Bid­ding to get the Bayeux, crowd­fund­ing and host­ing gay wed­dings… As English Her­itage pre­pares to be freed from gov­ern­ment ties, it is fresh­en­ing up its act as a 21st-cen­tury char­ity. At its helm and push­ing for change is the Queen's son-in-law Sir Tim La

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Just Williams - Pho­to­graphs by Tom Jamieson

Vice Ad­mi­ral Sir Tim Lau­rence, hus­band of Princess Anne and son-in-law of the Queen, has driven alone in his Land Rover Dis­cov­ery from Gat­combe Park, his Glouces­ter­shire home, to the Shrop­shire town of Iron­bridge. He has no as­sis­tant, no se­cu­rity and is ca­su­ally dressed in a green Bar­bour-style coat, open shirt and bur­gundy trousers. ‘Call me Tim. Ev­ery­one else does,’ he says af­fa­bly as we shake hands on a pleas­antly mild and sunny spring morn­ing.

Tall, straight-backed and with an air of au­thor­ity that be­fits his naval back­ground, Sir Tim pro­ceeds to in­spect the ex­ten­sive, £3.6 mil­lion con­ser­va­tion work be­ing per­formed on the Iron Bridge that gave the town its name, spans a nar­row gorge above the River Sev­ern and is one of the jew­els of English Her­itage, the or­gan­i­sa­tion he chairs.

Com­pleted in 1779, it was the first sin­gle-span bridge in the world to be con­structed not of tim­ber or stone, but of cast iron – 378 tons of the stuff. It was built by a lo­cal iron­mas­ter, Abra­ham Darby, to show­case an en­gi­neer­ing break­through that soon spread to the rest of Europe. It be­came a pre-em­i­nent sym­bol of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, and would prob­a­bly have sur­vived just fine had the gorge not nar­rowed over the past 240 years, caus­ing stresses and cracks in the bridge’s el­e­gant arches.

‘It’s such an im­por­tant site in the his­tory of Eng­land and Bri­tain and the world,’ Sir Tim re­marks, as we duck through the scaf­fold­ing in which the bridge is presently en­cased. ‘The word “iconic” is hugely overused, but if you can’t use it here you can’t use it any­where.’

He likens Iron­bridge to an 18th-cen­tury Sil­i­con Val­ley. He jokes with some of the men clean­ing the or­nate iron­work: ‘We have a naval say­ing, “If it moves, salute it. If it doesn’t, paint it!”’ Ever the naval of­fi­cer, he also gen­tly rep­ri­mands me for hold­ing the rungs, not the up­rights, while climb­ing down a lad­der.

The in­spec­tion over, we re­pair to a flimsy pre­fab­ri­cated build­ing that serves as the work­site of­fice, so I can con­duct a rare in­ter­view with Sir Tim. This is the more ar­du­ous part of his visit. Speak­ing to jour­nal­ists is ‘not my favourite oc­cu­pa­tion’, he ad­mits with a smile, but he is mak­ing an ex­cep­tion for The Tele­graph Mag­a­zine be­cause he is keen to talk about the trans­for­ma­tion of English Her­itage.

A heav­ily sub­sided quango un­til 2015, it is now rac­ing to be­come a fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent and com­pletely au­ton­o­mous char­ity by the time its steadily di­min­ish­ing gov­ern­ment sup­port ends for good in 2022. ‘That is quite a tall or­der,’ Sir Tim says, but all is go­ing to plan so far. ‘We are on the path to­wards fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity.’

English Her­itage is nowhere near as big or well known as the Na­tional Trust. It is the cus­to­dian of what Sir Tim calls a ‘hodge­podge’ of about 420 mon­u­ments, build­ings and sites that loosely tell the his­tory of Eng­land, and for which the gov­ern­ment had pro­gres­sively as­sumed re­spon­si­bil­ity since 1882. They in­clude Ro­man ruins, medieval vil­lages, an­cient forts, cas­tles, abbeys, gar­dens, stat­ues, a wind­mill and even a Cold War bunker.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion none­the­less ex­pects to re­cruit and fete its mil­lionth mem­ber some­time this sum­mer – mem­ber­ship has gone up from 800,000 since its ‘pri­vati­sa­tion’. ‘My guess is cham­pagne will be in­volved,’ Sir Tim chuck­les. Last year English Her­itage at­tracted a record 6.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors to the quar­ter of its prop­er­ties that charge ad­mis­sion. It also gen­er­ated a record £103 mil­lion in rev­enue, of which just £14.6 mil­lion was from the gov­ern­ment.

