“I like the location and culture of Watlington”
I was born in Kensington in 1944, and grew up there, with my three younger sisters. In my first year at senior school, I started to learn the clarinet, but words can’t describe how bad I was – I had absolutely no aptitude for it whatsoever. My mother suggested I give it up as it was bad for my health (and everybody else’s hearing). I started learning the violin instead which was much better.
My interests at school were all related to history and the classics, but in my mid-teens I became obsessed with becoming a violinist. I was extremely fortunate that various people discerned some talent and helped me along the way. So, at seventeen I went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. There was no history of music in my family but when they saw the extent of my obsession, they gave me their unqualified support, which is perhaps the greatest gift any parent can give their child.
I was at the Guildhall for four years and took every possible opportunity to play with different groups. At the end, when the future was looking very uncertain, I got a call from the London Philharmonic Orchestra to come and play, and that changed my life. I was with them for the best part of 30 years, the second half of which I combined my role as a violinist with being part of the management team, and I became Chairman of the Board, which I did for ten years.
I met my first wife when we were both students, and we had two sons, Alex and Nick. The marriage broke up in 1987. I went to live in a tiny cottage in Sussex, near the Glyndebourne Festival Opera where the London Philharmonic plays for three months of the year. I love that part of the world.
One of the things I’m most proud of in my career is that when I was in the London Philharmonic I started their whole education and outreach programme. We were the first Symphony Orchestra to have such a programme. Combining Education and the Arts has always been important to me.
I met Fiona when she first auditioned for the Orchestra. We’ve been together for 30 years now and married for three. She lived in Mitcham, so to start with we commuted between each other’s houses. I left the London Philharmonic and after a six month sabbatical, I got my next job which was Chief Executive of the Berkshire Young Musicians Trust. This was based in Reading, too far to commute to, so we rented a cottage on a farm just outside Marlow.
Fiona became pregnant with George, and shortly afterwards we moved to Watlington. We bought a Grade II listed Queen Anne period house on Couching Street. It had a walled garden, a cellar, and it was everything I had wanted. We moved in November 1997.
My first impression of Watlington was that it was very, very welcoming. Our next-door neighbours invited us round and made us the strongest gin and tonic I have ever tasted anywhere in my life! Fiona met people through the NCT classes, and in time we needed a childminder and were introduced to Debbie Little. It was a happy experience, she treated George like her own child.
I was commuting to Reading and Fiona went back to her work as a violinist. Fiona is a member of two very distinguished orchestras, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Academy of St Martins in the Fields. About 40 – 60% of her work is overseas. George made his first trip with her when he was just six weeks old. They went to Graz in Austria, and Fiona’s parents joined them to help with the childcare.
As part of my work at the Berkshire Music Trust I was doing a bit of music coaching with senior students. This was one of the loveliest parts of the job – working with gifted and ambitious youngsters is a treat. After nearly twelve years there, I left and set up as an education and music consultant.
George went to Watlington Primary School and at some point I started getting asked why I wasn’t a Governor. I ended up getting co-opted as the Local Authority Governor. Then when George started at Icknield, I was asked to be a Governor there, too. George has left school now and I am still a Governor at both the Primary School and Icknield, as well as a Trustee on the Acer Trust which looks after the Watlington schools and five other Oxfordshire Schools. I am passionate about Education and the Arts, and hope that my mix of experience is of some use. I also feel strongly that children should be able to access a good quality education in the community where they live, so that’s part of my motivation for being part of that process.
I’m also Chair of Trustees on the OYAP Trust. It’s a small youth arts charity which uses the Arts in all their forms as a pathway for vulnerable and underprivileged young people to find new confidence to develop and flourish. George played all his Rugby at Wallingford Rugby Club so I’m also a Trustee of Wallingford Sports Trust.
I’ve always been passionate about cricket, but never had time to play. It’s all consuming – I will watch it for hours and hours on end! I’m a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club, which entitles me to wear the red and yellow livery of the Club. I was on the waiting list for ten years and I’ve been a member now for twenty.
I like Watlington, it’s location and culture. Right now, in this blessed crisis, I feel incredibly lucky to be living here, able to go for walks in the local countryside. It’s the whole atmosphere of the town, the shopkeepers, and everything that goes to make the town what it is. Five years ago, we decided to downsize and moved 500 meters as the crow flies to the other side of Watlington. Since we’ve lived here, we’ve never discussed moving anywhere else. We’re very happy here.
Watlington Folk is a documentary project by photographer Nicola Schafer. Watlington is blessed with pretty buildings and beautiful countryside, however it is the people who live here that truly make the place. This project aims to capture that through a series of portraits of the people who live here together with their “Watlington Story”. For more information, please contact Nicola through her website http://www.nicolaschafer.co.uk