“You do set us a few challenges – it hasn’t exactly been an easy ride,” Lord Michael Naseby told his audience gathered at the BMICH on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 29, for the launch of his book ‘Sri Lanka: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained’. The British peer who has been a steadfast friend and faithful [...]


In defence of Lanka, with love, friendship and fidelity since 1963


“You do set us a few challenges – it hasn’t exactly been an easy ride,” Lord Michael Naseby told his audience gathered at the BMICH on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 29, for the launch of his book ‘Sri Lanka: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained’.

The British peer who has been a steadfast friend and faithful ally to the country in good times and bad, had travelled to Colombo, undeterred by the UK advisories, to launch the book locally. It had been released in March 2020 in the UK and he had hoped to come a few months later to launch it in Colombo but COVID intervened.  “It was actually quite fortunate because it gave me the opportunity to reflect that I owed it to you to make sure the book was produced here in Sri Lanka,” he said.

The hardback volume which has a striking image of the Sigiriya rock on its cover was printed here with Sri Lankan paper and ink, a great tribute to industry and commerce in this wonderful country, he said, thanking BT Options and Aitken Spence & Co. which handled the publication locally and Dr. Pramilla Senanayake, his longtime friend who coordinated the book launch.

A focus of Naseby’s speech was his commitment to defending Sri Lanka (see extracts above from his speech to the Press Club) against war crimes allegations at the United Nations. Detailing his efforts to get the despatches sent during the closing stages of the conflict in 2009 by Lt. Col. Anton Gash, the British High Commission’s Defence Attache in full, he told the audience, “I’m going to try and get those redactions removed – I’m going to try very hard.”

Reflecting on his over 50-year association with the country, the dapper, silver-haired octogenarian recalled his surprise transfer to Sri Lanka. Working in Calcutta for the multinational Reckitt and Colman, it came as a shock on a Monday morning in May 1963, when his boss told him that he, his wife Anne, the dog, the baby and shotgun were booked on a Friday flight to Colombo to sort out a crisis of sorts. They arrived at Ratmalana airport and Naseby expressed delight that the airport is now ‘international’.

During his seven-month stint here as Marketing Manager for Reckitt and Colman, he travelled extensively across the country, often hiring a cycle rickshaw to scout out markets. He launched ‘Goya’ in his flat at Turret Road (Dharmapala Mawatha) opposite Victoria (Viharamahadevi) Park just because the Press, he surmised, would be more interested in seeing his home than anything else.

He played ‘good tennis’ in those days and a young man he met on the court was Anandatissa de Alwis then working in advertising who had political aspirations.  The seed of his own political career was sown here, he points out, and as fate would have it when he returned to the UK, he was drawn into helping in a Conservative Party campaign. In 1974, he was elected as Member for Northampton South after a rather lengthy recount. He went on to form the first ever All-Party Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group in the UK in 1975 along with a Labour MP, Betty Boothroyd, later Baroness, and Speaker of the House of Commons.

He would return to the island many, many, times. In 1983 – after the riots; in 2004 – after the tsunami, and as a keen cricket fan, he recalls helping the late Gamini Dissanayake “a lovely friend” lobby the cricketing world for Test status for Sri Lanka in 1982.

He ends the book on a positive note; time is such an important healer, he notes. “You as a country, have young people with enormous talent……” – the London Stock Exchange software was produced by two young Sri Lankans and there are others many areas where young Sri Lankans are leading, he says, adding that under a new deal local doctors and nurses will come to the NHS in the UK to improve their abilities.

Talking of the current crises facing the world, Naseby can identify with the tragic scenes in Ukraine. “I was bombed out of London in 1940 – my mother and I and my little brother were sent down to the borders with Wales nearly 200 miles away and lived in one room for about nine months.”

He wraps up his speech, with a quote from the British poet John Milton which he thinks is relevant to Sri Lanka:

Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks; methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam.

“I see that here. I will stick with it, till we see that midday….,” he assures.


A picture depicting a boy jumping into the Bentota River by the author with the caption; "Catching the eye of the Deputy Speaker"

Extracts from Lord Naseby’s book

  • On meeting the British Military Attache;

“I am confident that Lt Col Gash spoke freely to me during our meeting. He certainly was very frank and stated that at the time he was surprised at, and impressed with, the new found efficiency of the Sri Lanka armed forces. In his view they were now well trained and equipped for the task to take on the Tamil Tigers. He also expressed surprise at the number of Tamil civilians escaping through the lines from the LTTE to the safety and sanctuary of the Sri Lanka Army. He explained that extensive leafleting was being carried out, behind the LTTE lines, to reassure the Tamil who were trying to escape that they would be safe. It appeared that almost every night, and sometimes even during the day, people were coming over. As I listened I drew the firm impression that the Sri Lanka armed forces were, at that time, a force to be reckoned with, and with the equally important dimension of showing the care and attention to look after the Tamils fleeing from the persecution of the LTTE.”

  • At the lunch hosted by President J. R. Jayewardene after the opening of the Victoria Dam;

“After the formal opening of the dam we moved to the old Governor General’s Residence in Kandy for a light lunch. The President had arranged for Sri Lanka’s best-known tusker elephant to be on parade in full regalia to pay his respects to the visiting dignitary. I was sitting at the same table as Mrs Thatcher and her husband Denis, along with the President and certain other Sri Lankans. The President suggested to Denis that he might like to feed the elephant with a bunch of bananas, which were on the table. Sri Lankan bananas were small and very tasty. Denis got up with the bananas and approached the elephant, who was standing still with his trunk swinging. As the trunk swung down Denis stuffed the bananas into the opening of the trunk through which the elephant breathes. Mrs T., as ever on the ball, yelled out: ‘Denis, not the Trunk you idiot, but the mouth!’ Too late. Rajah could not breath, blasted out a cry through the trunk resulting in the bunch of bananas being shot in to the air as if they were cannon balls. The squashy remains landed on our table and those of our neighbours. Everyone collapsed with laughter. Rajah did a bended knee salute and departed with what I am sure was a twinkle in his eye.”


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