‘The se­cret is pre­sent­ing our sites in a more in­ter­est­ing and ac­ces­si­ble way to the pub­lic, so more peo­ple want to visit them and go away hav­ing had a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence, and tell their friends and want to join us as mem­bers,’ Sir Tim says.

That is cer­tainly part of the story. English Her­itage is investing a one-off, £80 mil­lion part­ing gift from the gov­ern­ment not only on main­te­nance and con­ser­va­tion, but on up­grad­ing tea rooms, gift shops and other fa­cil­i­ties. It has built a new visi- tors’ cen­tre at Stone­henge to re­place the pre­vi­ous mon­stros­ity. It has com­mis­sioned a dra­matic new £4 mil­lion foot­bridge to the is­land cas­tle of Tin­tagel in Corn­wall. This sum­mer it will open two new in­ter­pre­ta­tion cen­tres on Hadrian’s Wall. From Easter, a tem­po­rary walk­way will for the first time en­able vis­i­tors to in­spect the or­nate un­der­belly of Iron Bridge close up – a fa­cil­ity English Her­itage would never have of­fered as a quango.

Else­where, English Her­itage prop­er­ties seek to at­tract vis­i­tors with joust­ing knights, hide­and-seek ar­eas and mus­ket fir­ings, but Sir Tim re­jects the charge that they are be­ing ‘Dis­ney­fied’. ‘We’re about mak­ing them ac­ces­si­ble and in­ter­est­ing,’ he in­sists. ‘We’re not about turn­ing them into theme parks.’

English Her­itage’s new in­de­pen­dence has also made it much eas­ier – and im­per­a­tive – to ob­tain grants. ‘In the old days we would have looked for grants,’ Sir Tim says, ‘but there was al­ways this prob­lem that we were a gov­ern­ment body so [peo­ple would say] why would the gov­ern­ment want grants to pay for things. It was al­ways a bit of a strug­gle. Now I think the mes­sage is clearer about what we are. We are very dis­tinct and very separate from gov­ern­ment and we need sup­port from the pub­lic to help us sur­vive.’

For the Iron Bridge con­ser­va­tion project, for ex­am­ple, English Her­itage se­cured a €1 mil­lion grant from Ger­many’s Her­mann Reemtsma Foun­da­tion. The Foun­da­tion said it re­garded the bridge as a ‘po­tent re­minder of our con­ti­nent’s com­mon cul­tural roots and val­ues’ in what it called ‘the cur­rent cli­mate’, but Sir Tim is pru­dently eva­sive when I sug­gest the grant is a di­rect con­se­quence, or sil­ver lin­ing, of Brexit. ‘I’m not sure I want to link it to Brexit at all,’ he replies.

‘We’re about mak­ing sites ac­ces­si­ble and in­ter­est­ing. We’re not about turn­ing them into theme parks’

In­de­pen­dence has forced English Her­itage to be­come more in­no­va­tive and com­mer­cially minded in other ways too. It se­cured nearly £50,000 to­wards the cost of con­serv­ing Iron Bridge through its first-ever crowd­fund­ing project. It proac­tively so­lic­its do­na­tions and lega­cies. It now seeks cor­po­rate spon­sors – Unilever, for ex­am­ple, helped it clean two cen­turies of grime from the mag­nif­i­cent bronze statue of an an­gel and four horses on top of London’s Welling­ton Arch. It rents its prop­er­ties out for films, cor­po­rate events and wed­dings – Dark­est Hour was partly filmed at Dover Cas­tle and Brodsworth Hall in South York­shire, and Victoria & Ab­dul at Os­borne House on the Isle of Wight. Os­borne also hosted its first gay wed­ding last sum­mer.

