In view of Ben’s experience, his family would like any donations in his memory to be made to MIND, the mental health charity.
This was his Eulogy given on the 15th September 2017:
For my last birthday, Ben wrote me a card. On the front is a bear wearing lipstick. The Bear says "Happy Birthday Beautiful". Inside Ben has written"Wishing you an excellent 30th Birthday. Here's to 12 years of friendship and looking forward to many more as we begin the descent into proper adulthood, middle age and finally dribbling, incontinent old men." It's quite a sweet message, expressed in a very Ben way. It reflects his unique and innate sense of pathos and bathos.
Now I'm deliberately using these Greek words because many of you will know Ben was fluent in Ancient Greek and Latin. He was a very intelligent guy, and was even made a Scholar after his first exams at Oxford. When he got this big gown he told me his first reaction was to stand in front of the mirror in his pants and voluminous scholar's robe and dance about to Girls Aloud. He never missed an opportunity to undermine something that the world might see as unduly solemn, such as an academic accolade.
But I’ve jumped ahead there to when I first met Ben. I think it’s better now that we begin at the beginning. Benjamin Michael Leong was born in Airedale Hospital on the 27th September 1986 to Tommy and Susan Leong. As a child he was envious of his brother Nathan’s more exotic birthplace on his passport as he had Kota Kinabalu rather than Keighley. As the saying goes, I’ll tell you once, I’ll tell you briefly, never go to Keighley. His name in Chinese was Leong Quan Wan, which means ‘scholar’, a suitable choice.
Growing up, he was a tactile and gregarious child, making friends easily and impressing them by stealing his cooler older brother’s taste in music and fashion. Something he never stopped doing. He was surprisingly decisive, doling out orders to his family despite being the youngest and smallest. This decisiveness would be seen later in life, for good when managing PR clients, and less so when he emphatically argued that there was only one airport in Bucharest. There are two. But Ben could get away with an awful lot, because he had charm. It’s what made him the apple of his mother’s eye and it’s what made him a leader, with his school mates nicknaming him Unky Ben. Also I assume they called him that because he took cooking rice very seriously. He had no doubt learnt this at the apron of his father, where between them they perfected the recipe for Tommy Leong’s famous Pork Climax.
With his friends, Ben cultivated a love of the mundane, old man pubs and real ale. His uniquely British sense of humour chimed with Alan Partridge, which was fed in later life by series of The Trip. At Ermysted Grammar, he was also notably a good rugby player, though partly due to an early growth spurt that made him much bigger than his contemporaries and led to him playing county level until they caught up in size. By the time I played alongside him, I have to say what he lacked in size, he made up for in aggression. He would throw himself into tackles without a second thought, which is probably why his playing career was cut short by a double collar bone breakage.
So that brings us on to Oxford, where Ben as I said, read Classics. An intellectually taxing degree, but Ben certainly didn’t let that stop him having a good time. As this email from the college authorities attests: "From the Dean – Would the three male Oriel students who were found ensconced in duvets with drinks in hand, playing ‘bop it’ on the roofs of the flats please make themselves known to me. Members of the college should be reminded that the rooves are out of bounds FOR ANY REASON." That said, Ben did take his studies seriously, as he did anything that he enjoyed. And all the years of reading ancient Greek and Latin books had an effect on him, to the point that at once he earnestly told me after a night of heavy drinking that the ancient Roman code of honour was what defined a life. Sober Ben later admitted this was rather overstating the point, but this became a running joke where we would frame everything, even sandwiches or chairs in terms of how honourable they were. How was that scotch egg? It was Great Honour. This, like many of his jokes would be taken to their elastic limit, and spread through friends and acquaintances seamlessly so that you'd almost forget the origin. He was like a song you got stuck in your head that you find yourself humming. He got a message out there in a way that you didn't even know you were spreading it, so in many ways it was no surprise that Ben ended up working in PR. Spend too long with Ben, and you even started picking up his gestures.
