60 influential women in the Cotswolds: Who is on the list?
PUBLISHED: 10:06 08 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:09 08 March 2018
We've some extraordinary women at the forefront of Cotswold Life. From the wonderful Dame Janet Trotter, our Lord-Lieutenant to Julie Stokes who founded the desperately-needed charity Winston's Wish, we pick 60 women we think are particularly pushing boundaries, winning hearts, and trailblazing as never before in the Cotswolds
There are influential women in all fields, of course – from festivals to federations; from engineering to ecclesiastical. Indeed, currently, they occupy six of the county’s top jobs: Chief Constable; Lord-Lieutenant; High Sheriff; Bishop of Gloucester; and the Governors of Leyhill and Eastwood Park prisons. (Two of whom we haven’t even included on our list!)
What is definition of “inspirational”? Or “influential”? Or “important”? Impossible to say. But we’ve had a go. Here are 60 women we think are particularly pushing boundaries, winning hearts and, and trailblazing as never before.
There are thousands more equally worthy of inclusion. We also know that.
Our Pam might not officially be Laureate – but she’s one of the most popular poets this country has ever known. Originally from Oxfordshire, she shot to fame in 1975 on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks. Now an international performer, she’s also a great animal lover – patron of Cheltenham Animal Shelter, with her own smallholding outside Cirencester.
From her estate in Chipping Norton, Carole Bamford dreamed up the much-loved Daylesford chain of farm shops – after converting the family farms to organic, traditional methods - as well as a brand of women’s products using natural fibres. Recently, her Wild Rabbit pub in Kingham – dubbed the poshest pub in Britain – won a well-deserved Michelin star.
Lady B, as she’s affectionately known, is current High Sheriff of Gloucestershire. A devoted champion of the emergency services, and a passionate supporter of the county’s three prisons, she has shown particularly deep compassion for offenders trying to turn their lives around. Lady B is also known for her commitment to the farming community.
As well as assisting the Prince of Wales in his duties, the Duchess heads up a plethora of charities and organisations in her own right. Particularly close to her heart is the cause of osteoporosis – a condition suffered by her mother – as well as her groundbreaking work, speaking out for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. She’s a member and supporter of Tetbury WI.
Bisley couldn’t be prouder of its most famous resident, novelist Jilly Cooper. Even at the age of 81, her latest bonkbuster, Mount, bounded into the charts with the speed of the racehorses she loves to write about. She’s been influencing and entertaining with her clever, funny, perspicacious columns and novels for five decades.
Try and find a worthwhile organisation this outstanding artist doesn’t support! National Star College; cancer charity LINC; the Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum – the list goes on. But let’s talk about art: PJ’s distinctive paintings and sculptures – created in her studio outside Cheltenham - are collected worldwide (and have appeared on many King Crimson albums!).
As Gloucestershire Constabulary’s first female chief constable, Suzette is in charge of more than 2,000 officers. In addition to eight years as vice president of the British Association for Women in Policing, she takes a dedicated interest in diversity issues and has been involved with the ACPO Race & Diversity business area for some years. She announced her retirement in April last year.
Anne’s passion for what she dubs ‘the most exciting profession in the world’ is undoubtedly a crucial part of her work as head of the Media School at the University of Gloucestershire, one of the highest rated in the UK. After 20 years of working in the field as a television and radio journalist, she has a treasure trove of experience to impart to the students under her tutelage.
When castaway on Desert Island Discs, Christina chose pen and paper as her luxury; unsurprising, considering her mesmerising travel books, detailing savage adventures as a lone explorer. She’s been initiated into a New Guinea tribe, paralysed by a spider bite, and eaten maggots and rotting camel; now living (at least at times) near Stroud, she’s still a wild and intrepid traveller.
