For Queen and county with Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey, Dame Sarah Goad
- Credit: Andy Newbold
After 18 years in the role, our county's Lord-Lieutenant, Dame Sarah Goad, is handing in her badge of office as she looks forward to a well-earned retirement. Here, in an exclusive interview at her Bletchingley home, the Queen's representative in our county talks to Surrey Life's editor, Caroline Harrap, about her most memorable moments
I’m standing in the charming farmhouse kitchen of Dame Sarah Goad and wondering what the etiquette should be in a situation like this – because I’m fairly certain that it shouldn’t involve her making me a coffee. But that pretty much sums up this stoic lady, who for the past 18 years has been our Lord-Lieutenant – the Queen’s personal representative in Surrey – and, as such, the holder of the highest office in our county. Refreshingly direct, down-to-earth and, dare I say it, quite normal really, there’s no standing on ceremony here at her Bletchingley home.
Handing me a steaming mug of delicious-smelling ‘proper’ coffee, this Surrey tour de force, who is also Keeper of the Rolls, president of Surrey Magistrates’ Association and patron of any number of charities in our county, chats easily and enthusiastically about her time in office – which will finally draw to a close with her retirement this month.
“It’s all been hugely good fun,” says Dame Sarah, as she reflects on her tenure as the first woman in the county to hold this historic post. “There are highs and lows of course in anything, but I can’t say that I have faced any particular challenges as a woman in the role – in fact, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every moment. The variety is so great – seeing and meeting all kinds of different people from all walks of life – it’s been wonderful.
“That said, I couldn’t have done it without the immense support that I have received from my husband Tim, from assistant clerk, Caroline Breckell, at Surrey County Council and, of course, from all the Deputy Lieutenants across the county.”
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For those not familiar with this ancient office, the Lord-Lieutenancy is a role that dates back originally to the reign of Henry VIII. Before that time, it was the Sheriff who was responsible for maintaining order in the county and for using whatever military measures were required to defend Surrey and its inhabitants. In Tudor England, however, Henry created the role of Lord-Lieutenant to take over those duties and to control the county militias.
Today, while the office remains very much linked to the Armed Forces, particularly the Volunteer Reserve Forces and Cadets, the role is largely a ceremonial one – but no less prestigious, mind. Not only is it the Queen herself who appoints the Lord-Lieutenants to be her personal representatives in each county, but they are also regarded as the chief link between the Monarch and her people. As such, not only is the Lord-Lieutenant responsible for representing the Queen at functions in the county but also accompanying members of the Royal Family on their official visits here.
“I’ve had a great time with all our Royal visitors; they’ve all been a joy to work with,” continues Dame Sarah, who has hosted everyone from HM The Queen to the Duke of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex. “Also, seeing the absolute delight on people’s faces when they have a Royal visit is very rewarding because, well, there’s something magic about a Royal. It’s a great joy to be able to bring that pleasure to people.”
It goes without saying that she knows more about the Royals than most people put together – her appointment in 2012 as a Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, an honour that is awarded by the Queen only to those who have served her or the Monarchy in a personal way, bears testament to that. The very definition of discretion, however, she won’t be drawn on any stories of life at the Palace, though she does share some wonderful anecdotes about the Royal visits to Surrey.
“I can remember we had one awkward moment when I was waiting for a member of the royal family, Princess Alexandra, to arrive at Guildford Cathedral and be presented to a civic line-up of the Mayor, chair of the County Council and High Sheriff and so forth,” she reveals. “So there was this nice little line-up ready for me to present to her but as she got out of her car and into the cathedral, there was nobody there – and I thought, ‘my goodness! Where’s everybody gone?’ Because there were five minutes programmed in before the service started to present all these people! And I then discovered that the then Dean, who was quite new at the time, had sent them all to their seats…
“Then there was the time I found myself climbing up into a tree house with the Countess of Wessex; that was quite an exciting moment, I must say. That was at the wonderful Fanny’s Farm in Merstham. We had cups of tea and sandwiches up there. That was quite exciting... And Fanny herself, who so sadly passed away just recently, was there too. We all had a very good time that day.”
