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'I thought they were pulling my leg': Austrian honour for Golders Green ballroom dancer and retired solicitor

PUBLISHED: 13:20 19 July 2019

Anthony Newton with the Austrian ambassador to the UK, Michael Zimmermann. Picture: Anthony Newton

Anthony Newton with the Austrian ambassador to the UK, Michael Zimmermann. Picture: Anthony Newton

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A former Hampstead solicitor said he thought somebody was "pulling my leg" when he got a phone call to say he was being given the Austrian Decoration of Merit.

Anthony Newton, who ran his own legal firm in Hampstead for more than four decades, was given the honour by the Austrian government at its embassy in central London.

The 80-year-old, who lived in Fitzjohns Avenue before moving to Golders Green, worked for the Austrian embassy for more than a decade. He retired from his legal practice in 2016.

He said that, when he got the call earlier this year, he didn't quite believe it was real.

"I had a phone call from an acquaintance at the embassy, and I said to them: 'You're pulling my leg.' I thought perhaps somebody was trying to scam me!"

The former civil lawyer, who describes his retirement as the "best thing I ever did", went to the ceremony at the embassy on June 5, along with his wife Irene and children Sophie and Alex. He told the Ham&High he took it in his stride.

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"It wasn't surreal at all," he said. "There were eight of us in total, I like to think our family is good at bringing people out, and that's what we did. It was like they had come to have lunch with us."

He told us he was "very proud, delighted and thrilled" to get the honour.

Anthony is the son of two German Jewish refugees. His mother grew up in Berlin before the war, and his father in Nuremberg.

The now Golders Green resident said his father "could see what was going on in the 1920s" and left. His parents met in London.

Outside his legal career, Anthony was previously president of the London Rotary Club. With more free time on his hands since retirement, he now ballroom dances, has martial arts classes one a fortnight, and runs a small charity. He has also enjoyed the chance to read more, describing himself as "terribly uneducated".

"In a legal career you are focused on your work and deal with human beings and the problems that they have," he said. "You don't have time to be concerned with what you're interested in. So when you retire there's a large vacuum."

He said he lives by the mantra: "Everyone has ups and downs. Try not to let them get to you. A new day always follows on from the old."

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