It’s not only Sarah’s solid business credentials that lend her success as chief executive of Gloucester Services, having worked extensively in London as a headhunter; but also her continued commitment to promoting this family business’s core values, including the pride it takes in local ties. Putting her love of good, homemade food at the forefront of her approach, Sarah makes sure that the services maintain a close relationship with a wonderful variety of artisan and Cotswold producers.
CEO of the phenomenally successful Cheltenham Festivals, Louise heads up the four festivals a year that bring millions of pounds into the county, as well as being a conduit for selling more 36,0000 books. Previously head of commerce at the Natural History Museum, she has both a passion for the arts and undeniable business acumen.
This is the real-life story of how a Rodborough mum - who worked in the health shop Mother Nature - went from failed Mills and Boon writer to internationally renowned, best-selling romantic novelist. She’s used her vast fame to promote the town of Stroud, and to found a bursary for writers yet to secure a publishing contract.
It was clear that the Cheltenham Trust meant business when they appointed Julie as their director back in 2015. Having headed up museums in Bristol and (a little further away) Perth in Australia, she brings both entrepreneurial awareness and a deeply-rooted love of the area to the table. She’s has been a galvanising force behind a number of key projects, including the delightful transformation of Cheltenham’s red telephone boxes into exhibition gallery spaces.
As chief executive of Experience Oxfordshire and chairman of the Tourist Society, Hayley uses both her passion for Oxford and her business acumen to drive and manage tourism in the area. She’s something of a local celebrity, having won second prize in Oxford’s take on Strictly Come Dancing for 2016, raising money for care home Vale House in the process!
Rather than running away to join a circus, Nell Gifford – who grew up near Malmesbury – created her own within the Cotswolds. Each summer, Giffords tours village greens around the region, showcasing traditional skills such as juggling and acrobatics, featuring live music, well-loved animals and Tweedy the Clown. Last year, Nell underwent breast-cancer treatment with her trademark honesty and positivity.
Heading up The Wiggly Worm charity, Abby is part of a team which works with food to change lives. With projects such as No Child Hungry Gloucestershire, and Kitchen Challenge, their aim is to improve health and self-esteem amongst the most vulnerable and seldom heard in society. Abby is a qualified nutritionist and an inspirational leader.
Another Cotswoldian who works tirelessly for charity, Dr Dawn is a leading medic who’s both an NHS doctor within the county, and a private practitioner in Harley Street. Outside the Cotswolds, she’s best known for her work on Channel 4’s award-winning Embarrassing bodies and Born Naughty? programmes, and her series of Dr Dawn’s Guide To… health books.
Journalist Ellie is best known for co-presenting BBC’s Countryfile, whose guests have included the Prince of Wales. Ellie grew up in Horsley, near Nailsworth, where the family kept chickens – and ate them! She’s forthright in her views that children should visit abattoirs, if they’re going to eat meat. Ellie now lives with her partner and children near Cirencester.
After successfully starting her own modelling agency, Suzannah joined Cotswold Airport and moved up the ranks there at a rapid pace, becoming CEO and Group MD in 2012. She throws herself fully into Cotswold life from her house near Cirencester; she’s an accomplished horsewoman and polo player, having recently trained at Cirencester Polo Academy, and she regularly extends airport sponsorship to local public and community events.
Eve Jardine-Young’s influence here in the Cotswolds cannot be underestimated in her role as principal of Cheltenham Ladies’ College, wherein she places equal emphasis on the academic excellence and emotional wellbeing of her students. She writes eloquently and sensibly about the importance of not sacrificing ‘mental, emotional and spiritual health’ to a never-ending quest for better grades.
Rodborough-based playwright and author Alice was winner of the prestigious 2015 PEN Ackerley Prize with her memoir Dead Babies and Seaside Towns. This profoundly moving book was also a game-changer, discussing – as it did - Alice’s experience of stillbirth, infertility, miscarriage and surrogacy, the last great taboos of family life.
Her debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, charmed the world with its unglamorous pensioner hero; it also made the longlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Since then, this Stroud-based writer – a talented Radio 4 playwright to boot - has continued her success with bestselling novels Perfect and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.