Does Sir Tim’s royal sta­tus help when it comes to so­lic­it­ing spon­sor­ship or do­na­tions? ‘I’ve al­ways tried to do what I do as me rather than be­cause I’m con­nected to the Royal fam­ily,’ he replies. ‘If be­cause of who I’m mar­ried to that makes peo­ple a lit­tle bit more

in­ter­ested in what I do, and that means I can talk to them about sup­port­ing us, that’s no bad thing, but I don’t ac­tively ex­ploit it.’

As an English Her­itage com­mis­sioner since 2011, Sir Tim was an en­thu­si­as­tic pro­po­nent of the or­gan­i­sa­tion es­cap­ing the shack­les of an in­creas­ingly par­si­mo­nious Gov­ern­ment. ‘There’s a change of mind­set, un­doubt­edly,’ he says. ‘There’s noth­ing like hav­ing the in­cen­tive of fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity to force you to try some­thing new to see if it’ll work, and we’re cer­tainly do­ing that.’

English Her­itage is a strong sup­porter, al­beit with a few small qual­i­fi­ca­tions, of the pro­posed new tun­nel to carry the heav­ily con­gested A303 be­neath – in­stead of past – Stone­henge, which is by far its big­gest money-spin­ner and sub­sidises many of its other prop­er­ties.

Sir Tim be­lieves the tun­nel will be ‘hugely ben­e­fi­cial’ to Stone­henge, and sounds pos­i­tively im­pa­tient with the con­tin­ued op­po­si­tion to a project first mooted in 1989. ‘There are some ob­jec­tions which are raised through a lack of un­der­stand­ing,’ he says. ‘Those who worry about the ar­chae­ol­ogy of the World Her­itage Site don’t need to. We will make sure we don’t dam­age any part of the site.

‘Oth­ers worry the light­ing of the tun­nel will im­pact on the am­bi­ence of Stone­henge. Ex­actly the op­po­site is go­ing to be the case. We will take away the light­ing of the traf­fic and the light­ing of the tun­nel won’t be vis­i­ble at all.’

English Her­itage is also lob­by­ing to dis­play the 950-year-old Bayeux Ta­pes­try at Bat­tle Abbey, on the site of the Bat­tle of Hast­ings, when France lends it to Bri­tain in 2022. Sir Tim shies from con­tro­versy. He down­plays re­ports that his or­gan­i­sa­tion is locked in a fierce bat­tle with the Bri­tish Mu­seum and the V&A for that priv­i­lege, say­ing merely that ‘it will be an in­ter­est­ing de­bate over the next cou­ple of years about where it goes’.

But he ac­knowl­edges that host­ing the medieval mas­ter­piece would be ‘fi­nan­cially pro­duc­tive’, and pro­ceeds to ex­pound ‘a very strong case for it go­ing to Bat­tle in East Sus­sex. That’s where the bat­tle [of Hast­ings] took place, and cre­at­ing a build­ing there to house it so peo­ple can see the ta­pes­try then walk out on to the bat­tle­field scene would be great.’

He ex­pects sup­port from Am­ber Rudd, the Home Sec­re­tary and MP for Hast­ings and Rye, and adds, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could get peo­ple

to go out of London and see some­thing dif­fer­ent?’

English Her­itage has also se­cured the sup­port of pri­vate phi­lan­thropists to fund London’s 150-year-old blue-plaque scheme, which was sus­pended in 2013 be­cause of deep gov­ern­ment cuts.

Is it ac­cept­able, I ask, that just 13 per cent of the plaques hon­our women? ‘No, it’s not,’ Sir Tim replies. ‘The prob­lem for us is that the scheme de­pends on mem­bers of the pub­lic nom­i­nat­ing peo­ple, and we’re very much en­cour­ag­ing them to pro­mote more women.’

The same goes for eth­nic mi­nori­ties, though English Her­itage did re­cently erect a plaque in Haringey for Lau­rie Cun­ning­ham, the first black foot­baller to play for Eng­land. ‘We have to turn that around,’ he says. He blames what he chooses to call not sex­ism or racism, but a ‘sub­con­scious bias’ against mi­nori­ties and women: ‘It’s not very help­ful to look back at cir­cum­stances 50 or 100 years ago and ap­ply mod­ern la­bels to them.’

