‘No airs and graces’ says Yarmouth mayor-elect

IT is a civic role known for its long-lasting traditions and extravagant regalia.

But for her year in office, Colleen Walker will have no time for the “airs and graces” that come with being mayor.

She is just concerned with being herself: a self-proclaimed “normal housewife” with a passion for politics and a love of Great Yarmouth.

The 61-year-old is in line to take on the role on May 14 during the mayor making ceremony at the annual council meeting in Yarmouth.

And she is already facing one of the busiest years of public celebration, with local plans already under way for the London 2012 Olympic games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

“I will just go with the swing of it,” she said. “But I am going to take it seriously. People will find what you see is what you get with me, and I think that makes for a good mayor.”

“When I first agreed to take the role I had not got to grip with the fact it was the Olympiad year and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and then suddenly it hit me, and I thought ‘my god, I have got all this to come’.

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“But I think it should be fun, especially with all those people saying “your worship”. I am very laid back really. I have no airs and graces, I’m a Yarmouth girl born and bred and I take life as it comes on a daily basis.”

Mrs Walker was born in Yarmouth in 1951. Her grandfather, who worked in the touring coach business in Leicestershire, moved to the borough to set up a hotel.

It was this early experience of the hospitality industry which saw her work as a chef, while living on Nottingham Way, Yarmouth, and later in Gorleston.

She claims her time in the kitchen helped inspire her passion for politics after she witnessed staff struggling on meagre wages.

“I think my job helped me in my political career because we were the lowest paid industry. Because it was seasonal work, we did hit a lot of hard times. I suppose I was driven by people who weren’t chefs, the kitchen porters and my assistants, I always thought if I am badly paid what are they getting, so I suppose my political career came from there.

“My father was a trade union man and he instilled in us that you should work hard all your life and you get what you work for.”

Mrs Walker took her first step into politics when she joined the Labour Party’s Women’s Council. It was a move she took to simply see “what being a woman in politics was like”.

But she claims it was not long before she came to the realisation that she preferred to be considered on her work alone and not her gender, causing her to move to the Labour General Committee.

Since then, she has gone from strength-to-strength, with stints as chairman of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, borough council portfolio holder for the environment, Norfolk County Council chairman during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year and sitting as a panel member on the Police Authority.

However, she does not take all the credit for her political success. Her husband Brian Walker has been a borough councillor for Magadalen ward since 1979 and she claims it was a desire to be with him that led her into politics.

The couple live in Belton and have two children, son Geert Kooi, 41, who works in America and daughter Saskia Webster, 32, a nurse at the James Paget University Hospital - as well as five grandchildren.

She said: “My family life is pretty hectic because Brian and I both work still.

“Sometimes we are just like passing ships in the night, but I just can’t imagine my life being any different to be honest.”

Despite her high-flying council roles and flourishing family life, she claims her ability to help the people of Great Yarmouth is what has made her most proud.

She continued: “There are things you do on a daily basis when you are helping your constituents where you feel that if you can achieve their aims like gaining CCTV for the borough. It was something I was extremely proud of. With a lot of hard work, and a lot of effort, and a lot of time, I managed to achieve that for the town - although it wasn’t a sole effort on my part.”

Mrs Walker, works part-time at Asda. She is the Labour borough councillor for Claydon ward and Norfolk County councillor for the Magdalen division.

She intends to make the emergency services her focus when choosing her mayor’s charities for the coming year.