Getting Dressed: Lady Hale Brigid Keenan
As she leaves the Supreme Court, Brenda Hale explains that brooch
In all the back-biting politics over the past half-year, there was one moment of pure, non-partisan, sartorial joy.
Last September, the President of the Supreme Court pronounced the verdict on Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament, wearing a big spider brooch on her sombre black dress.
Across the land, people were transfixed. Was she sending a message about tangled webs to Boris – in the way the Queen was said to be demonstrating her feelings for Trump when she greeted him wearing a brooch given to her by Obama? Had jewellery become a way for women to send coded messages?
But there was no secret message – the brooch cost £12 from Cards Galore. It was bought by her husband. And Brenda Hale – who retired from the Supreme Court in January, shortly before turning 75 – says she would probably never have worn it if she’d known what a fuss it would cause.
She has brooches that ‘go’ with different dresses. It just happened that the spider was pinned to the one she wore that day. In our picture (right), she wears a similar black dress which goes with bee brooches (vintage, by Trifari). Both dresses are by Goat.
Hale’s sudden celebrity caused other confusion – the Daily Mail did a story on how she once worked in a pub, pulling pints. ‘A complete myth,’ she laughs. ‘Probably some journalist mistook working for the Bar for working at a bar.’
Brenda Hale is small – she is supposed to be 5 foot 2 and thinks she has shrunk. But she is awesome and clearly doesn’t suffer fools gladly. When I mention that on meeting her I feel I should curtsy, she more or less tells me not to be so silly. Her parents were both head teachers and she and her two sisters all feature as Head Girls on the honours board of her grammar school in Yorkshire. She graduated in law from Cambridge in 1966 top of her year, with a starred First – and has achieved many more firsts since (or seconds, which she says is just as important): first woman to be a Law Commissioner; the first female Law Lord; the first woman President of the Supreme Court; the second female Court of Appeal judge. She enjoyed learning and is proud to have been a ‘speccy swot’; she insists that being a swot doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. She clearly has lots herself: she was relaxed enough to appear on Masterchef a couple of years ago. When she was made a dame, she recruited her granddaughter (11 at the time) to help design her coat of arms. It features a castle (representing Richmond in Yorkshire, where she was born and grew up, and still has a house) and scrolls (the law), supported by two Disneyesque frog princes. Her motto is ‘Equal to Everything’ – her message to all women.
Lady Hale would never dream of buying an outfit online: ‘I have to get into it to see what it looks like.’ She shops at Ede & Ravenscroft in Chancery Lane – London’s oldest tailor and robe-maker, founded in 1689, specialising in clothes for judges, barristers, academics and university graduates. ‘It also does some very decent men’s tailoring and it has a women’s department: Goat, Max Mara and a bit of Emporio Armani.’ She used to delight in high-heeled stilettos but now likes shoes by Hotter. ‘I’ve got loads of them because they are so comfortable. I don’t want to wear grand high heels any longer. When you get older, going up and down stairs in them becomes harder to do safely.’
She watches her diet, cutting out carbs when necessary, and she walks to the House of Lords from her Westminster home. She washes and blow-dries her hair every day, and has it cut every six weeks by her hairdresser in Islington.
Hale uses Lancôme make-up and skincare. She has never had a facial in her life: ‘I think my skin is in pretty good nick for 74.’
She calls her husband (Julian Farrand, a former Law Commissioner) the Frog Prince (‘a joke too long to explain now,’ she says). They collect frog ornaments. ‘Well, I am not sure if they are frogs or toads,’ she jokes, looking at two on her desk.
Long ago, Dr Farrand began to give his wife brooches to ‘discreetly enliven’ the dark suits she had to wear as a Family Division judge. Though the dress code was slightly more relaxed later in the House of Lords, where women can wear dresses (which she greatly prefers), the habit continued.
Hence the world-famous spider.