Pippa Blake talks about her new life and love

Six­teen years af­ter the tragic death of her Kiwi hero hus­band Sir Pe­ter Blake, Lady Pippa talks to Suzanne McFad­den about her new life, her new part­ner and why New Zealand will al­ways have a spe­cial place in her heart.

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Pippa, Lady Blake, looks out over the azure waters rolling in to Oneroa Beach on Wai­heke Is­land, and re­veals that she could quite hap­pily make her home here in New Zealand. She doesn’t say this merely on a whim. It’s an idea she has con­tem­plated for some time now.

When her hus­band, sailor and adventurer Sir Pe­ter Blake, was trag­i­cally killed by pi­rates on the Ama­zon River 16 years ago, Pippa could have hun­kered down in the English vil­lage of Emsworth. It’s where she grew up, where the cou­ple met, then raised two chil­dren, and where Sir Pe­ter is buried now.>>

But the artist with a no­madic streak has re­turned to Sir Pe­ter’s cher­ished na­tion at least once a year, ev­ery year – and wishes she could make it more.

“Since Pe­ter died, I could have turned my back on New Zealand. But my love for this coun­try has grown. Each time, I feel sad to leave,” Pippa, now 63, says dur­ing a whirl­wind win­ter visit to Auck­land. “It’s the peo­ple, and the his­tory that I had here with Pe­ter. And it’s just the way that Ki­wis are; I’ve al­ways been made to feel very much at home. Life is just more re­laxed here.”

Pippa still has many close friends in New Zealand – the men who sailed and worked with Pe­ter, and their fam­i­lies. But un­doubt­edly the big­gest draw­card for her now is Sarah-Jane, the Blakes’ daugh­ter, who lives on Wai­heke in Auck­land’s Hau­raki Gulf with her hus­band, Alis­tair Moore. As a rule, Pippa comes to stay for a month ev­ery Kiwi sum­mer.

She has of­ten con­sid­ered liv­ing in New Zealand for seven months of the year. But there are still many things that call her back to her na­tive Eng­land and her vil­lage in Hamp­shire on the pic­turesque south coast.

For one, her son James is at home in Emsworth when he’s not ex­plor­ing the planet and cap­tur­ing its wildlife on film as a doc­u­men­tary film-maker and cam­era­man.

She also has her stu­dio there, in her back gar­den, where she paints her ac­claimed works, many of which are in­spired by her world trav­els.

And then there is her intrepid trav­el­ling com­pan­ion, her part­ner of the past seven years, Gor­don Rod­dick. The cou­ple share their two homes in Eng­land. Gor­don has vis­ited New Zealand twice with Pippa, “and he’s very much en­joyed the food, the wine and the hu­mour of the Ki­wis,” she says.

For now, Pippa is con­tent with the ways things are. “I’m happy, and busy. I try to pack into life as much as I can,” she says.

And no mat­ter where she is in the world, the mem­ory of Pe­ter is never far from her mind. “I’m still very aware of the loss of Pe­ter. I can be in a su­per­mar­ket and the tears can well up,” she ad­mits.

“Four years ago, Gor­don and I were driv­ing be­tween Napier and Taupo and we stopped along the way at a lit­tle café. At the counter, a woman said to me, ‘Gosh, you re­ally re­mind me of Pippa Blake.’ And I said, ‘Well, fun­nily enough, I am.’ And she burst into tears, so I burst into tears too. She got her friend out from the kitchen, and then called her hus­band.

“It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary that, 16 years later, Pe­ter’s mem­ory still has that ef­fect on peo­ple. They come to his rest­ing place in Eng­land and leave pairs of red socks. It’s in­cred­i­ble.”

On Pippa’s most re­cent visit to New Zealand, in June, Pe­ter’s legacy was om­nipresent. She went to Gov­ern­ment House in Welling­ton to present the Blake Leader Awards on be­half of the Sir Pe­ter Blake Trust, of which she is co-pa­tron.

Back in Auck­land, she was the re­cip­i­ent of a unique hon­our – the first woman to be given the ti­tle of “Friend of New Zealand” at the Kea World Class New Zealand Awards.