Sir Tim re­ceives no salary for chair­ing English Her­itage. He does the job be­cause he en­joys it, and not as a royal duty. I ask whether trans­form­ing it from quango to in­de­pen­dent char­ity is a big­ger chal­lenge than, for ex­am­ple, in­ter­cept­ing weapons ship­ments as a pa­trol-boat com­man­der off North­ern Ire­land dur­ing the Trou­bles; or run­ning the vast and var­ied prop­erty port­fo­lio of the Min­istry of De­fence; or even mar­ry­ing into the Royal fam­ily with all the loss of pri­vacy that en­tailed (in­ti­mate let­ters that Sir Tim wrote to Anne when he was the Queen’s Equerry and she was still mar­ried to Cap­tain Mark Phillips were fa­mously leaked to a tabloid).

Some­what to my sur­prise, he takes the ques­tion in his stride and an­swers quite can­didly. ‘The hard­est time was in the lead-up to our mar­riage, and in the early weeks and months of our mar-

riage where there was a lot of scru­tiny. I think I’ve got used to it. I don’t suf­fer it in any­thing like the same in­ten­sity as the Prince of Wales, or the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge or Prince Harry.’

Un­prompted, he con­tin­ues: ‘We’re com­ing up to Prince Harry and Meghan’s wed­ding. They will go through a very in­tense pe­riod of me­dia cov­er­age and it’s tough. It is dif­fi­cult for them.’ Is that fair, I ask? ‘That’s a bit like ask­ing whether it’s fair that it’s rained all night here on our won­der­ful project,’ he replies. ‘There’s not a lot you can do about it.’

Does he have any ad­vice for Meghan? ‘She’s ab­so­lutely great and she cer­tainly doesn’t need any ad­vice from me, but the sim­plest ad­vice for all of us is “just be your­self ”. If she does that, she’ll be fine.'

We turn to sport. He sails and plays ten­nis, but un­like his wife and step­daugh­ter Zara, both Olympic eques­tri­ans, he does not ride – ‘It’s a very dan­ger­ous ac­tiv­ity and I leave it to much braver peo­ple than me,’ he dead­pans. Like Anne, he is a pas­sion­ate sup­porter of the Scot­tish rugby team, which leads to ‘very en­joy­able con­ver­sa­tions’ with his son-in-law, Mike Tin­dall, who played 75 times for Eng­land and has the crooked nose to prove it.

But Sir Tim wrenches the con­ver­sa­tion back to English Her­itage as the in­ter­view ends. Fam­ily mem­ber­ship is great value at just £99 a year, he says. ‘You ei­ther buy one-and-a-bit tick­ets to watch Eng­land play foot­ball at Wem­b­ley or you buy fam­ily mem­ber­ship of English Her­itage. Your choice is between a year of fun or 90 min­utes of anx­i­ety.’

A pri­vate and some­what self-ef­fac­ing man, more courtier than prince, Sir Tim dis­likes be­ing pho­tographed even more than be­ing in­ter­viewed. He poses briefly and re­luc­tantly for a bare min­i­mum of pic­tures and then he is off, duty done, strid­ing pur­pose­fully across the mag­nif­i­cent Iron Bridge to pick up a pork pie for lunch be­fore driv­ing home.

To be­come an English Her­itage mem­ber and sup­port the char­ity’s work, ei­ther visit an English Her­itage site or go to english-her­

‘Meghan’s ab­so­lutely great… the sim­plest ad­vice is “just be your­self ”. If she does that, she’ll be fine’

Above, from left English Her­itage has restarted its blue plaque pro­gramme; a CGI of a new foot­bridge at Tin­tagel

Above English Her­itage's restora­tion of the Iron Bridge, a key sym­bol of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion

Left Sir Tim Lau­rence, pho­tographed in Iron­bridge last month.

Above, from left Sir Tim with the Princess Royal on their first wed­ding an­niver­sary in 1993; mar­ry­ing at Crathie Parish Church in 1992. Be­low The cou­ple watch­ing Scot­land play at the Rugby World Cup, 2015

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