The sad news reached Berlin just as the first events in this year’s German Fetish Ball Weekend were getting under way. It was the third shock for the fetish world in a week that had already seen the last-minute withdrawal of the Marquis Ninja Girl Show from the Ball, and the surprise announcement of House of Harlot’s closure.
Nigel wasn’t as well-known to the fetish public as his business partner Simon is, but within the industry he was a much loved character whose contribution to the company he co-owned was widely understood.
Privately educated at University College School in Hampstead, he read Classics at Cambridge. His family were living next door to MP Harold Wilson shortly before Labour won the 1964 election and Harold became Prime Minister. After this, Nigel would sometimes visit the Wilson family at the PM’s official country residence, Chequers.
But, as Simon Rose reveals in a Facebook tribute published earlier this week, despite his outwardly conventional middle-class upbringing, Nigel had a pronounced naughty side, a rebellious streak and a particular dislike for people who abused their authority.
“He may have inherited some of these characteristics from his father, an ardent naturist who as a young man was once arrested in Hyde Park for taking his shirt off.
“I first met Nigel on January 6th 1998,” Simon continues. “He had a background in business and shipping journalism, but by then, was working for the Department of Trade and Industry as a press officer helping to promote British fashion exports. We became firm friends immediately, and remained so until his dying day.”
At the time the two met, Simon had just taken over ownership of fledgling latex clothing label Libidex from his friend Helen Saffery.
Nigel very quickly became a joint owner and the pair rolled up their sleeves and went about the work of building their new venture.
“We always enjoyed working together and one of our first projects was to find new premises. At the time of purchase, Libidex was housed in what Nigel used to call ‘Tracy Emin’s broom cupboard’ — a tiny utility room next to the famous artist’s studio in Wentworth Street.
“We came out of the closet and set up in an old council newsagents in Hampden Close, London N1, behind St Pancras Station.
“From there we started with photo-shooting (even carrying props like a rocking horse through a murder scene after one shoot). We also began designing new clothes and building a website.”
Simon’s favourite activity, however, was going on the road with Nigel.
“We travelled far and wide, visiting most of Europe together in his Volvo, as well as touring America and Japan. His advice to me, as a seasoned PR man, was to get out and meet your customers — which we did, and had a lot of fun along the way.
“We both loved Germany — I was born there and Nigel had studied there, spoke the language well and was always happy to dine on German sausage.
“In fact he was always happy to dine on most things, and with my being a veggie but always curious about new food, he would be my proxy as I ordered him the pig’s brains, cow stomach or grasshoppers.”
Rose and Walker were not just work colleagues but “proper friends who worked together”, so it was never all work and no play.
“We were always going off to museums, galleries and churches, and riding on cable cars or various funny railways. We even managed to fit in some skiing and a visit to a salt mine.”
The two men made sure they enjoyed their work trips, and also travelled together purely for fun, going on many diving holidays to Costa Rica, the Seychelles, Curacao, Zanzibar and more.
The Libidex business soon grew and Nigel Walker became better known as both directors began to get out more and more, going to parties, fashion shows, exhibitions and other events.
Nigel loved his gin and tonic and, coincidentally or not, was also renowned for a comic clumsiness which sometimes achieved slapstick proportions in the most serious settings.
“Sharing a box at the Opera in Covent Garden,” Simon recalls, “he once inadvertently launched a chicken leg onto the audience in the stalls.”
Other memorable incidents included accidentally sitting on Tory Cabinet Minister Douglas Hurd’s lap, standing on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s foot, and getting onto a horse backwards.
Nigel was a lover both of the Reform Club and fancy dress, and one of the pair’s last nights out together was at the Reform club’s 175th birthday, where both dressed as 19th century toffs. At other times, Simon notes, Nigel would have been a bishop, an admiral, a high court judge or a very convincing Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army.
“He could be brusque, stubborn and indignant, but he was also funny, generous and caring,” Simon recalls fondly. “As a boss, he always had the interests of our Libidex staff at heart.
“He helped me to understand the value of looking after the people that worked for us and he was very fond of everyone in the Libidex team.”
After the pair set up Radical Rubber to provide an alternative source of rubber sheeting for the latex clothing industry, Nigel spent increasing amounts of time in Malaysia.
“He was enormously proud of what we had managed to achieve out there as well as at home, and loved travelling around the region,” says Simon.
“There are so many memories of my great friend that I will cherish. Nigel quaffing Pimms at the Royal Henley Regatta. His love of Wagner and Gilbert & Sullivan.
“His fondness for film classics like The Third Man and Cabaret, and the comic genius of Peter Sellers (whose Inspector Clouseau character he frequently resembled).
“Then there was his determination never to miss a meal even though he suffered from diverticulitis, and the fact that so much of what he attempted to eat ended up on his clothes and often his dining partners too.
“And who could forget the time before the Berlin Wall came down when he took a tiny camera into East Berlin and was questioned as a suspected spy?!”
Nigel also had a great love of singing and had a wonderful tenor voice, Simon reveals.
“On one occasion while singing from scratch at the Royal Albert Hall, he inadvertently called me on his mobile phone, which he often did, and left a seven-minute voice message of him belting out the Hallelujah Chorus.
“Affectionately nicknamed Uncle Monty by us, after the character in Withnail and I, he was a learned, erudite bon viveur who taught me so much.
“Sometimes, when there was an important task to complete like a legal document — which was one of his particular skills — I might try to put it off a day,” Simon remembers.
“But he would always joke about what might happen if we didn’t finish it now and he died tomorrow. When I protested that he would never die just like that, his retort would always be: ‘I might!’.
“And now,” Simon’s tribute concludes, “those words have the sad ring of truth about them. At one o’clock on Monday, I was chatting to him on the phone. And a few hours later he was dead.
“He died in his new home in Cambridge, to which he had moved only a couple of months ago. He is survived by his ex-wife and his two daughters, and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”
To mark Nigel Walker’s passing, the Libidex offices and Liberation store will be closed on Friday May 13.
Published May 11, 2016