She was praised for her work with the Trust, which was set up in 2004 to con­tinue Pe­ter’s legacy and in­spire fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Kiwi lead­ers, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and ad­ven­tur­ers. Pippa was stunned and hum­bled by the award. “I’m not a busi­ness leader, a fa­mous sci­en­tist, a film di­rec­tor or a phi­lan­thropist. I’m just me,” she laughs, still in­cred­u­lous.

“I don’t think of my­self as be­ing a Kiwi. But on the other hand, when

I’m in the UK, any­thing to do with New Zealand and sport, I’m a huge sup­porter. And I’m al­ways ad­vo­cat­ing that peo­ple should come here – it’s so spe­cial.”

She was also here just as Sir Pe­ter’s ex­pe­di­tion boat, Sea­mas­ter (now named Tara), ar­rived in New Zealand – the first time it has re­turned since his un­timely death on­board on that fate­ful day in De­cem­ber 2001. The boat is now owned by the fam­ily of French fash­ion de­signer Agnès Trou­blé, old friends of the Blakes, who are con­tin­u­ing the con­ser­va­tion work and re­search into the world’s oceans that Pe­ter be­gan.

And of course, Pippa was here as Team New Zealand – the sail­ing team that Pe­ter estab­lished then led to vic­tory in the Amer­ica’s Cups of 1995 and 2000 – were on their way to win­ning the world’s oldest sport­ing tro­phy for a third time. Back home in Eng­land, the day young skip­per Pe­ter Burl­ing and the Kiwi team won the Auld Mug, Pippa cel­e­brated with Cham­pagne, along with Gor­don and two of Pe­ter’s round-the-world sail­ing mates, Tony Rae and Ed Danby.

“I felt highly chuffed for the team,” Pippa says, as she is cer­tain Pe­ter

would have been too.

Gor­don’s late wife, Dame Anita Rod­dick, was an ad­mirer of Pe­ter’s lead­er­ship and the en­vi­ron­men­tal work he had been do­ing for the fu­ture of the planet’s water. The founder of The Body Shop, Anita was a pi­o­neer­ing en­tre­pre­neur and an un­stint­ing cru­sader for hu­man rights and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Anita had wanted to meet Pe­ter, but it was never to be,” Pippa says. “The year af­ter Pe­ter died, Anita asked to meet me, and I had din­ner with her and Gor­don.”

In 2007, Anita died sud­denly; she and Gor­don, co-chair­man of the suc­cess­ful Body Shop em­pire, had been mar­ried for 37 years. The al­tru­is­tic cou­ple worked to­gether for a mul­ti­tude of causes – among them cam­paign­ing to save the rain­for­est and whales, sup­port­ing indige­nous farm­ers in im­pov­er­ished coun­tries, and help­ing dis­ad­van­taged and dis­placed chil­dren in east­ern Europe and Asia.

Seven years ago, Pippa and Gor­don met each other again through a mu­tual friend, and a re­la­tion­ship bloomed. “We have both lost peo­ple who were very unique, and very spe­cial to us. We both have great re­spect for each other’s spouses,” she says.

In his younger years, Scot­tish-born Gor­don trained as an agri­cul­tural sci­en­tist and spent sev­eral years work­ing on sheep farms in Aus­tralia. His many ad­ven­tures in­cluded go­ing down the Ama­zon in a dugout ca­noe.

To­day he de­votes much of his time to hu­man rights and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. For Pippa, it has opened “a whole new chap­ter” in her var­ied life.

“I’ve had some in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences trav­el­ling with Gor­don. It has re­ally opened my eyes,” she says.

Pippa went with Gor­don to a Louisiana prison to visit Al­bert Wood­fox, a pris­oner kept in soli­tary con­fine­ment for 43 years. He was one of the fa­mous “An­gola Three”, whose sup­port­ers con­tend they were framed for the mur­der of a prison guard.

“We spent five hours talk­ing to him. He was deeply philo­sophic and an awe-in­spir­ing man,” Pippa says. Anita had be­gun cam­paign­ing for jus­tice for Al­bert be­fore she died, then Gor­don and fam­ily con­tin­ued the fight.

Last year, Al­bert Wood­fox was fi­nally re­leased from prison on his

69th birth­day. He has been to stay with Gor­don and Pippa since then.

