Life & Living
Lady Dannatt, Norfolk’s first female Lord Lieutenant, is determined to harness the county’s community spirit in this Jubilee year, discovers Sarah Hardy
Lady Philippa Dannatt is very much a ‘call me Pippa’ type of woman. The ‘roll up your sleeves and let’s get going’ sort. Sure her latest position as Lord Lieutenant, the Queen’s representative in Norfolk, is gloriously shrouded in 500 years of history and tradition, but Lady Dannatt doesn’t stand too much on ceremony.
She was born in Norfolk, in a small village just outside Norwich where she still lives today. From the well known Quaker family, the Gurneys, she tells me that helping others is simply in her DNA. ‘My parents and their parents all wanted to give back, and I have some inspirational relatives – Elizabeth Fry for example – so yes, there is a theme there.’
She became involved with two charities when she was a young military wife and mother. She had met her husband, Richard, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, General The Lord Dannatt, when they were both at Durham University and married him upon graduation, thus embarking on a life on the go (moving 24 times in 34 years) in Britain and abroad, as Lord Dannatt served his country.
She explains that she witnessed the work of both Home-Start and SSAFA (the Armed Forces charity; Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association) supporting young military families and was very impressed. So when her own children started school, she decided to help as much as she could – and she still does today, being a patron of Norfolk’s Home-Start and the national vice president of SSAFA.
She went on to train as a counsellor, working for Relate, the National Portage Association (aimed at helping preschool children with extra needs) and Mind. Additionally, just before taking up her post as Lord Lieuteneant, she worked exclusively for the Sue Lambert Trust in Norwich for five years, a charity which supports adult and teenage survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
While much of this was put on hold when she was appointed Lord Lieutenant in 2019, Lady Dannatt acknowledges that all that training and experience is of great use in her current role. At present much of her time is taken up arranging a series of proposed Jubilee celebrations, with Lady Dannatt speaking warmly of her admiration for the Queen, saying: ‘She has served us all for 70 years without fault.’
With her deputy, Peter Wilson, the former chief executive of Norwich’s Theatre Royal, and a team which includes James Bagge and Sir Nicholas Bacon, a whole schedule of events and activities are planned throughout the year to benefit the county as well as celebrate the Queen’s reign.
Lady Dannatt explains: ‘I could not be more proud of how Norfolk communities came together in the pandemic, how hard they all worked, and I want to keep and harness this community cohesion – and build on it.
‘The Jubilee celebrations are about a renewal of hope and also, of course, paying tribute to the Queen.’
Noteworthy events, designed to include as many people as possible, include A Royal Salute which will take place at the Royal Norfolk Show at The Norfolk Showground, just outside Norwich, on June 29 and 30 this year, and involves 1000 schoolchildren, a 60-piece orchestra, samba drummers and an African choir. ‘I think it is going to be tear-jerkingly wonderful,’ says Lady Dannatt.
There is also a new award scheme: The Platinum Jubilee Challenge Awards, described as youth and family based by Lady Dannatt and ‘highly accessible’. They encourage people to tackle challenges in four clear areas – physical, environmental, learning and creative.
A series of Platinum Jubilee Trails are being established around the county to promote physical activity, wellbeing and environmental awareness, and Lady Dannatt is keen to see more individuals and organisations embrace the ‘plant a tree for the Jubilee’ initiative. ‘Lots of schools are taking part but I’d like to see whole swathes of woodland created – and hedges – as a lasting tribute,’ she says.
She is also delighted with the number of groups in the county lighting a beacon on the evening of June 2, the day of the Queen’s coronation. ‘So far only Kent has more,’ she says, throwing down the gauntlet to us all!
Lady Dannatt plans to spend the long Jubilee weekend in Norfolk, mixing her official duties with attending her village’s own street party. ‘Then, on Monday, I travel with my husband to Normandy for the D Day commemorations,’ she says, giving an example of just how busy her schedule is, although you sense she simply wouldn’t have it any other way.
Away from her charitable work (and there certainly isn’t much free time) you’ll find Lady Dannatt simply at home, enjoying a settled lifestyle after all those house moves, and spending time with her four children and 10 grandchildren. Her three sons all live locally and her daughter is planning a move to Norfolk soon, too. ‘I am very, very lucky and I love to see the grandchildren kicking a football about outside, building a den, or raiding the pantry!’
She also speaks of her love for the county and its people, saying: ‘Norfolk is an amazing county and we rarely pat ourselves on the back, which is a typically endearing characteristic!’
She definitely doesn’t sound the sort of woman to sit still for long but does admit that she likes to read as her form of relaxation. ‘I have two books on the go but they have been on the go since January,’ she laughs.
But Norfolk is certainly the better for having capable and hard working women like Lady Dannatt to spur us all on to do more for our local communities, especially helping those less fortunate than ourselves.
Keep up-to-date with all Jubilee events in Norfolk at: www.platinumjubileenorfolk.org