Hugely successful designer Cath Kidston may have a home near Stroud, but her presence is felt all over the world. With more than 50 Cath Kidston stores and concessions across the UK, her beautiful floral motifs and kitsch prints are so in demand that they can be found on anything from handbags and purses to wellington boots or your dog’s collar!
Recognised by the Health Service Journal as one of the top 50 Inspirational Women in Healthcare, Deborah was appointed chief executive of the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust last year. She originally trained as a registered nurse, but returned to university to read economics, gaining an MBA from Bristol Business School. Her background is in industry, as well as health authorities.
Aside from being the Cotswold Life ‘back page’ columnist, Sue pens brilliant comedies regularly aired on Radio 4. Her recent Gloomsbury series parodied the Bloomsbury set; she’s also written for television, for children, and – for many years – the Guardian’s weekly Dulcie Domum column, in which she coined the term ‘bonkbuster’. Sue lives on an organic farm near Nailsworth.
As director of the Stroud-based Join in China, Qing Lin is instrumental in helping UK businesses break into the golden Chinese export market through her clout with numerous industrial and governmental Chinese contacts. She’s also a key influence a little closer to home, giving seminars and taking part in talks at schools, stoking ambition in the county’s youngest and brightest.
Actress Lisa lives in Edge, in a beautiful 17th century house built by a wool merchant. A staunch Cotswolds convert, she’s patron of rescue charity, the Cotswolds Dogs & Cats Home. Having spent seven years on TV soap The Bill, and five on ITV lunchtime chat-show Loose Women, Lisa now appears in theatre, as well as on Hollyoaks.
A ’Stroudie’ when she’s at home in Gloucestershire, and a sophisticated designer when she’s in London, Savannah – sister to actress Sienna – has her own Nine women’s clothing range in Debenhams. She got her inspiration for this ’affordable, everyday’ collection after decamping with her family to Panama; they’re now back in the Cotswolds – where they belong.
‘Deliciously Ella’ is a food blogger, who helped change the way a nation eats: vegetarian, wheat and refined sugar-free. She grew up at Sarsden House, a 500-acre estate near Chipping Norton, daughter of former Witney MP Shaun Woodward. When a debilitating illness struck, Ella ‘cured’ herself with a healthy-eating programme, which she turned into a massively popular blog.
Dr Jane Monckton-Smith
Expert in the field of homicide, stalking and coercive control, Jane is a senior lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire, and an independent chair of Domestic Homicide Reviews – the process which ensures lessons are learned from incidents of domestic violence. A former police officer, she is often heard on television and radio talking about the psychology of crime.
With her gorgeous house in the Cotswolds on hand to provide the perfect setting, supermodel Kate Moss is still queen of the party scene. No less a style icon now than she was at 16, Kate remains heavily influential both in popular culture and the high fashion scene, with her brand associated with flagship Topshop collections and perfume lines.
Brigadier Sharon Nesmith
A seismic move came for the British Army in 2015, when it appointed Sharon as commander of the 1st Signal Brigade, which is based in Gloucester. As the first female ever to command a brigade, she not only remains the most influential woman in the British Army today but across the entirety of its history to date.
After a series of health problems, Mel lay in a hospital bed in 2008 watching the Beijing Games – and getting ideas. Two years later, she took part in her first wheelchair race at Stoke Gifford – by 2012, she was competing in the London Olympics and, last year, at Rio. Her home is in Winchcombe; her dreams are international.
The work of GARAS – Gloucestershire Action for Refugee and Asylum Seekers – has increased exponentially over the past few years, but the director of this charity has kept a steady hand at the helm. Adele Owen not only helps refugees create new lives; she goes out into the community to create more understanding of the difficulties the dispossessed of the world face.
