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Face to Face with Virginia Gay

PUBLISHED: 15:07 14 May 2008 | UPDATED: 08:57 13 July 2010

In her latest Face to Face interview KAREN BETHELL talks to new North Norfolk District Council chairman Virginia Gay. A published author, she began her political career "stuffing envelopes" during the 2001 local elections, and says travelling the world as a youngster has given her an insight into different ways of seeing things .

In her latest Face to Face interview KAREN BETHELL talks to new North Norfolk District Council chairman Virginia Gay. A published author, she began her political career “stuffing envelopes” during the 2001 local elections, and says travelling the world as a youngster has given her an insight into different ways of seeing things . . .

Born in 1951 in Ghana, where her father worked as a geologist for the British Colonial Service, Virginia attended a total of 11 schools before the age of 16.

After spells in New Guinea, California and Alaska, she returned to her Norfolk roots when her family settled in Great Yarmouth, where her great-grandfather was a sea captain.

Virginia finished her schooling in Suffolk before gaining a degree in English and American studies at the University of East Anglia, later going on to study for a post graduate degree at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, where she met future husband Brent.

The couple, who were married in Rockville, Maryland in 1975, stayed on in the US, living in Washington DC. But, after spending a couple of years in Brussels, they decided to return to the UK and, in 1984, bought a house at North Walsham.

Virginia, whose first novel, The Rector, was published in 1980, spent the following 10 years teaching communications and writing at the University of Surrey at Guildford.

Her second book, Penelope and Adeline, was published in the mid 1990s and, after developing a passion for politics while campaigning for Norman Lamb in the 2001 elections, she was elected to the district council representing North Walsham west ward in 2003.

She joined the cabinet in 2005 heading the environmental and planning portfolio.

Last year's local elections saw Virginia elected deputy leader and at April's full council meeting she officially took over as chairman.

Virginia, who has been involved in the annual NNDC environmental awards since 2006, continues to teach creative writing continuing education courses at the UEA.

She is the council's link member for North Walsham Citizens Advice Bureau, and, in her spare time, enjoys, reading, going to the cinema and music.

What is the best thing about your job?

Last year, we celebrated a hundred years of women in local government, and it is nice to be part of an ongoing tradition - both as a woman and as a council member. I think we are very lucky in this country to have a stable government and although what we do at a local level is quite unglamorous, it deals with the things that make our quality of life good. I am still getting used to the idea of being leader, but one thing I would like to see even more emphasis on is the environment as I think that, in this area, it is the biggest challenge we are going to be facing in years to come.

And the worst?

I find the fact that we can't always help people hard. We work in the shadow of central government and when you are elected, you don't always realise the constraints that put a limit on how much we can do.

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

A hard question, but I think that would have to be my grandmother's charm bracelet. It is decorated with coins collected from around the world by her father, who was a Yarmouth sea captain.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

Felbrigg Hall as it is so isolated and it is such a lovely mixture of architectural styles. I especially love the walled gardens and the surrounding countryside.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Looking back, that was probably taking part in a sit-in at university, but it all seems very mild now.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I'm very slow over everything, so I'd like to be the type of person who breezes through things quickly.

What is your proudest moment?

Diving off the high dive to pass a swimming exam at the age of thirteen; it was a once in a lifetime thing that I'd never done before, nor have since.

And your greatest achievement?

I think the nicest thing was getting my first novel published. It was quite an achievement as I didn't have an agent and I was incredibly lucky as the third publisher I sent it to accepted it.

Who do you most admire?

Shirley Williams, for her persistence and for her intellect.

Do you have any fears or phobias?

Tons! My fear of heights is probably the worst - but I do like spiders!

What makes you angry?

Unfairness.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Persuasion, by Jane Austen as I like the mix of dark and light; This is Spinal Tap (1984 Rob Reiner rock band spoof) always makes me laugh, and, on TV, I like the West Wing and Time Team.

How would you like to be remembered?

Fondly.

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