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"The fountain of honour"

Tim Stevenson OBE talks to Sam Bennett about being Oxfordshire's Lord-Lieutenant, the point of the Queen, and the upcoming celebrations for her 90th birthday


"She is an important piece of glue"

Tim Stevenson started out as a barrister before spending 35 years in business both here and overseas.

 

When BP bought Burmah Castrol, a company he was running, he elected to take on a variety of different ventures as opposed to a singular big one. These consisted of chairing the Oxford Brookes University board, charity work and a number of non-executive directorships of commercial companies.

Today he is Oxfordshire's Lord-Lieutenant, something he never expected he’d be doing in his law and business days.

“It’s not the sort of thing where you think: ‘when I grow up I’ll be a Lord-Lieutenant’,” Tim Stevenson says of his position, claiming that the opportunity to do it came as a surprise.

“You have to think quite hard about it because it’s a very big commitment,” he states. “You sit round the kitchen table with your wife and think whether to do it or not. We decided it was a great honour and wonderful opportunity so took it on.”

In regards to the job he actually has taken on, Tim says most people don’t really know what it entails, “and why should they?” he adds.

“If they thought about it at all they’d think what we do is organise visits by the Queen and other members of the Royal Family to our county – and that is something we do; but that’s the ice above the waterline, there’s an enormous amount that we do below it: Lord-Lieutenants need to get to know what’s going on in every nook and cranny of the county, that’s one of the reasons we do it for a long time (there’s an expectation that we’ll do it for ten years).”

The job is directly linked to HMQ. “Lord-Lieutenants tend to call the Queen the boss,” Tim tells me. “It is she who appoints us and we are answerable and accountable to her. At the same time we are her representatives in our county, so we have to behave and do the sort of things the Queen would if she lived in our county. Behaving means not doing anything that would bring any discredit on the crown or what the crown does; but, rather the reverse, to enhance what the crown can do in terms of the contribution it can make to local life.”

But what about the Queen’s importance to this country as a whole? “You have to go back to thinking about what the role of the monarchy is,” he says. “The Queen is Head of State. She interests herself in everything that is going on in the country, she pats people on the back, awards people, thanks them, she’s the fountain of honour in the country. She represents, in a sense, all that’s best in the UK.

“She can celebrate our traditions, she is a link with the past, and she is an important piece of glue that holds society together in a very remarkable way. I think now even republicans would acknowledge the extraordinary role the Queen has played for over 60 years in doing all the above.”

For the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Tim teamed up with his opposite numbers in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire to organise a party for 3,500 people at the Henley Business School on the banks of the Thames. It was attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

“It was a very splendid celebration,” Tim recalls. “We tried to make access to the party as broad and democratic as we could and we got a really big cross section of people – and the sun shone on us.”

A few years on another momentous occasion is upon us. “For the Queen’s 90th birthday, what the Palace has encouraged us to do is get villages and towns around the county to have street parties like they did for the Jubilee,” Tim says. I’ve encouraged all the parishes to put parties together, paying particular attention to involving as many people as possible, and the response to that has been very good.”

There is not a party like that held in 2012 for HMQ’s 90th, but it will be marked in the form of a special service taking place at Christ Church Cathedral on 11th June.

“It’s going to be a big celebratory service,” the Lord-Lieutenant confirms. “The chairman of the county council is having a number of people to a lunch beforehand, we’re going to process through the streets, and then the Lord Mayor of Oxford is hosting a tea party in the Town Hall afterwards.”

In what is a fitting touch, Tim has urged those born in 1926 to apply for tickets to the service, a move that has evoked “a wonderful response”.

As very much was the case with the Diamond Jubilee, the 90th birthday activities are, as Tim remarks, “a way of bringing together people from all walks of life, and, in my case, all corners of Oxfordshire, encouraging a sense of community.”

 

- Sam Bennett

 

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