A City lawyer for ten years, Georgie – along with husband, Sam - moved to Gloucestershire to start their collection of pubs and hotels, which now form the Lucky Onion group. Their phenomenally successful brand includes No 131 on Cheltenham’s Promenade, which has quickly become one of the Cotswolds’ top ‘places to be seen’, beloved of celebrities, party-goers and discerning foodies.
Thanks to Jenny, increasing numbers of communities are signing up to practices that help make the countryside more resilient to climate change. As a lecturer at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, and as an adviser at county and national level, she also encourages communities and farmers to work together on natural flood management. Jenny received an MBE for her work last year.
As manager of Handelsbanken in Cirencester – a Swedish bank - Diane is hugely influential and well-liked in Gloucestershire’s business community. A crucial part of her success can be attributed to her willingness to give as much of her time to small businesses as big ones; her credentials are also impressive, having set up the Handelsbanken branch in Cheltenham, too.
Professor Joanna Price
It’s no wonder the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester were so delighted when they snapped up Joanna Price as their Vice Chancellor last year. She has experience in leading the Bristol Veterinary School and a keen research interest in animal pathology. There’s compassion, too, with her involvement in charities such as Horses4Homes.
Not only does Her Royal Highness lend very real support to a whole raft of national and local concerns – she’s just become patron of an appeal to save the fabric of Holy Trinity, in Minchinhampton, where she lives – but she’s a working farmer, whose Gatcombe Park estate hosts the top-notch equestrian Festival of British Eventing.
As managing director and commercial director of Trinity Mirror’s titles in Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset, Sarah packs a serious clout. They’re a major print news provider for the area, and Sarah oversees the publication of titles that include the Bristol Post, Western Daily Press and Bath Chronicle and the Gloucestershire Echo.
Dr Janina Ramirez
The television presenter and Oxford academic, who lives in Woodstock, is an expert on medieval art. But she’s also a cheerleader for Gloucester, heading up its history festival each September. She’s helped raise the profile of the city by singing the praises of its medieval architecture, particularly stunning Blackfriars Priory with its startlingly intact scriptorium.
Former chief executive of Cheltenham Festivals, Donna has set up GUST, a charity that supports exciting new cultural initiatives in Gloucester. Chief amongst these is the fabulous new Gloucester History Festival, which runs each September. As well as inviting great speakers, such as Wild Swans author Jung Chang, it showcases the city’s extraordinary surviving buildings.
In term time, Dame Fiona lives in Cambridge, where she is Master of Emmanuel College; in the holidays, she’s back at her family home in a village near Cirencester. Former DG of the National Trust, she grew the membership to 4 million. Her first book, The Fight For Beauty, is a clarion call to protect Britain’s countryside.
They don’t call Anne Robinson Queen of Mean for nothing. For years, she took companies to task on Watchdog; followed by grilling terrified contestants on BBC’s The Weakest Link. A vocal supporter of the White Horse Hunt, she also has less controversial interests: last year, she chaired on a panel of judges for The 2017 David Vaisey Prize for Gloucestershire Libraries.
Dr Gill Rouse
Through her work as a haematologist – and through her own personal experiences – this dedicated doctor realised patients undergoing cancer treatment needed more help and support. So along with a colleague – the late Dr Robert Dalton – she founded LINC back in 1998. Today, the charity continues to provide wonderful care for patients undergoing intensive chemo.
JK Rowling and the Cotswolds go way back; the world-famous Harry Potter author went to school in the Forest of Dean. Gloucestershire also has the dubious distinction of having provided the inspiration for the names of Harry’s deeply unpleasant aunt and uncle - the Dursleys.
Schooled in the Forest of Dean (where her parents ran a shop, and where she still lives today), Janet was created Baroness Royall of Blaisdon in 2004 for her services to Parliament, which culminated in her appointment as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords in 2008, a post from which she has now retired.
Recently awarded an MBE for her services to charity (among other works, she’s cofounder of the Starlight Children’s Foundation, granting wishes to seriously ill children), Emma is an actress who shot to fame in the 1980s TV series Dynasty. Nowadays, she’s also known as an award-winning writer (including for Cotswold Life) and director.
