The local elections in May 2019 were tumultuous, conducted in a febrile environment of Brexit anger with a national sense of frustration at Westminster’s failure to deliver any form of exit from the European Union – as had been promised in 2016.
As Alain Juppe famously said “the people have spoken”, although fewer spoke than in recent elections with fewer than 24% of the electorate voting locally.
The election result prompted a number of, perhaps, unexpected events.
Chelmsford Conservatives lost control of Chelmsford City Council, losing a number of hard working Councillors and Cabinet Members, including Cabinet Members responsible for Leisure, Social Housing and Technology.
I enjoyed working with them all, I believe we achieved a lot for the community, leaving Chelmsford better than when we started, and I consider them all friends.
One of those who was not returned to the City Council was Cllr. Julia Jeapes, who had been Cabinet Member for Leisure and had worked tirelessly to oversee the completion of Chelmsford’s “Riverside” leisure centre’s £30+m refurbishment.
Julia’s failure to be re-elected was a surprise and a disappointment, and it prompted one of those ‘unexpected events’, as it had been proposed that she would serve as Mayor of Chelmsford for the year 2019-20.
I had previously agreed that I would support Julia as Deputy Mayor, but suddenly and unexpectedly I found myself to be the person nominated to be Mayor of Chelmsford – an ‘accidental Mayor’.
To be Mayor and First Citizen of Chelmsford was, of course, a tremendous privilege, and a duty to be taken seriously; my diary rapidly filled with invitations, I attended two official functions the day after I’d been made mayor – bumping into the Mayor of Colchester on both occasions.
He too was on his first day!
The theme of my Mayoral year was ‘overcoming adversity’ – how prescient was that? – and my chosen charity was Parkinson’s UK. While I’d lost Val to an aggressive form of cancer a few years previously, she had been in the foothills of that pernicious disease for some years.
That Val wouldn’t be with me to share my Mayoralty was, of course, a source of immense sadness for me.
My Mayoress for the year was Jan Cheese, the widow of my very good friend and fellow Town Councillor, Jon Cheese, whom we’d lost some twelve years earlier.
My Deputy Mayor was Cllr. Janette Potter and her escort was former City Councillor Gillian Smith.
Update – after the event.
In the nine months until Covid hit and the wheels fell off society I had undertaken over three hundred public engagements, including twenty carol concerts – I was word perfect on most of the carols, and some of the lessons.
I had helped the Duke of Kent open the new Riverside Leisure Centre, cut the ribbon on the revitalised Chelmsford Museum, danced around a maypole (with forty other Mayors) in Guildhall Yard in the City of London, ridden in a police car (with ‘blues and twos’), and been inside Chelmsford Prison, twice.
It’s perhaps heartening that I made it to my sixties before those last few experiences and I was there under legitimate circumstances, and that they let me out of the prison!
We had also raised over ten thousand pounds for Parkinsons’ UK, and perhaps more importantly for my personal future, met Ali, the second great love of my life.