Queen’s man in North Yorkshire calls it a day

Lord Crathorne has just stepped down as Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire after 15 years. He talks to Chris Bond about organising royal events, meeting inspiring people, and why he has no plans to retire.

Monday, 22nd September 2014, 9:30 am
Lord Crathorne, 75, who stepped down last week from his role as Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire after 15 years. Picture Bruce Rollinson

It’s been a busy few days for Lord Crathorne.

He’s been handing over the reins of North Yorkshire’s Lord-Lieutenancy to the new incumbent and this morning he’s taken time out from a family breakfast - to celebrate his birthday - to talk to me.

The previous night he was guest of honour at a special Evensong service at Ripon Cathedral celebrating his 15 years in the role. “I had the most fantastic day, there was a member of the Royal Family, the Army, civic heads and the Church,” he says.

Lord Crathorne is stepping down as it’s customary for Lord-Lieutenants to retire when they reach the age of 75.

“Someone rang me up today and said ‘I thought I’d call to cheer you up because you must be feeling a bit down,’ and I said ‘not the bit of it, I had a wonderful time.’”

The Lord-Lieutenants are the Queen’s representatives for each county in the UK, with North Yorkshire the biggest.

Among their jobs is to arrange royal visits and during his tenure Lord Crathorne has organised 192 visits to North Yorkshire by members of the Royal Family. “The royal visits do an awful lot of good, each place feels special and the Royal Family love coming here. There’s been one a month for 15 years, which is extraordinary when you think it’s just one county.”

He says the Royal Family are good at making people feel at ease. “They are wonderfully good at engaging with people whether it’s a children’s school, a hospice, or a factory floor.”

The Queen is a big attraction, as is Prince Charles who has been here 27 times during his time as Lord-Lieutenant. “The wonderful thing about his visits is there’s always a real legacy from them. He’s initiated a number of things here during my time like the ‘pub is the hub’, this idea that a pub should also be a local shop and a post office. He’s so good at thinking about things that are helpful and following through on them.”

Royal visits require a huge amount of planning and it’s down to the Lord-Lieutenant to make sure they go like clockwork. They are planned with military precision and involve the Lord-Lieutenant, the royal household and the police working closely together. “If there’s a visit to a factory there will be a number of visits by the police with sniffer dogs beforehand. Security is paramount and there are people involved behind-the-scenes who even I don’t get to see.”

As well arranging royal visits, Lord Crathorne has carried out 1,576 official engagements. “I’ve met some completely brilliant people,” he says. “One of the businesses that got a Queen’s Award for Enterprise was a company involved in the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2012 Olympics. There was a flower that opened and it was all made near Tockwith, and to go and see all that happening and to be able to present the award is such a privilege.”

As well as innovative business leaders he’s also met some of the country’s tireless volunteers. “I gave five people British Empire Medals the other week in Northallerton County Hall and we worked out that between them they had given 170 years to the voluntary service. Without people like that I don’t know how the country would function.

“The voluntary sector is crucially important and these people are unsung heroes so it’s nice that they can have moments where their name is sung.”

It’s one of the perks of the job. “What’s lovely about the role is wherever the Lord-Lieutenant goes, he or she, is welcomed with open arms. People are always pleased to see you and if you think about it there are not many jobs in life where people are invariably pleased to see you, which makes it an immense privilege.”

It’s not a role for beating a particular political drum but it does require organisation and a keen eye for detail. But perhaps above all it requires empathy with people, whether they are royalty or ordinary shop assistants - and Lord Crathorne has that happy knack of making people feel at ease.

He was raised in the family home in the village of Crathorne, near Yarm, and still lives in this picturesque corner of North Yorkshire. “It’s the most lovely community and my contemporaries from the local school are still great friends. David Atkinson is the forester here and he and I meet every morning at 8 o’clock and have a chat.”

He was educated at Cambridge University where he studied Fine Art and where he joined the Footlights, the world’s most famous student revue company. “I was a drummer in the Footlights Trio,” he says. He went up to the Edinburgh Festival with an “extraordinary gang of people”, as he calls them, that included John Cleese, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman and Bill Oddie. He was Cleese’s best man when he married Connie Booth and the pair remain good friends to this day.

After Cambridge, Lord Crathorne got a job at Sotheby’s cataloguing impressionist paintings and from here he teamed up with friends in the hotel business.

He and his family were heavily involved in helping to restore the magnificent Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, and latterly he has written several books including, Parliament in Pictures with Austin Mitchell.

He’s also keen photographer and several of his impressive pictures adorn the walls of his home. “I haven’t had a normal career which has been a great help with the lieutenancy because there isn’t anything I’m not interested in.”

Even so, he admits he was unsure about taking on the role when he was approached in 1999. The process of choosing a Lord-Lieutenant is a mysterious one but basically involves the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary sounding out local business and community leaders to find a suitable candidate.

“I was told the only way it will work is if you do it in your own way and I thought, ‘I can live with that’ and I’ve had 15 of the happiest years.

“Seeing what people can achieve and what they have to contend with it is all very humbling.”

His only real sadness was the loss of his beloved wife Sylvia to cancer five years ago. “She was such a wonderful support and after she died I threw myself even more fully into the role and in a way it’s been a life-saver for me.”

He believes the Lord-Lieutenancy still has a part to play in modern life, as does the Royal Family. “I spent a day with William, Kate and Harry at the beginning of the Grand Depart and they were a completely brilliant trio. I ended the day with a strong feeling that the monarchy was in tremendously safe hands.”

He feels, too, that his successor, entrepreneur Barry Dodd, will be a big success. “He will be quite different from me, which is a good thing, and I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”

As for himself, he will continue in the House of Lords and intends to spend more time writing. He certainly isn’t planning to retire.

“Someone text me to wish me a happy birthday and I said ‘yes, the end of an era for me.’ And they text me back and said ‘yes, but it’s the start of a new one’. And I thought ‘yes, it jolly well is.”

Lord Crathorne, 75, who stepped down last week from his role as Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire after 15 yrs.

Lord Crathorne in uniform presenting the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2012, left; and accompanying the Prince of Wales in York in July 2013.

Who are lord lieutenants?

Lord-Lieutenants are the representatives of the Crown and each county in the UK has one.

They can be men or women and they are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Lord-Lieutenants were originally appointed in Henry VIII’s reign to take over the military duties of the Sheriff.

They are responsible for all official royal visits to their county.

There are 98 Lord-Lieutenants across the UK.

Male Lord-Lieutenants wear a military-style navy blue uniform with scarlet stripes on the trousers and a scarlet band on their peaked cap. Women wear a brooch to indicate their office.

All Lord-Lieutenants retire at the age of 75.