We sat down with Nicholas Lyons, Lord Mayor of London to talk about his time as Lord Mayor of London.
What motivated you to pursue a career in public service and ultimately
become the Lord Mayor of London?
I’ve worked in the City in financial services for 41 years. And, throughout my career, I’ve witnessed dedicated, intelligent professionals trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and make a difference in the world. After the global financial crisis, the narrative around the City shifted and we started to see toxic – and wholly inaccurate – assumptions being made about the City. Our financial and professional services sector is the heart of the UK economy – providing and allocating the capital to support industry around the country, employing 2.5 million people, and generating over 12% of our economic output. So, through my theme, “Financing our Future”, I set out to shift the narrative around the City, reminding people that we need to look after and take pride in that vital organ that’s keeping our economy going.
Talk us through some of the most significant accomplishments or initiatives during your tenure as Lord Mayor?
When I came into office, the UK’s credibility in international markets had taken a further hit from the mini-budget. So, I’ve spent around a quarter of the year on official visits, telling our friends and trading partners the real story about the City’s remarkable strengths. I’m also proud to have showcased how our financial and professional services sector can be a force for good through our work on pension reform with the Chancellor and the private sector. I hope the Mansion House Compact – which will improve outcomes for pension savers, while helping British businesses grow – will help reboot our risk appetite in investment in the UK. I’ve also used the convening power of the Mayoralty to bring together groups working to improve numeracy, financial literacy and inclusion for all, and set out an action plan for the private sector and government. This is something I’m incredibly proud of and will stay closely involved with when I leave office.
What impact do you think you had as Lord Mayor for the City of London andits residents during your time in office?
I’ve always spoken about the City needing to demonstrate that it is resourceful, resilient and responsible. It would be foolish to claim the narrative on the City has transformed over the course of the year, but I do think that – thanks, in part, to our international engagement, the Mansion House Compact, the work on financial literacy and inclusion – it is in the process of shifting: to the benefit of everyone who lives and works in the City. Meanwhile, under the leadership of the Policy Chair, Chris Hayward, the City Corporation has been working on the Destination City programme to boost the Square Mile’s leisure offering to residents, workers and visitors, and support businesses that suffered so much during Covid. The emphasis that we place on providing open spaces in our public realm means that there are wonderful, quiet corners where residents and workers can go to find tranquillity in this bustling area.
Talk us through some of the key challenges you’ve faced during your term, and how did you overcome them?
Nothing can really prepare you for the pace and scope of what the job entails and the immense reserves of stamina and concentration required. I’m often non-stop from a business breakfast in the morning, to a diplomatic, business or charity dinner in the evening. My solution to this is to be extraordinarily disciplined about what I eat, to consume no alcohol, and to take 15 minute “power naps” before dinner engagements. There’s not much time in the schedule for exercise, but I’m happy to say I’ll finish the year lighter than I started, and with as much energy as I had on day one. Though I am sure the year will catch up with me after 11 November!
Can you share any memorable moments or experiences that stand out from your time as Lord Mayor?
It was an incredible honour to welcome the King and Queen to Mansion House for a dinner to celebrate their Coronation, along with representatives from the City’s livery companies who had contributed to that special day. The King used the occasion to set out what he regards as the determining values that give Britain its identity and place in the world, and it was a huge privilege for us all to witness his speech. Other highlights include the fabulous Lord Mayor’s Children’s Party, some wonderful services at St Paul’s Cathedral, taking part in the procession at the Coronation at Westminster Abbey and the Lady Mayoress’s Musical Feast, which celebrated the power of music to inspire, educate and change young people’s lives.
In what ways have you worked to strengthen the relationship between the City of London and its international partners?
Official Mayoral trips are critical to maintaining those ties and I’ve visited 34 cities around the world during the year. As Lord Mayor, you get used to a warm reception, but I’ve been taken aback by how often people tell me, “we love London, we want it to thrive”. I’m happy to say we’re making great progress in attracting international capital to the UK, and the work we have done on green and sustainable finance is helping move the dial in the fight against climate change. At Mansion House, we host many roundtables to bring together delegations from abroad with UK firms and politicians, and conferences and summits on themes like sustainable finance and asset management, which are attended by key global players.
How have you contributed to the promotion of culture, arts, and innovation in London during your time as Lord Mayor?
There’s a huge amount going on around the Barbican, which is home to the world-famous London Symphony Orchestra, and work is continuing on the creation of a new London Museum at Smithfield. I was also delighted to relaunch the fabulous St Bartholomew’s Fair after a 160-year absence, which brought a series of free performances and cultural events to the Square Mile. We focus heavily on the UK’s science and technology expertise and the Mansion House Compact is designed to direct investment into those early stage, high growth companies, so that we benefit from the tremendous innovation from our great universities and entrepreneurs.
What do you believe are the major issues or opportunities that the incoming Lord Mayor should focus on?
I think the impact of AI on all parts of our life is an increasingly pressing issue. With new research showing we’re leading AI investment in Europe, the UK is in a great position to shape the global conversation developing around its uses and risks. The Lord Mayor Elect is brilliantly qualified to provide leadership in this area and I’m excited to see what happens over his mayoralty.
Could you provide insights into the unique ceremonial duties and traditions associated with the Lord Mayor’s role?
There are many to choose from, but getting the opportunity to take part in a rare Pearl Sword Ceremony was really special. When Their Majesties came to Mansion House I formally surrendered the City’s treasured Pearl Sword to the King that represents the authority vested in me as Lord Mayor by the Sovereign, and he returned it to me, in a time-worn ceremony confirming that authority that is first recorded in the reign of King Richard II. This simple, but symbolic, exchange expresses the profound connection between the City and its Sovereign, and is particularly associated with the first entry of a monarch into the City following a Coronation.
What advice would you offer to your successor in effectively representing the city?
Listen more than you speak. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and you’ll have a great team around you who have got lots of experience: put your trust in them. The year goes by in a flash, so soak up every minute. And – most importantly of all – be very grateful to your wife, who is doing this all for the love of you! It’s the most amazing experience imaginable, so be ever mindful of the huge privilege of holding this historic office.