Dr Diane Savory
Diane is the Chair of GFirst LEP, driving sustainable economic growth in the county, and also represents Gloucestershire as part of the national Future High Streets Forum, which champions local high streets. With her passion for fashion, she helped transform Cult Clothing (a precursor to Superdry) into an international retailer. She’s a Deputy Lord-Lieutenant.
Julie was working at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital when she encountered an 11-year-old whose mother was terminally ill. On discovering how unprepared the youngster was for facing his mum’s death, she vowed to help the ‘forgotten mourners’ – children. The result is Winston’s Wish, the national childhood bereavement charity Julie founded in Cheltenham in 1992.
Linsey is chief executive at Gloucestershire Engineering Training, responsible for training the apprentices of dozens of big companies. She has more than made her mark in a male-dominated environment, setting up a training academy and persuading numerous separate companies to pool their resources and work together in the process.
Just like her mother, the Princess Royal, Zara is determined to make her own mark on the world. In fact, it was her mum who presented her with a silver medal at the London Olympics for her success with the British eventing team. Daughter, Mia, with rugby-playing husband Mike Tindall, was born at Gloucestershire Royal in January 2014, and baptised in Cherington.
Rachel Treweek became the Church of England’s first female bishop when she was appointed to the diocese of Gloucester in 2015. Rachel’s voice is heard across both the Church and the country, making national headlines on issues of gender that include the hypocrisy inherent in Frozen’s message to young girls or even the validity of calling God a ‘He’.
Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire since 2010, Dame Janet is one of the most popular and hardest working figures in the county. She helped found the University of Gloucestershire; worked as a government advisor (with her own Trotter Report on IT in teacher-training); and, for many years, was a senior mover and shaker in the NHS.
Chairman of Gloucestershire Federation of WIs, Anne presides over more than 5,000 members and nearly 150 branches. With its tagline ‘Inspiring women’, the WI is a surprisingly modernising force in today’s society, with climate-change particularly at the forefront of campaigns, as well as initiatives to reduce food waste. Gloucestershire – which opened its first branch in 1916 – plays a full role.
Emily is admired for her super powers, raising four children and running the award-winning, game-changing Kingham Plough pub. Cotswold Life recognised her as a hero in its food and drink awards for good reason: as a chef, trained under Heston Blumenthal, she has helped raise the game in the region, with skilful, innovative, bold approaches earning top national reviews.
If you’re looking for a shirt that shouts quality, Emma is your first point of call. As a top menswear designer, she surprised many by setting up factory in the centre of Gloucester, creating vital jobs and injecting new life into a flagging industry. She’s also provided free bespoke shirts to injured servicemen and women.
Thousands of Gloucestershire workers owe their jobs to Belinda Wilson, who set up the popular website GlosJobs – now the county’s biggest online employment advertiser - back in 2001. Having pioneered and streamlined its easy-to-use interface, affordable rates and top-notch customer service, it’s no surprise that the website has won her awards!
This award-winning writer dazzled with her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: a fictionalised version of her own life-story, exploring her sexuality and fighting against convention. She moved from London to the Cotswolds to be near Oxford where she went to university, and Stratford for the theatre. And, she says, she can’t ever see herself leaving.
After 22 years in business, Jayne left her post at Barclays Capital to work with the Oxfordshire Community Foundation, prompted by an increasing sense of social injustices, and the necessary role that charity-work plays in righting them. She’s now chief executive of the group, which does crucial work in guiding people who want to support local charities and issues of pressing community importance.
…and one we couldn’t miss: our very own…
Katie was Chief Writer of Cotswold Life for well over a decade. She is an enormously talented writer and interviewer and is regularly praised by her willing subjects for her thorough research and impeccable fairness. She is currently writing a book and undertaking freelance work, while still contributing to Cotswold Life. We are very lucky to have her.