Meet the new High Sheriff of Hampshire, Rupert Younger
Bass guitarist, businessman, dad and community champion. Meet the multi-talented man who has just been sworn in as one of Hampshire’s youngest ever High Sheriffs
Standing in front of his band in black breeches, tights, velvet jacket and a sword, Rupert Younger looks like a latter day Adam Ant – albeit without the make-up.
As the newly-invested High Sheriff of Hampshire, Rupert is entitled to ‘raise a hue and cry’ and ‘summon a posse’, and for a split second the comedic value of posing like some swashbuckling highwayman – sword aloft – flashes through his mind but then Rupert glances at the photographer and goes off to change, leaving the band to tune up.
Returning in jeans and a T-shirt and picking up his bass guitar, Rupert is apologetic.
“It would be quite fun but the issue is respect for a 1,000-year-old office,” he explains.
And this encapsulates the qualities Rupert possesses that saw him become Hampshire’s High Sheriff at a formal ceremony at Winchester Law Courts on the morning of our interview.
At 46, he is one of the youngest High Sheriffs Hampshire has ever had, he’s just recorded his first album and teaches at the University of Oxford.
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He is different from many of his predecessors - and other High Sheriffs around the country nominated for the year-long job - because he’s not from the armed services or the legal or medical profession.
But while Rupert may, in some ways, be a break with the past, he is very much a traditionalist. He has a love of Hampshire and a great sense of duty towards it. The county is, after all, in his blood; his mother and grandparents are from here and Rupert was schooled at Winchester College.
“Hampshire is the most spectacularly varied and interesting county,” says Rupert, “It has a brilliant geography, with the coastline and the Isle of Wight, the South Downs and the vibrant cities. It’s a wonderful place to live.”
Rupert’s parent’s first home after they married was in Bishops Sutton but they moved to Scotland soon after he was born as his father is part of the Younger Scottish brewing dynasty. Rupert returned to Hampshire at 13 to go to Winchester College. After university in Aberdeen, he later co-founded a financial PR company, RLM Finsbury Group in London, where Rupert and his family lived. In 2001, Rupert and his wife, Catherine, decided to take a weekend break with their three children on the Isle of Wight.
“While we were there, we were looking through a magazine and saw this amazing house for sale in West Meon,” he says. “On the way back we popped by on the off chance we could have a look.
“The couple who owned it showed us round and we stayed chatting for hours. By that evening we had fallen for the place and decided to buy it. We left London and never looked back.”
Rupert’s two daughters, Honor, 13, and Lorna, 10, both go to Twyford School and his son, Alec, 14, is following in his father’s footsteps and has just started at Winchester College.
The family’s move to West Meon set about the chain of events that eventually led to Rupert becoming High Sheriff.
“It started with the village shop, which I bought in 2003 because it was failing and needed investment,” says Rupert. “The Post Office next door was also under threat so Royal Mail agreed to let me relocate it into the shop and I became postmaster.
“Ten years on someone else manages the Post Office element but we managed to fight another closure threat which is great because those relying on pensions and other Post Office related services continue to get them in the village.”
As impressive is the story of the shop itself. Rupert got together a group of villagers to invest in the repair and restoration of the fabric of the shop, and in the restocking.
“I then held a meeting in the village hall,” he says, “and we agreed that it would be a community shop, wholly owned by the community.
“We now have over 550 shareholders with everyone owning one equal share. The shop is manned by one or two paid staff at all times and is supported by a team of fantastic volunteers. We are all very proud of what we have managed to achieve as a village.”
Rupert and his team were so successful that they received some state funding and Rupert visited other villages advising them on how to buy up their own failing shops.
Last year West Meon’s shop was a finalist in the national Community Shop of the Year awards and is still a vibrant hub in the village.
It was this selfless work for the community that first brought Rupert to the attention of the then High Sheriff, Clare Bartlett. And it was Clare who turned up on Rupert’s doorstep one night to pop the question.
“She asked if I would like to be a future High Sheriff of Hampshire. I had no idea what a High Sheriff did – but how could I say no?”
Well, there was the small matter of his day jobs – director of the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation and a partner in his City PR firm, as well as raising a young family, playing in a band and helping run the West Meon shop.
“I’m a great believer that if you want something done, ask a busy person,” says Rupert. “I was very honoured to be nominated and it would be completely churlish not to grab such an incredible opportunity.”
Rupert is not the sort of man to do a job half-heartedly and is utterly committed to achieving as much as he can as High Sheriff before April 2014 when his successor takes over.
“I have a lot on my plate which is why I have decided to commit myself to three causes and do them well rather than throwing myself at everything that comes along.”
As the Queen’s legal representative in the county (High Sheriffs date back to Saxon times when they maintained law and order and collected taxes for the Crown) Rupert will be expected to greet visiting Royalty and High Court judges. He can also select local organisations and charities to support and Rupert has chosen three.
He wants to help prisoners find work when they are released to stop them from re-offending - a cause he took up after a tour of Winchester Prison last year.
The second cause is closer to his heart and involves supporting a school – Shepherds Down - and a theatre company – Blue Apple Theatre - which work with children with special needs as Rupert’s brother has learning disabilities and has himself thrived in similar environments.
Thirdly, Rupert plans to start a community awards scheme in Hampshire, celebrating the work of people who volunteer their time and energy without fanfare or fuss. The county will be split into eight regions and people can nominate those they believe are worthy of an award for their tireless work for others.
“The role of High Sheriff is what you make it,” says Rupert. “I have an idea of some of the problems in the county – we have cities like Southampton and Portsmouth with problems of drug abuse and unemployment. I don’t really know in detail about these things yet, but I will. It will be my job to listen and learn and see if there’s any way in which I can help.”
Behind him, the band – the Chalk Flowers – is eager to start rehearsals. They are enjoying some success with their first album, recorded at Wallops Wood Studios in the South Downs National Park, and now available on iTunes (a progression which necessitated a name change from the original Kings of Meon because it was too like the successful band Kings of Leon).
As Rupert picks up his bass guitar and the band prepares to go through their repertoire of songs – written, naturally, by Rupert in his spare time – he looks as least like the holder of the oldest civic office in the land as it’s possible to imagine.
But then that is the brilliance of Hampshire’s sparkling new High Sheriff – he is a man of many hidden talents.