After a year spent in Malaysia getting into scrapes with his uncle Heng, Ben returned and got his first job in PR while we were living in a mould-infested flat in East London. At Hotwire he made many friends that shared his mischievous sense of humour and weren’t offended if he came out with some pretty off piste comments in a brainstorm. He also met Ellie, who he quickly developed a relationship with and who happened to live in the same terrible block of flats we had just moved out of. It maybe wasn’t a propitious start, as Ellie threw up on their boozy first date. But eventually, it went so well that he flew our mouldy flat and set up home with her. I always loved coming to visit, seeing them totally at ease and in love with each other, and have happy memories taking turns falling asleep in front of George of the Jungle after characteristically excellent food. Ben told me more than once that she was his soul-mate. In work, Ben was going from strength to strength as he was poached by World Remit, being straight-away elevated to head of PR for a multi-million-dollar global business that saw him travelling to places like Australia and Kenya to spread the message, something he did with aplomb. However, after a couple of years, always seeking a challenge, Ben finally moved to Milltown partners to manage big tech accounts such as Facebook. In his day job, he had a talent for making the unintelligible, intelligible, but in his humour, he liked things to go the other way. Offered the choice of forward or back, he would go sideways. And he would take you with him.
A lot of the jokes I shared with Ben are difficult to explain, and sound silly when you say them back. But Ben was a silly guy and he encouraged others to be silly too, because fundamentally he knew life is absurd. Not that you should see this as shallow. It was really because he knew that some things in life are so serious that it's important to grab joy whenever you can because it’s fleeting. And that is where pathos comes in. Pathos, for those of you - like me - that were sensible enough not to dedicate ten years of their life to learning languages that no one speaks any more, means 'experience'. It is used in rhetoric to appeal to the emotions of the audience, and elicit feelings that already reside in them. This is something that Ben had a genius for. He could put himself in other people's shoes. He could listen to your problems and you knew he wasn’t without his own demons allowing you to admit if you weren’t good.
So pathos, experience, and bathos, meaning depth. I think that's what made him such a wonderful friend. The bathetic decline from the sublime to the ridiculous made him great company. Conversations could start about the search for meaning in a secular world, move on to football news from the African cup of Nations and then segue into the music of Little Mix. This half Chinese East-London-Yorkshireman was a mass of contradictions, completely fearless then scared of his own shadow, high-brow, low-brow, wild but wholesome, a straight man with a penchant for ladyboys – both the cabaret and the drink, a gastronome who loved Frey Bentos pies, technologically adept but practically cack-handed – an intelligent wilful idiot. He was thoughtful but impetuous, often leading you places you wouldn’t expect, like a five-hour mouse taxidermy class on a sunny day (it was utterly disgusting by the way). Ben was consistently inconsistent. There’s a passive-aggressive sign on the lectern here that says services must be strictly under twenty-five minutes. Ben would have enjoyed the pomposity of it. But it does mean I only have ten minutes to sum him up, which is a daunting task. I felt like many of you that I knew him, he was very open, sometimes to the point of over-share. But then as events proved there is something unknowable in the heart of all humans.
It’s probably beyond the wit of man to truly understand the life or death of Benjamin Leong, but all I can tell you is what I appreciated about him. That was his bathos and his pathos. Losing him will mean different things to different people, and I’d like to thank everyone who shared their stories with me when I was writing this. There will be situations in the future when his loss will be felt most deeply, when his devil-may-care wit or emotional support is needed. Then I’d remind you that he resides in all of us like that favourite tune you find in your head. And you can channel his spirit, and Be More Ben. Do something impetuous or silly, and look after your loved ones with the care that he showed us. Ben loved his friends, his family, Susan, Tommy, Nathan and Kiley and most of all his fiancée Ellie with his whole heart, unreservedly. We will always have happy, sad, serious, surreal and silly memories of him.
As he was fond of saying, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the blurst of times. It was a Great Honour to be his friend.