iconic Route Masters.
I loved Jeremy because he took the greatest pleasure in doing what people said he couldn’t do. At all times he proved that the purpose of life is to fight maturity. We often swapped cuttings and links celebrating forgotten heroes, those quintessentially British icons; eccentric, brave, fearless, chivalrous and audacious. Qualities, I believe JP naturally embodied. Eminence and bravery were the factors likely to pique Jeremy’s curiosity. He loved wing commanders and squadron leaders who could fly Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancasters blind folded. Heroic old duffers, buzzing around country lanes in vintage Bugattis.
He abhorred petty, small-minded middle Englanders; the tight lipped fun sucking pygmies. JP was a libertarian. He had a history as a water skier and shared hair-raising adventures with his best pal, the late great Barrie Sheene. Their campfire tales were plentiful, laddish and delightfully entertaining.
His prowess as an aviator was astonishing, with his beloved Hughes 500 being his mode of transport of choice. In his hangar in the Kemble Airfield he housed a scary Pitts stunt plane (the world’s scariest roller-coaster was in its league) and a favourite Beechcraft (Niffie) Teflon coated, and a vintage chrome airstream caravan. His tools and workbench were neat and tidy, ready for his engineering prowess. We watched the Dam Busters on a giant cinema screen, drank beer and joked about a period of history peopled by men with handle bar moustaches, the young men of the Fighter Command who knew the future of Britain and the free world depended on their morale and skill . All JP lacked was a black lab with a politically incorrect name.
JP adored rugby, was proud of the best of British, the stuff untarnished by life’s naysayers. He loved the Red Arrows and pulled together all his pals to fly in formation in their choppers into the Kemble Air show on Father’s Day. It was a blast to be flown for a long lunch in his helicopter. On one occasion, I told him of a frustrating dilemma. It was a family occasion in Bournemouth that I had to attend and it clashed with my son’s school cricket match . JP had a solution : watch the cricket and then he would fly me down to the South coast after the game. He picked up my son, Janek and me after the game, swooping onto the field, dressed as a chauffeur. I never lived it down, especially after an outraged parent leaked the story to a scurrilous broadsheet diary. My crime; showing off. JP giggled, recognising the trivial act of a small-minded human in full steam. “Pathetic ” he laughed “ignore it”- great advice.
We flew in his Beechcraft to the Edinburgh festival. JP managed to get us buzzed by a Tornado and a Eurofighter on route. We were the bandits in an impromptu training exercise , a most exciting moment for 4 boys.
When I was writing my book about the lost generation of Hollywood publicists and stuntsters, he regularly checked my progress, devouring the research and the stories. He loved the stuntsters and recognised their spirit in my DNA. For the launch of the book he generously provided the venue, his Arts spa. The photos of the night are now very poignant. A reminder of his enthusiasm and palpable energy.
He had been developing a Thunderbirds-style rescue network of private helicopter owners working with fire services around the UK. For the trial, JP had offered his time and helicopter for three days per week to assist the fire service with major incidents such as flooding. He was willing to fund every call-out and had fitted his helicopter with fixings to carry ‘pods’ full of emergency equipment.
We launched the idea with a film crew, and I marvelled at his skill until he dropped litres of water on me. He thought the film should be leaked as a YouTube viral. I wasn’t happy that my tailored suit was drenched. Unfortunately, the camera man saw the water coming and had legged it, so there wasn’t a viral to leak!
His last action was to absail down the Shard skyscraper, Europe’s tallest building at 310m (1,016ft) with the Duke of York ,for charity.
JP ensured his descent from the 87th floor was the fastest. His knowledge and experience of health and safety indicated the stunt would never be allowed again. He was obsessed and his competitive edge ensured his record descent will live forever.
Jeremy was fiercely intelligent with a strong moral compass. There is no way he would have quietly faded in his dotage. His electric personality will be preserved in the memory of so many of us who have been lucky enough to call him a friend. I have lost my mother and father, both very cruel and very sad losses and I still mourn. I know grief does not change you, it reveals you. Jeremy is not lost; his influence and legacy will be sustained by his extraordinary family. He will continue to be; his legend will not perish. The local universe he created in nature will sustain and his maverick spirit will live in my heart until the day I depart this mortal coil.
I have lost someone dear and I am gutted he is not there for more conversations. We had a collective expression “Life is for making memories”. God knows I have many happy ones that I shared with JP and they will live forever. My promise to him is to continue my whole life collecting days, but it will be difficult to outweigh the ones I shared with this special man.
Without any doubt his legacy is in good hands his beloved children Red, Ruby and Rory, will carry on what he started – and I know they will take forward his vision and realising his ambition long into the future.
RIP Jeremy Paxton, your like will never be seen again.