Pippa’s pas­sion for art has not dimmed. When she met Pe­ter at the Emsworth Sail­ing Club in 1978, she was work­ing in a Lon­don art gallery, hav­ing grad­u­ated with a fine arts de­gree. Her paint­ing con­tin­ued af­ter they were mar­ried, “with gaps for bring­ing up chil­dren and sail­ing cam­paigns”. Four years af­ter Pe­ter’s death she re­turned to study, com­plet­ing a post-grad­u­ate diploma in vis­ual art, and fo­cused on her paint­ing ca­reer again.

“For a while, quite a lot of peo­ple in New Zealand couldn’t see me as a se­ri­ous artist be­cause I was the wife of Sir Pe­ter Blake,” she says.

She treats paint­ing as a nine-to-five job, and work is busy. “My great­est pas­sion is work­ing in my stu­dio on large can­vases with oil paint,” she says. She de­fines her paint­ing style as “quite phys­i­cal and en­er­getic – I am stand­ing up a lot”.

Pippa has had many solo shows, in­clud­ing two in New Zealand. Her lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion was at the new Can­dida Stevens Gallery in Chich­ester, near her home in Eng­land. Called Quest, the 20 paint­ings were a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of her art over the past decade, in­clud­ing works from her new Flight­path se­ries, which cap­ture her long-haul flights to New Zealand.

“When­ever I come out to New

Zealand, I come through Los An­ge­les. I al­ways have a cam­era with me, and take pho­tos out the win­dow. Fly­ing in at night, I’m in­trigued by what might be be­yond the hori­zon,” she says. “There’s a whole world out there, [peo­ple] get­ting on with their own lives and dra­mas.”

The blurb for the Quest ex­hi­bi­tion best de­scribes her work: “Her sub­jects are in­spired by dra­matic ge­o­graph­i­cal and man­made fea­tures; from gorges and waste­lands to fig­ures glimpsed. Her enig­matic paint­ings evoke a sense of mys­tery and mood, and for her they are outer ex­pres­sions of her in­ner feel­ings.”

“I’m quite a soul­ful per­son,” she says, smil­ing. “I tend to look to­wards the melan­choly in my paint­ing.”

That melan­choly is ev­i­dent in her lat­est as­sign­ment – she is one of 30 con­tem­po­rary Bri­tish artists who have been in­vited to make one piece of work for an en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­hi­bi­tion, Good Na­ture, cel­e­brat­ing the planet’s beauty and fragility. Pippa’s work is based on J. G. Bal­lard’s sci-fi novel, The Drowned World, set in a postapoc­a­lyp­tic Lon­don that has been sub­merged un­der­wa­ter.

The un­der­wa­ter world is im­por­tant to Pippa, who still shares her late hus­band’s vi­sion to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence to the world’s oceans. “Plas­tics in the ocean are my big­gest con­cern, es­pe­cially mi­crobeads that are work­ing their way into our sys­tems. Through my re­la­tion­ship with Gor­don I’ve be­come even more aware of it,” she says. “I re­ally try not to use plas­tic bags.”

She is proud of the work that the

Sir Pe­ter Blake Trust is car­ry­ing out in New Zealand, in both en­vi­ron­men­tal and lead­er­ship realms. “When the Trust started 13 years ago, I was in a real mush; I wasn’t sure what it would do. I was still griev­ing for Pe­ter, and I knew I didn’t want a statue or an is­land named af­ter him. The Trust is a liv­ing legacy to Pe­ter – it’s more than I ever hoped it would be,” she says.

“I’m re­ally proud of the awards, which ac­knowl­edge lead­er­ship, and our great alumni of lead­ers do­ing great things for the coun­try. We’re in­spir­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness, and send­ing young fu­ture lead­ers on

My great­est pas­sion is work­ing in my stu­dio on large can­vases.

ex­pe­di­tions to the Sub­antarc­tic and the Ker­madecs. All these things make New Zealand unique. Peo­ple can re­ally make things hap­pen here.”

