Representing the Crown in Dorset – Angus Campbell
Angus Campbell has been Dorset’s Lord-Lieutenant since mid-January. John Newth has been to meet him and to discover how he came to take on the important role.
Published in March ’14
Dorset has been remarkably fortunate in its Lord-Lieutenants over the last fifty years. Sir Joseph Weld, Lord Digby, Michael Fulford-Dobson and Valerie Pitt-Rivers form a distinguished roll call to which may now be added the name of Angus Campbell, the latest person to be honoured with the appointment as personal representative of the Crown in the county.
Mr Campbell cannot claim to be Dorset-born but he is certainly Dorset-raised since his parents, who met in Cairo while they were both serving in the Special Operations Executive during the War, moved here while he was still a baby. His father did not return to his native West of Scotland after leaving the Army but set up an agricultural contracting business first in Charlton Marshall and then in Shroton. Young Angus attended the village school in Shroton, then Clayesmore Prep, before completing his formal education at Shebbear College, a school in North Devon with a strong agricultural tradition.
By now his father had bought 300-acre Preston Hill Farm on the downs above Iwerne Minster, but Angus was not yet ready to settle and took himself off to New Zealand on a government scheme that involved working in agriculture for two years: in his case, testing dairy cattle around Rotorua. One advantage of going to New Zealand was that he had always been intensely interested in flying, and learning to fly was cheap there.
Back in England, he decided to pursue this interest by joining the Army Air Corps, with whom he served for seven years, in Germany and on two postings to Cyprus, where he met his wife, Carola, an archaeologist who was working on the excavations at Idalion. His first posting to the island was actually an attachment to the UN peacekeeping force (‘The Green Line ran through the middle of Nicosia Airport’), while the second was as second-in-command of the Army Air Corps flight at the British base of Dhekelia.
Leaving the Army after seven years, he returned to manage the farm, where he took a special interest in the shooting and ran semi-commercial shoots elsewhere in Dorset as well. ‘It suited my interests, and you meet so many people and make so many friends,’ he explains. However, he was also very involved in the farm’s other activities; at one time it supported 600 sheep, most of which he lambed himself. A few years ago, the farm’s area was reduced when Mr Campbell’s brother, Lorne, a distinguished powerboat designer, wished to realise his interest in it, and today much of the grazing is let.
Even before this development, more and more of Mr Campbell’s time was being taken up with local government. He first stood for North Dorset DC in the 1980s, being defeated in the Hills and Vale ward by the long-standing Liberal incumbent, Dr Geoffrey Tapper. In 1989 he was asked to stand in Blandford for Dorset CC and agreed somewhat unwillingly, but was assured that he would lose again. After the count, he phoned his wife and said, ‘It’s all gone wrong.’ ‘Never mind,’ she replied. ‘You didn’t think you’d win.’ ‘No, you don’t understand,’ he answered, ‘I have!’
Aware that he was in danger of neglecting the farm, he served only one four-year term, but he did become chairman of the North Dorset Conservative Association and in 1999 was elected to North Dorset DC, where he was at once chosen as leader and had to embark on a drastic programme of streamlining. Two years later he rejoined Dorset CC and remained a member until he stood down last May, being leader for the last seven years of that spell. He had left the district council in 2011.
As well as the work that he did on the two councils, Mr Campbell became interested in the wider organisations relating to local government. He served on the South West Regional Assembly, assisted its early closure and became the founder-Chairman of the New Strategic Leaders Board, the body which brought together local authorities from the Isles of Scilly to Gloucestershire. Its objects were to improve the service that its member authorities gave to the public via mutual co-operation and to ensure that the South West was treated fairly in the budgetary and other decisions being made in Whitehall. He also chaired the two succeeding bodies that represented the South West Region, until his retirement last May. However, perhaps the highlight of Mr Campbell’s council work was when he became chairman of the Dorset Olympic Legacy Board and then of the Dorset Olympic Board, which had overall responsibility for the delivery of the Olympic sailing events, Dorset’s contribution to the 2012 Games.
It is not very usual for a recently retired local politician to be chosen as a Lord-Lieutenant, but although he may have been a committed Conservative, party lines were never of prime importance to Mr Campbell. ‘All councillors are serving all the people of the county or of their district,’ he insists. ‘It doesn’t matter what colour you wear when you’re electioneering, once you’re in the job, you should be doing your best for everybody.’ He is also well qualified for the Lord-Lieutenant’s unofficial role of bringing disparate people or organisations together to discuss matters that might be of mutual interest for the benefit of the county as a whole: ‘In local politics you sometimes have to fight your corner, but my preferred style has always been a joining-up, bridging one rather than a confrontational or aggressive one.’
It is too early to ask the new Lord-Lieutenant for the sort of steer that he expects to be giving to the movers and shakers of Dorset on the way that the county might develop. He does emphasise that ‘Dorset is unique, with a real personality of its own and an astounding history, and we must celebrate that. It also enjoys a comparatively high rate of employment, but it is comparatively low-paid employment, while inward migration continues to push up house prices. The county needs more industry, but intelligent industry that respects the environment in which it finds itself.’ He would like to see all parts of the ceremonial county of which he is Lord-Lieutenant (the administrative county of Dorset and the unitary
authorities of Poole and Bournemouth) becoming involved in strategic consideration of the best way forward for Dorset as a whole.
What of the formal, ceremonial role of a Lord-Lieutenant? He or she is expected to take an interest in the military life of the county, particularly the volunteer forces, and Mr Campbell is ideally equipped through his military family and his Army experience.
The Lord-Lieutenant’s most high-profile duties are representing the Crown at occasions such as local investitures, openings, unveilings and so on, and welcoming to the county any member of the Royal Family on an official visit. The qualities of friendliness, sang-froid and mastery of a brief are essential on such occasions, and no-one who knows Mr Campbell or his work will doubt his ability to bring those qualities to his new office. ◗