Insider Exeter's Guildhall

Sometimes life throws you a curveball, and just now I find myself amazed to write that my craziest curveball yet has come to me in the shape of the tricornered Deputy Lord Mayor of Exeter’s hat. I never expected in my wildest dreams that when I started campaigning for the Green Party it would lead to this.

I was elected a Green Party Councillor for Exeter City Council just last year and now have the enormous honour of serving this lovely city as its Deputy Lord Mayor. I’m not exactly certain what this year of ceremonial Mayoral office will hold, but I can’t wait to find out.

Fortunately, while my inexperience in the role is total, by contrast the experience and knowledge of the real deal – your actual Lord Mayor – is huge. By convention the Lord Mayor and Deputy are from the same political group, even though the posts are theoretically non political. In Exeter the Greens have a cooperation agreement with the Liberal Democrats, and previously with an independent as well. Our combined forces meant that last year we overtook the number of Tory councillors and so became the official opposition. This afforded us the privilege of sitting on the front bench of the Guildhall’s ancient wooden benches with only the actual sword of Henry VII (I know –  no wonder Americans go nuts for this country) between us and the ruling party’s front bench.

This year we have grown our numbers of Green Councillors yet further and so are now the second largest party even without Liberal Democrat support. But we have retained the cooperation agreement. And one fortunate result of this is that the Lord Mayor is to be a Liberal Democrat who has been a councillor for many years, and indeed has been the Deputy Lord Mayor twice before. Twice the bridesmaid now finally the bride, as the joke in the Council goes. Standards of comedy are lower in local politics you understand.

The Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor are ceremonial roles and we have to be non political when acting in these capacities. The Lord Mayor is not allowed to sit on any committees for their year of office and not allowed to vote in Council. No committee papers to read for a whole year – I have repeatedly extended my jealousy, I mean sympathy, to my Mayoral colleague. No such situation for the Deputy Lord Mayor – I will be on committees as usual and vote in the Council chamber from the minstrels’ gallery. Looking down on proceedings both physically, and potentially metaphorically.

And so it is that I found myself in the historic wood-panelled Guildhall – literally the oldest civic building in England which is still used for civic affairs –  in full Mayoral ceremonial dress talking of my immense pride in taking up this position alongside the new Lord Mayor. But talking wasn’t enough, as a singer I wanted to regale the audience with a few bars of a suitably chosen stirring song. Being Exeter’s first ever Green Deputy Lord Mayor seemed something worth celebrating in song. I wanted something that represents Exeter and all its glory – “We built this City” sprang to mind, but the title of the song ends “On rock and roll” and that didn’t seem fully appropriate for the occasion. Then a rousing Pogues tune came to mind, but that was “Dirty Old Town” which might have had me making headlines as the first Deputy Lord Mayor to be hung, drawn and quartered. So I thought I would turn to the nation’s favourite song instead, but as that is Bohemian Rhapsody you’ll be pleased to know that I rapidly turned away from that idea. So instead I sang the opening and closing lines from that masterpiece of a song which means so many different things to so many people, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. And as that soaring octave leap cascaded over those historic wooden panels and round the carving of the names of previous Lord Mayors going back to the year 1200 I felt the surprise in the audience almost match the surprise in myself.

Make your own music the song goes, even if nobody else sings along. Because when someone throws you a crazy curveball, even if it’s a hat with three corners and Mayoral regalia, you’ve just got to catch it and roll with it in your own way. See you at a concert for the Lord Mayor’s charity, Force, on Saturday June 10th at Southernhay UR Church 7.30 for more of the same. Or at the opening of a school fete, a newsagents, an envelope. You name it I’ll open it. To be honest, I just can’t wait to wear that hat.

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Image credit: Diliff – Creative Commons