My secret past as a Shakespearean actor! - by charity champion Melinda Raker

Melinda Raker holding her prized possession, her father's (Freddie Crocker) Royal Norfolk regimental

Melinda Raker holding her prized possession, her father's (Freddie Crocker) Royal Norfolk regimental tie. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

Melinda Raker is involved with her family farming business on the Norfolk/Suffolk border together with her husband and two sons. She has thoroughly enjoyed working with National and Regional Charities for over 30 years. In 2008 she set up, for The Clan Trust Charity, The YANA Project which provides confidential support and mental health awareness for the farming and rural communities. Melinda is also involved with East Anglian Air Ambulance, The Norfolk Heart Trust, The Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association and is a Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk. She talks to Gina Long, MBE

What is your connection to East Anglia?

My Grandfather lived within the shadow of Norwich Cathedral. After working elsewhere, my father, brother and I all returned to Norfolk. It is a county that draws its people back.

What is your East Anglian Heaven ie what do you love most about East Anglia?

The variation of the landscape from the undulating Suffolk countryside to the open spaces of North Norfolk.

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What is your East Anglian Hell ie what you hate most about living here?

Stansted. If we have to fly, we try to use Norwich International Airport which is small, efficient and no crowding.

What's your favourite East Anglian restaurant?

In Norfolk, The Wildebeest at Stoke Holy Cross or in Suffolk, The Leaping Hare at Wyken Vineyards

What's your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?

A good film at the characterful Cinema City, Norwich followed by supper at Côte.

What's your favourite East Anglian landmark?

Lavenham: I especially love taking Australian and American visitors there because they are always amazed by the history and the age of the buildings

What's the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

The Royal Norfolk Show! I have been most years since I was about 12. There is something for everyone with so much to see, do and learn. It is a chance to sample the best of East Anglian Produce, visit trade stands, the horticultural area, dog show, livestock, the wellbeing area, learn more about the emergency services, listen to choirs and watch fantastic displays in the Grand Ring. At the Show last year the East Anglian Air Ambulance gave over 600 school children hands on CPR training.

What is always in your fridge?

Cheese: cheddar and Pie d'Ongloys from the supermarket but the Elveden Farm Shop has a wonderful selection.

What's your simple philosophy of life?

Many years ago, I heard Martin Bell speak. He said the advice from his father was 'don't just fill a gap, make a difference'. It resonates with me to this day.

What's your favourite film?

The Lady in The Van is one: scripted as only Alan Bennett can, it is humorous, brilliantly acted by Maggie Smith but underlying is the sad story that a life can change for the worse in a very short time.

What was your first job?

I was one of 12 hospital administrators at the new Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, before it was completed or open to any other staff or patients. We rattled around in the vast building!

What is your most treasured possession?

My father's Royal Norfolk Regimental tie (now the Royal Anglian Regiment). It is on display in my office: badly injured in WW2, he was uncomplaining, charming, amusing, supportive and a real rock for me, especially in my teenage years. The tie is a lovely reminder of him and his 'just get on with it' attitude

Who do you admire most?

The Dean of Norwich Cathedral, The Very Reverend Jane Hedges. She has done so much to bring the people of East Anglia into the Cathedral with interesting and innovative events.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Plain chocolate.

What do you like about yourself most?

The ability to get things done or make things happen particularly for the charities I work with.

What's your worst character trait?

Being impatient – I dislike faff!

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

I've been fortunate enough to travel to many far-flung places but last year my daughter, 7 year old granddaughter and I stayed in a cottage in Southwold. We swam in the sea before breakfast, ate bacon butties on the prom, flew kites, made sandcastles and played hopscotch on the beach, rode on the carousel, visited the old-fashioned amusement arcade on the pier, went pond dipping at Minsmere and made pebble sculptures on the dunes. Magical!

Best day of your life?

Producing our daughter on my husband's birthday – his best present ever!

What's your favourite breakfast?

Eggy bread – but only with eggs from my own chickens.

What's your favourite tipple?

Whisky – English Whisky distilled nearby at East Harling is pretty good!

What's your hidden talent?

I'm a navigator for vintage car rallies.

When were you most embarrassed?

We went, with two friends, to a party in fancy dress only to discover on arrival that all the other guests were in suits or smart dresses. We had misunderstood the invitation!

What's your earliest memory?

Standing in my cot, pushing a picture above it to make it swing on the wall.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Where Sheep May Safely Graze – Bach. It reminds me of walking the meadows on the farm.

Tell us something people don't know about you?

I was the Norfolk Schools Shakespearean Actor of the Year adjudicated by John Laurie.

What's the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

'Your son has broken his neck.' He was incredibly lucky to make a full recovery and now raises funds for those not so fortunate.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.

I am married to a Norfolk farmer who I met when I was 17. Location, thankfully, is non-negotiable.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

I have met so many amazing people volunteering for their community or charities and have seen the tremendous benefits for both sides. The volunteers meet new friends, learn new skills, make a difference (see question above!) and improve their wellbeing and the charities gain a wonderful, helpful resource. If anyone has a bit of time to spare, I recommend it! For existing volunteer groups, do consider applying for the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.

The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service:

The YANA Project:

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