Some of you may have read the interview with Ranald Macdonald, managing director of Boisdale Restaurants, that appeared in The Times on January 12.
The article (Meet Britain's 'most politically incorrect restaurant owner') is behind a paywall but it reappeared in the Scottish Daily Mail yesterday, complete with this indisputable fact:
As the smoking ban loomed Boisdale became the de facto headquarters of the libertarian campaign group Forest.
The question is, how did it happen?
Boisdale of Belgravia was a ten-minute walk from our old office near Victoria Station in London so it was on our radar even before I wrote to Ranald, in 2004 or thereabouts, inviting him to support Forest's campaign against the proposed smoking ban.
He agreed without hesitation and Boisdale quickly became our preferred location for meetings, lunches and events.
But Ranald was always more than a generous host. In February 2006, a week before MPs voted for the smoking ban smoking, he was one of several restaurateurs who joined us at the House of Commons to speak out against the legislation. The Caterer has the story here:
Opponents of a smoking ban in enclosed public places held a news conference at the House of Commons this morning to voice their anger ahead of MP's final vote on the subject next week.
A group of artists, MPs, hospitality representatives and pro-smoking lobby group Forest, queried the science underlying the ban, and argued for a technological solution to the problem of passive smoking instead.
Richard Shepherd, owner of Langans brasserie and Shepherds restaurant in London, was one of four hospitality and catering operators that spoke at the event.
Shepherd said: "Whatever happened to freedom of choice? If smoking is legal, licensees should be allowed to choose whether or not they want to allow smoking on their premises."
TV chef and restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson also weighed in. "Smoking in public places that are properly ventilated seems better to me than people smoking in their homes with inadequate ventilation,"he said.
Ranald Macdonald of Boisdale Restaurants and Bars feared the ban would disadvantage smaller operators. "As someone running a small business, I believe a total ban will damage it and can only benefit the larger hospitality groups who are clamouring for a so-called level playing field."
In March 2007, a year after the introduction of the ban in Scotland, he was quoted again, this time by the BBC:
Ranald Macdonald, the Scottish businessmen who set up the London restaurant Boisdale, also described the ban as "unnecessarily severe".
He said he would like to open "an establishment run by smokers for smokers".
"As a smoker myself I believe we should be able to smoke in privately-run clubs if the owner or members agree to it," he said.
"Allowing designated smoking rooms in private clubs is something few people could object to."
Our closest collaborations however have involved a series of smoker-friendly events.
In October 2006 Ranald played a pivotal role at Forest's reception at the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth.
'Politics and Prohibition' at the Royal Bath Hotel, attracted 400 guests and featured a mock police raid. The person they 'arrested' was Ranald who was charged with "inciting people to enjoy themselves".
The following year Boisdale and Forest joined forces again when we co-hosted a dinner for 400 people at the Savoy Hotel in London.
Dubbed 'Revolt In Style: A Freedom Dinner' the event took place just six days before the introduction of the smoking ban in England. Guests included Andrew Neil, Rod Liddell, Antony Worrall Thompson and many more.
As in Bournemouth the event featured the Boisdale Blue Rhythm Band with whom we collaborated on a CD.
You Can't Do That! Songs For Swinging Smokers featured 19 classic songs including 'Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette', 'Giving Up Giving Up', and 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'.
To mark the smoking ban it also featured 'I'm Going Outside', a new song with lyrics by Alan Plater:
One of our most successful film and TV screenwriters, Plater describes the government’s anti-smoking crusade as "hypocritical", "puritannical" and "sanctimonious".
He wrote the lyrics after he and his wife Shirley Rubinstein - both enthusiastic smokers - found themselves out in the cold every time they wanted to light up on a recent trip to Orkney. "I’m 71, it’s minus four degrees, and I’m going outside!"
Since then Boisdale of Belgravia has hosted a number of Forest events including Smoke-free England? (2008) which marked the first anniversary of the smoking ban and attracted the likes of David Hockney and Nigel Farage.
Other events included parties to celebrate our 30th and 35th anniversaries in 2009 and 2014 respectively.
City AM described the latter thus:
Forest, the pro-smoking lobby group, celebrated its 35th anniversary at one of finance's favourite watering holes last night. Boisdale Belgravia happily provided an ample heated smoking area along with Cuban cocktails and Latin canapes.
"The world is obsessed with people's rights, but one sizeable group with no rights are smokers," Boisdale owner Ranald Macdonald told us. "There's one organisation which defends their rights and that's Forest."
Eighties pop icon Joe Jackson flew in from Berlin and several MPs popped along to get some fresh air, including Nigel Evans and David Nuttall who were played to by Macdonald's son's band Hidden Charms.
In 2011 a new restaurant, Boisdale of Canary Wharf, was opened. Within a year it was the venue for another event, the annual Freedom Dinner.
Forest and Boisdale have now co-hosted five Freedom Dinners with a sixth scheduled for later this year.
Prior to that Boisdale will support another event, this one marking the publication of the recent report The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers.
If I tell you that Ranald himself will be speaking you might like to make a note of the date (Wednesday February 22) and the venue (Institute of Economic Affairs).
Full details next week.
Below: Forest's 30th anniversary party at Boisdale in 2009.