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Interview: Edward Gillespie, Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire

PUBLISHED: 16:06 08 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:06 08 April 2019

Edward Gillespie (c) Andrew Higgins/TWM

Edward Gillespie (c) Andrew Higgins/TWM

© Thousand Word Media

Well-known from his time as manager of Cheltenham Racecourse, Edward Gillespie is now our new Lord Lieutenant. He tells us all about his Cotswold Life

Edward Gillespie, well known to many as manager of Cheltenham Racecourse for more than three decades, is Gloucestershire’s new Lord-Lieutenant. He took over the role – of Her Majesty’s representative in the county - from Dame Janet Trotter last October.

It is, he says, his perfect ‘job’. “I don’t like paperwork; I hate emails – I was with Tony Blair on that one. But I love people: they entertain and amuse me. The first events I did with the Prince of Wales were to a community pub [The Fleece Inn] in Hillesley, and to Leighterton Primary School. The same day, we went to Green Fuels at Berkeley. It was fascinating to meet them all; I love communities.”

He and his wife, Alyson – a teacher and school governor – have three children: two daughters who live in London, and a son in Edinburgh.

Where do you live and why?

My wife and I have lived in Gotherington for a third of a century. It’s a wonderful village: if you want action, it’s got action; if you want quiet, it’s got quiet; if you want country walks, (which we do), you can walk from here to the top of Cleeve Hill. I’m involved in the cricket club – I’m fixtures secretary and I still play. There’s the rec committee; a wine club; a local history society; the WI; a singing group; and a school that our three kids went through – loads of stuff. But Gotherington is not a place where there’s any expectation of being jolly and having to join in.

How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?

Since 1980, when I got a job managing Cheltenham Racecourse. I was brought up near Guildford. As a child, I used to ride ponies – I wanted to be a jockey and I’d curl up in bed, hoping I wouldn’t grow - but racing wasn’t in my blood. I was the one who dragged my mum and dad to the races, aged seven. I love the theatre of it all; I love the colours. In short, I love the aesthetics. (I’m not a gambler; I’ll have a small bet.) I did a degree in politics at York, chosen because of all the racing up there. At the age of 21 – which is quite unusual - I became manager at Sandown and Kempton Racecourses. Even at 27, I was young to be running Cheltenham. I didn’t feel young; I felt experienced and ready.

What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?

I’m easily bored; I like to go to bed thinking, ‘I’ve four different things to do tomorrow!’ So I’d include a bit of village life, which might be playing cricket; walking, definitely, with Alyson. A bit of town life, in Cheltenham, maybe going to a concert, or a matinee at the Everyman. Frequently, we’ll park one end of Winchcombe and walk through to Sudeley Castle, where we’re members. Equally, I could sit on a bench in the sunshine all day. I’m quite unpredictable.

Edward Gillespie (c) Andrew Higgins/TWMEdward Gillespie (c) Andrew Higgins/TWM

If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

I wouldn’t move. I really wouldn’t move. I suppose, in an ideal world, we’d have a house here and a flat in Cheltenham. Remarkably, not many people have lived in this village for 33 years, and I’ve only really lived in two other places since we were married. I don’t like moving around much.

Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?

Tucked away in the middle of nowhere. I wouldn’t want to have to jump in a car every time I forget to buy milk.

Where’s the best pub in the area?

Obviously, the Shutters [in Gotherington] – but there are many good pubs. The Apple Tree is exceptional in Woodmancote. I prefer to be with Alyson or one or two friends – I don’t make a habit of talking to strangers because I’m not great on small-talk. I can play-act – I’m probably quite good at it - but it’s not what I do for fun.

And the best place to eat?

We’re not foodies. The best Chinese takeaway is the Swallow in Bishop’s Cleeve. Our real favourite is Bar & Wok in Cheltenham: it’s student-y and great. There’s fun to be had in doing things slightly less sophisticatedly. I was always a little bit of an outsider at the racecourse; I didn’t fraternize with the people who would be in the boxes. If I went racing, I wouldn’t even go into the club enclosure. It’s the same when I watch rugby in Gloucester: I stand in the Shed because that’s the best place to watch it, and I enjoy it far more than sitting down and paying £45. Equally, I’ll be going this Saturday to watch Hartpury College play rugby. It’s cost me £10 and I just love watching proper rugby – more grounded.

Edward Gillespie (c) Andrew Higgins/TWMEdward Gillespie (c) Andrew Higgins/TWM

What would you do for a special occasion?

I don’t do parties. I suppose one of the things I felt most proud of was the Olympic torch parade [in the lead-up to the London 2012 Olympics] at the racecourse. It was my very last gig; that was in July and I was leaving in October. It was a free event that involved everybody, including the Princess Royal, and Zara who carried the torch. For me, it was a perfect occasion: very informal, with no social barriers and no financial barriers. I thought, ‘That’s a good last gig’.

What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?

It’s as beautiful walking up North Street in Winchcombe as it is on top of Cleeve Hill.

... and the worst?

The car gets very dirty. I only cleaned it two weeks ago and I can’t see out of the back window at all. In my new job [as Lord-Lieutenant], I have to park quite a long way from where I should be because they’d look at the car and think...

Which shop could you not live without?

Gotherington Village Store. Kate [the current owner] is new; she and everybody who has run the shop in the past have been lovely, and it is kind of the focal point. Kate’s predecessors did get a bit frustrated when a Saturday café was set up in the village hall - it could have been done in the stores. It’s a bit of a bugbear for me – and people know that – when things aren’t coordinated.

Edward Gillespie (c) Andrew Higgins/TWMEdward Gillespie (c) Andrew Higgins/TWM

What’s the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?

