This month the body of James Martin was found floating off his private island in
Bermuda. Although the press immediately rang in the hope of digging up some “suspicious circumstances”, it seems more likely that a man of eighty going for a vigorous swim in the sea died of natural causes.
I knew him on and off for twenty years. Although many years would elapse between the times we would spend together, I am sad to think I won’t see him again. He was a true original. Last time I saw him was at a very splendid, private, “candle-lit”, dinner in one of the grandest Pall Mall Clubs, where he was talking about the future of the planet and of mankind. It was a talk I had heard him give many times, but it was none the less galvanising for that.
In the opening lines of his best-selling thriller, "The Ghost", Robert Harris quotes me as saying: "Of all the advantages that ghosting offers, one of the greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet people of interest." Jim was without doubt one of those “people of interest”. The day he invited me to visit his private island he had just become Oxford University’s biggest ever single donor, (bigger even than Sir Thomas Bodley), by personally donating a hundred million pounds to found the Oxford Martin School, set up to study all the major issues facing mankind in the 21st Century.
Jim, described by The London Times as “
’s leading futurologist”, believed that a choice now faces us all: to create the greatest Utopia ever, or plunge ourselves back into the Dark Ages, maybe even destroying Homo sapiens completely. His last published book, The Meaning of the 21st Century, was the most borrowed non-fiction book from British libraries in 2008. Britain
The book that resulted from my trip to the island, James Martin - The Change Agent, is partly the story of how a shy, working class boy from the small Midland town of Ashby-de-la-Zouche ended up so successful, but it also reveals the extraordinary secret history of Agar’s Island that Jim uncovered beneath the rocks and rampant vegetation and tells the story of how he restored the underground labyrinth to its former glory and turned the entire island into his own eccentric, ecological paradise, filled with magical water gardens and populated with giant statues and artefacts he had collected on his world travels.
Above all, however, it is about the man’s ideas and predictions for the future, (almost all of which were already coming true by the time of his death), which are the reason so many millions of people read his books and attended his lectures.
He was an eccentric man, who revelled in being an enigma and enjoyed nothing better than a good anecdote. I think he would rather have liked the idea that the media thought, even if only for a few hours, that there might be suspicious circumstances surrounding his death