A passion for turning
To be made an Honorary Liveryman of the Turners’ Company, after the excitement of opening Wizardry in Wood in 2012 and presenting awards, could not have flattered and touched me more!
Even with a passion for turned wood I was overwhelmed by the incredible standards of creativity and craftsmanship that the Company was promoting. A turner friend of mine even came from Hawaii to see it, arriving on our doorstep with a suitcase full of tropical woods to share!
I still cannot quite get my head round it! In the 19th century, the Company gave the honour to Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George and, in 1872, to Angela Burdett Coutts (see page 16); in the 20th century to Theo Fabergé; and in the 21st to me! So, I was keen to give the Company a place in the sun during my year as Lord Mayor.
Lord Mayor’s Show … in a downpour
It began, not in the sun, but in a downpour, on 7th November 2013, when the largest and longest vehicle in my Lord Mayor’s Show was none other than the Turners’ entry. How proud I was! I did not expect to have much of an opportunity to say thank you in person. As there are so many Livery Companies, the Lord Mayor does not usually see them individually more than once and a few, hardly at all, because the travelling takes up a third of the year.
Conga line of Presidents and Prime Ministers
There is the veritable conga line of inward visits from Presidents, Prime Ministers, Finance, Energy and Foreign Ministers, Governors of Central Banks, Regulators and Ambassadors, for whom the Lord Mayor provides a sort of matchmaking service for UK-based business. Then there are the other stakeholders in the mayoralty like the armed forces, cadets, students in the City schools, City workers, charities, cultural organisations, London Boroughs, market operators and SMEs.
Then there were my own programmes in my 686 Plan (I was the 686th Lord Mayor) – the Power of Diversity, Tomorrow’s City (on sustainable development and finance), the Charity Leadership Programme (where the Lord Mayor’s Consort took the lead) and the Lord Mayor’s Appeal. Other things were squeezed into the diary like sessions to promote STEM subjects to the young and the Commonwealth Games!
Awards for Ray Key and Stuart Mortimer
On average, I was doing twelve meetings and events a day, quite often delivering three or four speeches. One day, I did seven speeches on seven different topics. However, I was never at a loss for words with the Turners, even though I was often completely amazed. Their enthusiasm was infectious and a turner is very articulate. I was totally inspired by Ray Key and Stuart Mortimer to whom I had the honour of giving awards on behalf of the Company. Their reputation is global and reflects so well on the UK and the Company.
Needless to say, I was looking forward to the Turners’ Dinner in Apothecaries’ Hall and had prepared a merry speech for the occasion. The intimate atmosphere and the warmth of the assembled friends was such that I hardly had to look at my script – it was such a family occasion (my godson was there).
Imagine my joy to be presented with a Ray Key pagoda of concentric boxes, one on top of the other, turned from a single piece of wood, with a historic silver band round the base, engraved with my name. It sat on my round table in the Mansion House and was a real ice-breaker with visitors.
It was also a great honour to open the new offices in Skinners’ Hall – and focus on the engine room of the Company, having been dazzled by its outward face. The 2014 Craft Competition was, indeed, a dazzling outward display and I was thrilled to see the entries, hand out the awards and to be able to enthuse about wood in another speech! But I also had a new role, for which I felt quite inadequate – that of a judge!
Lord Mayor’s Turning Competition
The Company had created a new category of the Lord Mayor’s Award and set the competition challenge on the theme of my Lord Mayor’s Show, “The Energy of Life”, linking it with the City so it became “The Energy of Life in the City”. The finalist entries were spectacular in their ingenuity and creativity. Unsurprisingly, they were all to a very high standard of craftsmanship, but as they were so very different, how could you compare them? I was very drawn to a chess set with the pieces turned in a dark wood and a light material. The dark pieces were of old buildings in the City of London and the light pieces were of the new, iconic buildings.
However, I was fascinated by a turned, hollow wooden cube by John Edwards with a red lid, the handle of which represents the top of the Monument (to the Great Fire). I found an alternative finial in gold inside. Circles on the sides represent coins, paving (streets paved with gold), the time zone (offset circles with a small working clock) and the ripples of energy.
The whole box is textured with symbols, the Catherine Wheel of the Company’s coat of arms being prominent. I nervously asked for advice and was told that it was my decision! I gave the award to the box and there was a chorus of approval but we felt that every entry was so deserving!
When I put the box down, I was sad to see that it was not for sale. It was such an unusual and imaginative piece that I could understand that the Turner would want to keep it and show it. Imagine my surprise and delight when it arrived in the Mansion House with a note from John saying he would like me to have it! I have offered to let him show it, when he wishes!
Power of the City
John’s brilliant cube picks up the strength of the City, capitalising on its time zone between the US, Asia and the reason that so many companies locate here to do business in Europe, Middle East and Africa. He captures the City as a global financial centre and the personal energy of City workers. It plays to the Power of Diversity programme that I started which is still continuing.
The programme is a collaboration to make sure that all talent can rise and reach its full potential. He also captures the City’s built environment and paved open spaces, reflecting my Tomorrow’s City programme and sustainable urban development. I set up these programmes in order to include as many people as I could and feel the objective was achieved. I’m still working on these themes because people keep asking me to speak.
The Turners’ Company introduced me to the Association of Wood Turners of Great Britain and I am keen to be useful as a special friend. Between them they are enthusing me even more to champion the craft and even to try it myself!
‘Green finance envoy’ trumps Max Carey weekend
I was set to join the Clerk at the Max Carey Trust for a beginners’ course in March but the Government sent me to Mexico as a “green finance envoy”, so I had to miss it. The timing was bad, but on the other hand, I was about to start the Mexican electricity restructuring and market implementation, so the timing was brilliant!
There is nothing like being denied an opportunity to make you want it even more! I obviously won’t be starting my turning with pagodas or cubes but I do aspire to achieve a candlestick! As an Alderman, I represent the small, but perfectly formed ward of Candlewick in the City (the next door ward to Dowgate, where the Turners have their office). As an electricity lawyer, I love candle light – yes, it is romantic but it is also an insurance policy in case the lights go out!
Dame Fiona Woolf
Photo credits and thanks:
Lord Mayor: © Clive Totman for the Corporation of London
John Edwards 1st Prize: © Stuart King
A version of this article also appears in the 2016 issue of The Turner, published by the Turners’ Company.