Justin Portal Welby was destined by his DNA for leadership. I realise I shall be howled down for that statement, but think about it. There are two sorts of Etonians: on the one hand the Bullingdon Club cadets and, on the other, those ‘tranquilly conscious of an effortless superiority’ . Justin Welby is the archetypal self-deprecating Old Etonian, one of those who never say they went to Eton but only that they went to ‘school’. Giles Fraser, no boot-licker of the gentry, reports:
“Lets be clear, I’m one of the thicker bishops in the Church of England,” he tells me. I’m not taken in by this disarming self-deprecation – something for which Old Etonians like him are not especially noted.1 No, there is nothing remotely thick about Bishop Welby. Which is one of the reasons why he has just been asked to be a member of the new Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards looking into the Libor fixing scandal. That, and his background in the City. For, despite a faintly Mr Bean-like appearance, the fourth most senior cleric in the Church of England is no otherworldly bumbler. Until his ordination in 1992, he was a senior executive in the oil industry for 11 years.
“I drifted into it because I couldn’t get a job when I left university, and I ended up working for Elf in France in their international finance team. They needed someone who could speak English and didn’t know anything about anything, so they could shape them.” More self-deprecation. In fact, he read law and economic history at Cambridge – hardly a position of total ignorance. “I stumbled into the first thing in my life that I was reasonably good at, and ended up being group treasurer in a company called Enterprise Oil PLC.”
Justin Welby was born in London on 6 January 1956 to Gavin Bramhall Welby and his wife, Jane Gillian Portal. He is almost certainly related to the Lincolnshire Welbys on his father’s side, and is definitely related to them through his mother and the Portal family. 3
After Eton, he read history and law at Trinity College, Cambridge before going into the oil industry. During this time, he was also a lay leader at Holy Trinity, Brompton. Justin is married to Caroline. They have five children and one who died in infancy in a road accident.
In the interests of space, we will once again look to the inestimable Crockford’s for his clerical career:
St Jo Coll Dur BA91 Hon FCT. Cranmer Hall Dur 89. d 92 p 93 c 11. C Chilvers Coton w Astley Cov 92-95; R Southam 95-02; V Ufton 96-02; Can Res Cov Cathl 02-07; Co-Dir Internat Min 02-05; Sub-Dean 05-07; P-in-c Cov H Trin 07; Dean Liv 07-11; Bp Dur from 11
Welby has written widely on ethics and on finance, featuring in books such as Managing the Church?: Order and Organization in a Secular Age and Explorations in Financial Ethics. He also wrote a book entitled Can Companies Sin?: “Whether”, “How” and “Who” in Company Accountability (Grove Books, 1992)
Nobody that I can find has pinned Bishop Justin down with a label as to his churchmanship, not even Giles Fraser in his Guardian interview in July.
“I have tried to avoid saying anything,” he admits at the end of the interview. Well, I’m not sure he succeeded. On many levels he seems like a central-casting Church of England bishop. On the subject of women bishops he speaks of the need to square the circle, reconciling those who think it a theological necessity and those who think it a theological impossibility. How do you do this? “Well, you just look at the circle and say it’s a circle with sharp bits on it.”
I laugh. So does he. And on this note he heads off to a large glass City tower to talk about ethical investment. Should be a doddle for a man who can imagine a square circle. Indeed, it’s probably just the sort of imaginative power we could do with from the next archbishop of Canterbury. There is quite a lot on which I would disagree with the Bishop of Durham. But with regards to being the archbishop, he would get my vote.
Leap in the dark assessment
I agree with Giles: Bishop Justin would get my vote as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.
Evidently at ease with himself, with no known axes to grind, and no chips on his shoulder, visible or invisible (while retaining a becoming modesty), Bishop Justin has a proven record of negotiation with opposing factions which would stand him in very good stead as the next head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I do not say he is the only man for the job, simply that he could do it. Few others could.
1 Giles should perhaps get out more. The Welby type of Etonian is not that uncommon and much more attractive than the budding Bullingdonians. ;>)
3. Justin Welby is the great-nephew of the present (7th) baronet’s aunt’s husband, ‘Peter’ Portal (1st Viscount Portal), i.e. he married Joan Welby, daughter of the 5th Welby baronet. I know this because, coincidentally, I have been working on the family tree of one of his Welby cousins. At present, I cannot link him through the Welby line, though it seems very likely that he does connect. Justin’s parents were divorced when he was two, and all that is known is some of his father’s history in America, where he then went, and the fact that Justin’s grandfather, Bramhall James Welby, lived in South Africa.
4. The description of his father as a ‘bootlegger’ perhaps needs a little clarification. I think it was originally a throwaway line, in the self-deprecating mode described above. Gavin Welby is described here, by the future mistress of Jack Kennedy, as ‘polite, even courtly – a gentleman, and not at all dangerous’. I guess if you lived in New York at the time of prohibition, many people found more or less dubious ways of getting their gin!
4. The illustration is by North News and Pictures Ltd