Sheringham's Mayor

Karen Bethell Sheringham mayor Noel Gant was born in 1937 to local couple Ernie and Irene. The family was struck by tragedy when, after giving birth to his sister, two-year-old Noel's mother died.

Karen Bethell

Sheringham mayor Noel Gant was born in 1937 to local couple Ernie and Irene. The family was struck by tragedy when, after giving birth to his sister, two-year-old Noel's mother died.

The youngster was sent to live with his grandparents Maggie and Herbert at Lower Bodham, while his sibling was taken in by Ernie's parents in Leicester.

The pair didn't meet up again until 7 years later, when Ernie remarried and sent for the youngsters to live with him and his new wife in a thatched cottage at the bottom of Beeston Hill.

After attending Sheringham Primary School until the age of 11, Noel won a scholarship to the Paston School at North Walsham and, aged 17, joined the RAF where he trained as a pilot.

Because there was a surplus of pilots at the end of the Korean war, the RAF offered Noel the chance to re-train as a physiotherapist, and after completing his degree at Pinderfields Hospital, Yorkshire, he was posted to Aden in the Persian Gulf.

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A keen athlete, Noel began running competitively in 1955, quickly rising through the ranks to county 440m champion. He was then selected to run for his country and, in 1958 was the 4th fastest 100m runner in England.

Noel returned to Sheringham in 1979, when, after a 25-year career in the RAF, he took the job of community physiotherapist for north Norfolk.

After retiring in 1998, he threw himself into community life, also concentrating on painting local landscapes, which he has exhibited at the gallery he set up at Sheringham community centre, and at the annual art show staged by the town's preservation society.

As well as taking on the job of community centre administrator, Noel became a town councillor 7 years ago, and was made mayor in May of last year.

He lives at Sheringham with his German wife Margrit, whom he met while in the RAF. The couple, who celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year, have two daughters, Jeanette and Bettina.

What is the best thing about your job as mayor?

Meeting people. As a physio, I found that 90 per cent of my job was communication and, as mayor, I am getting that again. The other thing is that this job is extremely good for morale; when someone comes up and says I'm doing a good job it is really rewarding, and of course it is lovely to feel I am actually doing something for Sheringham.

And the worst?

Trying to please all of the people all of the time - you just can't do it.

What one possession would you save from a fire?

A china cockerel. It sat next to a First World War shell on the mantelpiece at my grandmother's house, and, on my 25th wedding anniversary, my Aunt Bertha handed it down to me. It was a very emotional moment and it has had pride of place at my house ever since. I have no idea how much it is worth, but if someone told me it was worth £5,000, I'd tell them it is worth £1 million as it reminds me of a very happy time in my life.

Where do you go to unwind?

Beeston Hill, where we lived when I was a child. Going to the top of the hill and sitting looking out to sea was my escape.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

That's easy, St Margaret's Church at Cley. It is one of the most wonderful pieces of architecture I have ever seen; it is a mini cathedral in a village.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

After I was posted to Germany with the RAF, I got terribly drunk one night and went outside to sleep it off in the heather. A very noisy gentleman came around putting up election posters and, after convincing him I could do a much better job, I stuck them all over the village - even on the windows. The following morning, I was called up in front of my commanding officer who sent me off to take them all down.

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

I think I would like to be a bit more serious, as I tend sometimes to be overly flippant and I think it annoys people.

What is your proudest moment?

Getting married to Margrit because, standing there in all our finery, we were both so happy.

And your greatest achievement?

That would have to be running 200m in 21.9 seconds in Brugen, Germany. It doesn't seem like much now, but, in 1958, it was quite an impressive time.

Who do you most admire?

Monet - he was the most wonderful exponent of painting and I just wish I could paint like him.

Do you have any fears or phobias?

Meeting Old Shuck!

What makes you angry?

Bigots - people who have framed an opinion and aren't willing to listen to reason.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Catcher in the Rye, A Kid for Two Farthings , and any television programme with Spike Milligan in it.

How would you like to be remembered?

Certainly not for anything fantastic or great, just with affection and as a pleasant person who did his best.