He’s the Queen’s escort in London who locked horns with John Bercow and has a library named after him at Cambridge – not bad for a boy who grew up without a loo in Nottingham
Today Ken Olisa is officially named as the most powerful black person in Britain, not that any of the commuters on the 8.10am from Hampton Wick would know it.
Unassuming and usually dressed in the commuter’s favoured uniform of suit and raincoat, the only thing that hints at his influence is his trademark bow tie – he owns more than 100.
Otherwise, there is little to suggest that Mr Olisa is, according to the annual Powerlist – which names the most influential black people in Britain, more important than Sir Lenny Henry or Mo Farah or the Oscar-winning film director Steve McQueen. How could anyone know that this quiet man from Nottingham wields more power than Lewis Hamilton or Baroness Lawrence?
But wield power Ken Olisa does. The 63-year old was the first British born black man to serve on the board of a public company (Reuters), has his own merchant bank (Restoration Partners), and a library named after him at his Cambridge alma mater (Fitzwilliam).
He is a keen philanthropist (the library came after a £2 million donation), a former governor of the Peabody Trust, a chair of not one but two charities (Thames Reach, which deals with the homeless, and Shaw Trust, which helps the disabled), and is on the board of the Institute of Directors.
And as if all of that weren’t enough, in April, he was made Lord Lieutenant of London, appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. The title gives him an office in Whitehall, a staff of 90, and puts him in charge of all visits made by the royal family within the city – with him even standing in for them on occasion.
So he escorted the Queen to the Home Office last week, and had the miserable task of accompanying the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Spectre premiere last month, along with Prince Harry. The next morning he was up early to spend yet more time with the Duchess – this time, on a charity visit to Islington Town Hall.
“I do a lot of calming down in the moments before their arrival,” he explains. “People tend to get very wound up and stressed.” Not so Olisa, who is as cool as the proverbial cucumber, even when wearing the heavy military-style uniform of the Lord Lieutenant.