“I just want to be the very best Lord-Lieutenant I possibly can be.”
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
Norfolk's first female Lord-Lieutenant, Lady Philippa Dannatt, on her love of her county, the Queen and Norwich Cathedral, and a family tradition of volunteering.
On Monday, August 5 Philippa Dannatt, the Lady Dannatt, becomes Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk. She will be the first female Lord-Lieutenant of the county in the entire 470 years of the role - and the first to be officially a Lord and Lady.
Lady Dannatt will represent the Queen in Norfolk, meet royal visitors to the county, hand out royal medals and awards and attend events on behalf of royals.
In Norfolk she will also outrank her husband, Richard, who became Lord Dannatt after a military career culminating in him leading the British Army. He is one of Norfolk's deputy Lord-Lieutenants - although he jokingly points out that in London, where he was Constable of the Tower of London for several years and is also a deputy Lord-Lieutenant, his title still trumps hers.
With all this talk of lords and ladies it could be assumed that the couple live in a palace and are attended by squads of servants. But their home is a riverside farmhouse just outside Norwich. Lady Dannatt, known as Pippa, was born in the village and when we talk she has just come back from her shift as a volunteer counsellor for a charity.
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As an army wife Lady Dannatt moved house 24 times in 34 years, living across Germany and the UK, but home was always this riverside farmhouse, where she and her husband set up home together when they wed, straight out of university.
By the time Pippa met Richard, at Durham University, he had already spent several years in the Army - and won the Military Cross for gallantry.
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After university he returned to the army, and was posted to Berlin, where Pippa taught in a kindergarten backing on to the Berlin Wall. Then, aged just 26, Richard suffered a devastating stroke. Paralysed down one side, and unable to speak, he hung between life and death for 10 days.
"I remember thinking, 'If he dies, I have absolutely nothing of him at all,'" said Lady Dannatt. She knew that if he recovered they should start a family.
They went on to have four children, and then took in a young niece and nephew after the death of Richard's sister. Today their home is also a focal point for eight grandsons and six great nephews. "I bulk buy Lego at Christmas!" said Lady Dannatt. "You should see the cost of a round of ice-creams!" added Lord Dannatt.
Their children were delighted when they discovered Lady Dannatt had been asked to succeed Sir Richard Jewson, who retires after 15 years as Norfolk's Lord-Lieutenant, on his 75th birthday.
"I was approached before Christmas and halfway through the chat they asked whether I realised it was my name in the frame," said Lady Dannatt. "I laughed and said, 'Do you mean my husband?' My first reaction was that I would not be able to continue with my counselling. That's going to be quite a loss for me. But the children were absolutely delighted."
And she admits to being pleased that as the first female Lord-Lieutenant, she will not have to inherit the official heavy robes and ceremonial sword because there is no woman's version of the uniform. The prestigious post is unpaid and voluntary - and one of her roles will be to champion volunteering. It is something she has done all her life.
Born into the Gurney family she inherited a tradition, going back centuries, of using wealth and privilege to help others. Social and prison reformer Elizabeth Fry was born a Gurney and Richard and Pippa's eldest son, Tom, runs the charity Street Child, devoted to looking after the poorest people in some of the poorest countries in the world - including Sierra Leone where Freetown Cathedral has a monument to the Gurney ancestor who helped end the British slave trade.
As a young army wife and mother in Germany, Pippa Dannatt trained as a counsellor for Relate. She realised that many of the people she saw were struggling with mental health problems, and knows a little of the pain herself, having experienced post natal depression.
For decades her work had to fit in with her husband's postings and raising their family far from her beloved Norfolk.
In Northern Ireland they checked for bombs under the car before every journey. She told her young son they were checking for hedgehogs until he informed her that his friend's family next door looked for bombs under their car, which was much more exciting.
She became an NHS counsellor and is now a volunteer counsellor with the Sue Lambert Trust, a charity supporting survivors of sexual abuse and assault, rape and domestic violence.
Organisations supporting military veterans and families, and people with mental health problems, are all close to her heart. She is president of the Army Widows Association, vice president of the Armed Forces charity SSAFA, chairing its adoption committee, and was made an MBE for her part in raising £5m in just nine months to provide places for the families of military casualties to stay while their loved ones were treated in hospital.
When she served as High Sheriff of Norfolk, her theme for the year was mental health. She plans to continue this focus as Lord-Lieutenant.
She is also involved in many Norfolk charities including the Mancroft Advice Project, the Matthew Project, Nelson's Journey, Centre 81 for people with disabilities in Yarmouth, the Wymondham Dementia Support Group, the assisted living community farm at Thornage Hall, and the You Are Not Alone project providing mental health support to farmers across East Anglia.
Any spare time is devoted to her family, her garden and her dogs. Fittingly, the new Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk has two Norfolk terriers, named Delia in honour of Norwich City Football Club, (which is another family passion,) and Hebe. She explains how to tell a Norwich terrier from a Norfolk. "Norfolk terriers ears are down, Norwich terriers ears go up, like the Cathedral."
Faith has also always been important. She is a lay canon of Norwich Cathedral and said: "I love Norfolk with a passion. I love the people of Norfolk. I love our great tradition of welcoming people, I love the city and the country and the coast and I'm passionate about this cathedral of ours."
At 65 she is looking forward, not to retirement but to a decade of service, to another woman who loves Norfolk. "I think the Queen is just remarkable. She's a wonderful woman. I just want to be the very best Lord-Lieutenant I possibly can be."