While climbing trees may not be a regular part of the role, it’s fair to say that there’s rarely been a dull moment during her time in office. In fact, there could be a case for arguing that her tenure has been one of the most eventful of them all. Not only has she had the Millennium in 2000, but also the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and then, this year alone, the Centenary of World War One, the 200th anniversary of Waterloo and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta – to name but a few.
“It’s certainly been an extraordinary run because I’ve had a number of years that have been quite unique really,” she continues. “So, quite apart from the normal run of work, there have also been this whole series of very important occasions. I’m rather hoping that for my successor it will at least be quiet for one year, while feet are got under the table, and then no doubt it will all take off again!”
The person in question is someone that many Surrey Life readers will know well, given that he has already featured in these pages on numerous occasions. Taking up the mantle, as the new Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey from this autumn, is none other than owner of the stunning stately home, Loseley Park in Guildford, and great friend of this magazine, Michael More-Molyneux. Needless to say, Dame Sarah has every confidence he will be a great success in the role.
“I think he’s an excellent choice,” she confirms. “And we’ve already been liaising at some length. But I have to say that the Lord-Lieutenant is its own animal and it will be entirely up to the new Lord-Lieutenant as to how the Lord-Lieutenancy functions in the county going forward. That said, I would rather hope that he will carry on at least some of the things that we’ve been working on – such as our support for the Community Foundation for Surrey, which has done so much for deprivation in our county, and the military covenant, helping our Armed Forces, and then all our interfaith work.”
As for what comes next for her, she says that first up will be a year off from all public duties, in order to catch up on her own life – whether that’s spending time with husband Tim and the family (they have three grown-up children and nine grand- children); visiting their holiday home in Normandy in northern France; or simply getting her paperwork in order.
“I’m very dull really,” she laughs. “I’m looking forward to just catching up on my own life really – a lot of which has been rather underfunded for quite some time. I also like going to the theatre, such as the Guildford Yvonne Arnaud, and I’m interested in houses and buildings and reading books.
“And I also want to do some more work on our family history too. So far, we have been able to trace our family in Surrey back to at least the 16th century. They used to farm sheep, back in the days when sheep farming was the source of wealth in the country, so I’d like to be able to put something on paper for the family.”
No doubt, in years to come, it will be a proud moment when her descendants read about how their own ancestor was once the first female Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey. But she is typically self-effacing about all her achievements, turning it round to pay tribute to the people of our diverse county.
“Every day, one learns something new about Surrey,” she continues, collecting up the coffee cups and returning them to the kitchen. “It is quite extraordinary, really, the variety of things that go on. That’s the lovely thing about this job; that you can get around to see and meet the people who do all these wonderful things. It’s been a great run.”
Need to know
All you wanted to know about the Lord- Lieutenancy but were too afraid to ask
• The Lord-Lieutenant is appointed by the Sovereign, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, after consultation with a wide range of citizens in the county
• Any person who is resident in the county is eligible for appointment as Lord- Lieutenant, though it often tends to be someone who has made an important contribution to voluntary life in the county
• The role of the Lord-Lieutenant is unpaid and, like that of the Monarchy, apolitical
• The Lord-Lieutenant is assisted by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant and some 50 Deputy Lieutenants in the county
• The first record of a Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey was in 1551 – William Parr KG, Marquis of Northampton
• There is no fixed period for a time in office but a Lord-Lieutenant can only serve until his or her 75th birthday
All in a day’s work
The principal responsibilities of the county’s Lord-Lieutenant are to:
• Arrange the programmes for Royal visits to organisations in the county
• Assist with Honours nominations, invitations etc on behalf of the Crown
• Present medals and awards on behalf of Her Majesty
• Support the Armed Forces in Surrey at the command of Her Majesty or at the invitation of the Commander concerned
• Give particular support to the TA and tri-service Cadet forces in the county
• Support all forms of useful activity across the county
• Chair the advisory committee for the appointment of JPs and ensure their good conduct act as Keeper of the Roles