Meet the new Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk who’s also a lady
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
She’s both a lord and a lady, she represents the Queen and has a dog named in honour of the county’s first lady of football. Rowan Mantell meets the new Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk
The job was invented almost 500 years ago - to gather men to fight for monarch and country. But the only armies Norfolk's first female Lord-Lieutenant, Lady Philippa Dannatt, is likely to raise, will be volunteers fighting for the poor, the ill and the needy of Norfolk.
Already a Lady, this summer she became a Lord too, at the start of what is likely to be a decade of voluntary service, representing the Queen in Norfolk, meeting royal visitors, handing out medals and awards and attending events.
Here in Norfolk she outranks 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.
As an army wife she moved house 24 times in 34 years, but home was always here, where her family has farmed for generations. 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.
After they married he was posted to Germany, 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.
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"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.
Born into the Gurney family she inherited a tradition 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 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.
She became an NHS counsellor and is now a volunteer with the Sue Lambert Trust, a charity supporting survivors of sexual abuse and assault, rape and domestic violence.
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.
Organisations supporting military veterans and families, and people with mental health problems, are close to her heart and she 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.
Her new post is unpaid and voluntary and one of her roles is to champion the work of volunteers for good causes and charities. She is already 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.
The new Lord-Lieutenant is also a proud owner of two Norfolk terriers; Delia, named in honour of Norwich City Football Club (another family passion) and Hebe. Lady Dannatt, a proud lay canon of Norwich Cathedral, explains: "Norfolk terriers' ears are down, Norwich terriers' ears go up, like the cathedral."
"I love Norfolk with a passion," she said. "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."
She admits to being relieved that as the first female to take on the prestigious role, she does not have to inherit the official heavy robes and ceremonial sword because there is no woman's version of the uniform. 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."