When Pippa re­ceived an email that she was to be hon­oured with the Friend of New Zealand award, she was se­ri­ously taken aback. “I was like, ‘Why me? I’m an artist from a small town in Eng­land.’ But then I un­der­stood that it’s all about the legacy of Pe­ter. I still feel in­cred­i­ble sup­port from New Zealan­ders. It’s the love from Ki­wis ev­ery­where that keeps me com­ing back.”

Even when they are sep­a­rated by many oceans, Pippa main­tains close bonds with her chil­dren. “I al­ways know where they are in the world, and we FaceTime and What­sApp a lot,” she says.

Sarah-Jane, who cel­e­brated her sec­ond birth­day in the mid­dle of the South Pa­cific on board her fa­ther’s round-the­world rac­ing yacht Lion New Zealand, is now 34. To­day, her Kiwi hus­band, Alis­tair Moore, is skip­per of that same boat, berthed in Auck­land, and of

Stein­lager 2, the yacht on which Sir Pe­ter won the Whit­bread round-the-world race. Alis­tair had worked for Pe­ter since he was 17 and was on a re­search mis­sion in the Ama­zon jungle when Pe­ter died.

Pippa says the cou­ple share an ad­ven­tur­ous spirit, and she en­vis­ages they will “go off trav­el­ling the world to­gether on an ad­ven­ture. And for SJ that could be an artis­tic ad­ven­ture,” she says.

Sarah-Jane shares her mother’s pas­sion for art, and works as a free­lance en­vi­ron­men­tal artist in ex­per­i­men­tal the­atre, set de­sign and per­for­mance. “She puts on her own small pro­duc­tions; she’s very cre­ative and full of great ideas,” Pippa says. “She’s worked with Mixit, which has Satur­day af­ter­noon work­shops for young peo­ple from refugee back­grounds in Auck­land. I went to a per­for­mance in Jan­uary and it in­spired me to make paint­ings some­time in the fu­ture.”

James, now 30, def­i­nitely has his fa­ther’s sense of ad­ven­ture and love of the sea.

“He has been film­ing in the Gala­pa­gos Is­lands, chas­ing croc­o­diles in North­ern Aus­tralia, and sharks in Mex­ico and Maine,” says Pippa.

He’s about to cross the At­lantic, work­ing as a cam­era­man on board a Volvo Ocean Race round-the-world boat.

He enjoys sail­ing, and de­lighted his mother when he re­cently took her 11ft scow dinghy out for a sail. But his true pas­sion is kite surf­ing.

“He and a friend have de­signed a boat and at­tached a kite to the winch, and they plan to kite surf across the At­lantic,” his mother smiles, with barely a hint of ap­pre­hen­sion in her voice.

“He’s very ad­ven­tur­ous and, like his dad, is very good in a team.”

Al­though not quite as au­da­cious, Pippa has plenty of her own ad­ven­tures. She is an en­thu­si­as­tic walker and enjoys tak­ing four-hour hikes in the hills of Eng­land’s South Downs. She also plans to see more of the world, and be­come fur­ther im­mersed in her artis­tic life.

“I want to in­ves­ti­gate that more, do more, walk up more hills,” she says. “I want to keep go­ing to the the­atre and the movies, and vis­it­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and art gal­leries. I would like to read more; I love lit­er­a­ture. I would like to have more time.” And she re­peats this fi­nal wish.

“I’ve led a pretty ad­ven­tur­ous life, and I don’t plan to slow down any time soon.”

It’s the love from Ki­wis ev­ery­where that keeps me com­ing back.

ABOVE: Pippa and hus­band Pe­ter. They met at the sail­ing club in Pippa’s English vil­lage and mar­ried in 1979, be­gin­ning a life of sea­far­ing ad­ven­ture.

ABOVE: The Blake fam­ily in 1994 on ENZA New Zealand, the boat in which Pe­ter won the Jules Verne Tro­phy for sail­ing around the world non-stop. LEFT: Pe­ter and son James on the water in San Diego in 1995, the year New Zealand first won the Amer­ica’s Cup.

BE­LOW: Pippa with her chil­dren, SarahJane, an artist who now lives in New Zealand with her Kiwi hus­band, and James, a wildlife doc­u­men­tary film-maker.

ABOVE: Pippa in her stu­dio with paint­ings from her Flight­path se­ries, which is in­spired by the views from the plane on her long-haul flights to New Zealand.

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