I don’t know about underrated but the county is incredibly lucky to have the Summerfield Charitable Trust, which I currently chair. It was set up by Ron Summerfield [the Montpellier antique shop-owner] when he knew he was going to die. I got involved, coincidentally, because the sale of most of his goods was in marquees at the racecourse. He was an unbelievable collector of everything – that was his problem. He wouldn’t sell anything to you unless he liked you. I’ve been involved in the trust for 10 years, which is as long as you can do. Every quarter, we give around £120,000 to Gloucestershire charities and good causes, and the recipient has their money within a week. It’s just magic.

What is a person from the Cotswolds called?

Unpredictable with strong views. That’s the joy of it.

What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?

I’d serve lamb – I’m a big fan of lamb. Apple pie at the end – that’s easy. And some nice Severn salmon to start. I’m not allowed to do a lot of cooking but I’m a good roaster. I’m about to stew a dozen Bramley’s this afternoon.

What’s your favourite view in the Cotswolds?

Crane Hill above Woolstone – a saddle of land where you can see both ways. To the left, you see across the vale, all the way to Malvern and the Black Mountains; the bridge, Berkeley power station; Gloucester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey, which are special to me. The other way, you can see into the Cotswolds. It’s quite unusual; I walk the Cotswold Way and a lot of it is very dull because you’re on top but there’s no feeling of being on top; no views off it.

What’s your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?

Anywhere that has vibrancy - like Gotherington, where you’ve got buildings from every generation: we’re getting 50 new homes on the way out up the Evesham Road. You’ve got activities, old people, children. The Cotswolds are much more interesting than they can be made out to be.

Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...

Village cricket;

Trees at all times of year;

Sheep and cattle; we have a dairy herd in Woolstone and I always have a chat with them. I know some of them quite well.

What’s your favourite Cotswolds building and why?

If I can include Tewkesbury, then Tewkesbury Abbey. I sit and think: ‘Who else has looked at what I’m looking at? What were their lives?’ I love Gloucester Cathedral but there’s something about the abbey that’s so uncluttered; and I love Paul Williams, the current vicar, who makes it so accessible.

What would you never do in the Cotswolds?

I’d never ride a motorbike – I hate them. They’re like helicopters: they make an unnecessary noise for one person – sometimes two – to get about. We have an event in April and I’m afraid I’ve been a single protestor there. (They should go electric, for heaven’s sake!) But I might get a 50cc scooter. I can’t drive in my spurs; I might be able to ride a Lambretta with my spurs.

Starter homes or executive properties?

Starter homes – I’m really keen on people, as we did, getting a foot in the door.

What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?

Anywhere you can see the hills from. So it’s:

Tewkesbury;

The first stone wall, left-hand-side, at the end of the Witney bypass, driving into Burford from London;

The old road from Cirencester towards Colesbourne, past Rendcomb College – I drive it just for fun;

And Gloucester Gateway Services, which I have a connection with through Summerfield because we helped fund [Gloucestershire Gateway Trust, the services’ charity partner].

If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?

I’d take a little oil painting I have, done by somebody in the village, of the war memorial.

What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?

Take three years to get to know it and don’t judge it by first, second, third, fifth look; follow roads unsigned, and get out of the car. There are huge surprises around: That meadow in Gloucester with the cows in it. You look one way and see the cathedral; you look the other and see cows! What other city in the UK has that?

And which book should they read?

Concordant Cheltenham – the making of a musical town, 1716-1944, by Graham Lockwood, who was chairman of Cheltenham Festivals and the Holst Birthplace Museum. Sadly, he died just before Christmas. It’s about the music scene in Cheltenham and it’s fabulous. I’m chair of the [Cheltenham] music festival. My passion is theatre but I’ve learned through Alyson and Cheltenham to love music; I’m still very much learning.

I’m very lucky because I can also enjoy things done with enthusiasm and not a lot of quality. I’ve always loved lower league football; I go to watch Cheltenham Town all the time.

Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?

Several. I love going up through the Overbury Estate, on to the top of Bredon and across the hill. I’ve got a very special walk on Cleeve Hill, which takes you up the Gullet. Funnily enough, only last week I discovered that blokes without dogs have to be a bit careful now. I do tend to strike up conversations. If you hear I’ve been arrested, then I do mean well; I can just be a bit chatty.

Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?

Good old Robert Dover’s Olympick Games; it’s so bonkers. The whole idea of somebody thinking that up… It’s dreamily wonderful, watching people shin-kicking; the funfair; the torch-lit walk. Mind-boggling. Better than Gold Cup week in terms of its idiosyncrasy. I used to love cheese-rolling until they didn’t let you in. That’s bonkers, too.

If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

I’d love to – and I’ve done it in the village – sit for an entire day, watching the evolution of a place; how it changes its use. It’s like the Retreat [wine bar] in Cheltenham. Mike manages to run it in three or four different phases during the day: from yummy mummies to retired people; from people having business lunches to a club in the evening. I’m a great people-watcher and that was hugely useful in my career. I’d think: What does that person like to do that they can’t do at the minute?

To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?

There ought to be a statue on Cleeve Hill to the quarrymen, who dug the holes and built the county. I might do a sculpture myself. I’m a very poor artist but easily pleased.

The Cotswolds – aspic or asphalt?

Somewhere in between. What an amazing road that is, that comes out by the Halfway House near Guiting Power. In our 30 years here, we’ve seen it going back to nature. If I live long enough, in 15 years I’ll see it becoming a path.

Which attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?

Optimism.

With whom would you most like to have a cider?

The Gloucestershire Championship Cricket-winning team, division one. It hasn’t happened yet.

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