Meet the Queen's official representative in Essex as she prepares for the Platinum Jubilee

Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Mrs Jennifer Tolhurst

Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Mrs Jennifer Tolhurst - Credit: Ivan Finch ECC

As we celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Mica Bale chats to Her Majesty’s official representative in the county. The Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Mrs Jennifer Tolhurst, is the first woman to hold the office since its inception in Tudor times and is a passionate champion of all things Essex

Mrs Tolhurst explains a little more about what the role of the Lord Lieutenant of Essex entails. ‘The office is military in origin, dating back to the early 16th century. King Henry VII initiated a number of measures to curb the independence of the aristocracy and created a role in which someone stood up in lieu of the monarch. King Henry VIII developed the role by appointing and managing magistrates for military defence. 

‘My main drive is to represent Her Majesty – I want to support the crown. The Queen is our national identity and gives a sense of continuity. I want to do as much as I can to uphold all those things. My job means organising royal visits, nominations, honours and awards. It is a non-political and unpaid role, which also shows an interest in local business, industry and the social life of the county.’ 

HM Lord Lieut at Saffron Hall’s Together in Sound sharing event

Mrs Tolhurst at a music therapy group in Saffron Walden - Credit: Sara Platt

It would not be a Jubilee year without various celebrations of the Queen’s 70 years on the throne, and Essex is leading the way with a host of events. Mrs Tolhurst tells me about some local initiatives, ‘There’s lots of exciting things happening across Essex. Lighting of beacons, street parties, bunting and a Festival of the Sea alongside Suffolk to mention just a few. 

‘Throughout the year, we will also be engaging with local schoolchildren to encourage reading, especially after the last two years. There are 60 Lord Lieutenant deputies and 16 of them have volunteered to go into school to read a children’s book about the Queen. In addition, we are taking part in the Queen’s Green Canopy. It’s a ‘Plant a Tree for the Jubilee’ initiative in which we encourage landowners, school children and farmers to plant a tree.’ 

First appointed to the role in 2017, Mrs Tolhurst explains her experiences over the past few years, ‘The pandemic brought about a sea of change. It was inspiring to see Her Majesty using modern technology, addressing the nation and totally at ease with Zoom. During the first lockdown I wanted to help, and there was one brilliant community group in particular that I volunteered with, Danbury Volunteer Group. They were helping a minimum of 6,000 people; they made themselves available for getting prescriptions, supporting mental health, shopping, visiting and befriending people. What they were doing was so impressive.’ 

Mrs Tolhurst Laying a wreath at the Colchester War memorial on Remembrance Sunday

Laying a wreath at the Colchester War memorial on Remembrance Sunday - Credit: Lord Lieutenant's office

But there’s a lot more to her role. ‘A big part of my work is organising awards and honours. I’m always excited by the energy and innovation demonstrated by local, successful businesses. One of the awards I am involved with is the Queen's Award for Enterprise, which is a very prestigious, globally recognised award for which local businesses can put themselves forward. 

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‘Another honours process that I am privileged to be involved with is the Queen’s Award for Volunteers, which showcases local groups who have done extraordinary things for others in the local community. It is the highest award given to volunteer groups across the UK and third parties may nominate. The full details about these awards can be found on the Lord Lieutenancy website.’ 

There must have been plenty of outstanding moments in her role, but Mrs Tolhurst shares a particularly special memory. ‘I can't put one thing at the top of the list, but the Earl and Countess of Wessex visiting was memorable. The Earl particularly wanted to visit some of the islands around Britain and so they visited Foulness and Mersea Island. It was just fantastic, meeting people whose families had lived on the two islands for generations. They visited the marvellous museum on Foulness Island and then we flew to Mersea Island, seeing everyone they possibly could. It was lovely to see so many local people having their work recognised and so pleasing and satisfying to see happy faces.’ 

Mrs Tolhurst Visiting a Food Bank in Witham

Visiting a food bank in Witham - Credit: Lord Lieutenant Office

Although the role of being Her Majesty’s official representative in Essex is one that carries many responsibilities, Mrs Tolhurst explains how she likes to relax. ‘Essex is where my husband comes from. In fact, we met at Burnham-on-Crouch. I’ve lived in Essex for 49 years and I love the coast. My husband is a keen sailor and we enjoy spending time on the boat when we can. Some of my grandchildren live nearby and we like going to local sites such as Colchester Castle and enjoying a picnic. Essex is a lovely place, and spending time with my grandchildren is great fun! 

‘I love Essex’s wide-open spaces, the birdlife and coast. It has been a wonderful background to our life. There are so many special parts of Essex and the people are so friendly and have great spirit and enterprise.’