6 November 1998

LONG HAUL TO LORD MAYOR FOR KNIGHT WITH FARMER ROOTS

AFTER 12 months as the 670th Lord Mayor of London, Sir Richard Nichols is handing over the chain of office and returning home to his Hertfordshire farm.

Being Lord Mayor has, says Sir Richard, been the most enormous honour. "It is terrifically exciting, and Im so pleased that I stuck with it. There were times when I thought about giving it up and relaxing back into normal life but Im so pleased I didnt."

Much as he loves farming Sir Richard has no plans to become a full-time farm manager. Instead he will return to work as a solicitor. "I need to go back to the legal practice and get that under way again and earn a bit of money, because this job, wonderful as it is, is for one year full-time, unpaid, and non-political."

Sir Richard, and his wife Shelagh, bought their 120ha (300-acre) arable farm in Kings Langley, eight years ago and farm in partnership with two other people. Sir Richards interest was kindled when he was a boy helping out on a nearby farm. "I should think I was a wretched nuisance," he says. "But the farmer was very tolerant, he used to let me feed the pigs, watch the milking and eventually drive a tractor, when I was about 12 or 13, which was a huge thrill."

&#42 Became solicitor

Sir Richard chose not to follow a farming career, preferring to become a solicitor. But a love of farming, and the countryside, prompted him and his wife to buy a smallholding shortly after their marriage in 1966. "It was idyllic," Sir Richard recalls. "It was a lovely old farmhouse with ducks and geese and sheep. It was wonderful. It was really the good life but it was jolly hard work trying to keep a full-time job going as well."

Eventually Sir Richard found combining work as a partner in a solicitors firm with work on the 3.6ha (9-acre) smallholding was just too much. The couple sold the house and land. Sir Richard concentrated on the legal practice, becoming a senior partner in a Watford based firm in 1976. He retained family links with the City of London forged by his father who had worked for the Worshipful Company of Salters. "He left school at 16 and landed up being made the clerk of the company, which is a sort of executive, at the age of 32, and he was clerk for nearly 30 years," recalls Sir Richard.

The Salters Company is one of several City livery companies which Sir Richard describes as survivors of the medieval trades guilds. The Salters Company, which made its wealth from its monopoly of the salt trade, is now a charity. "It looks after disadvantaged people and it looked after me," says Sir Richard.

The Salters Company helped Sir Richards education after his fathers death when Sir Richard was just seven years old. The Salters sent him to Christs Hospital School, Horsham, Sussex, and later it was the Salters who encouraged him to stand for election to the City Corporations Common Council. "My mother was always saying you ought to keep up the Salters Company, your father would have liked it, and considering she had met him when she was working there as a temporary secretary, I really am a product of the Salters Company," Sir Richard adds.

But it was to take 14 years, following his election as member of the Common Council in 1983 for Sir Richard to fulfil an ambition to become Lord Mayor.

&#42 Determination

"You have to be quite determined and resolute about wanting to become Lord Mayor because it takes a lot of time. It probably amounts to a day and half a week in the build up time in terms of committee meetings, functions you have to go to, trusts which you want to administer and so on," he says.

The first rung on the ladder is being elected Alderman, which Sir Richard achieved in 1984. "You have to find a vacancy, put your name up and you have to go round and knock on doors and persuade them to vote for you. Having been elected under this present system you are elected for life, and you then start to take an increasing interest in what happens, how the Lord Mayors day is structured, what he does, and there comes a time when you become a Sheriff," Sir Richard says.

For Sir Richard that time came in 1994-95 when he served as Sheriff of the City of London. That, he says, was "a sort of practise year" for becoming Lord Mayor, and although it was "quite an arduous time," the hard work and dedication paid off when in September 1997 he was elected Lord Mayor of London.

The Lord Mayor heads the Corporation of London and represents the Citys financial services industry at home and abroad. Sir Richard has recently returned from a visit to the Far East which took in Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea. In March he travelled to South America stopping off in Peru, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina.

The Lord Mayor also receives state visitors at Mansion House banquets and Sir Richard has played host to the president of Brazil and the Emperor of Japan.

The Queen celebrated her Golden Wedding anniversary with lunch at Mansion House in November last year. "Sitting next to the Queen was absolutely out of this world, wonderful," says Sir Richard.

&#42 Returning home

But at weekends there is nothing Sir Richard enjoys more than returning home to the farm at Kings Langley with its wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. "I dont do much to be honest. Ive done a bit of rolling every now and again, sort of simple things with tractors but I just love pottering about," he says.

For a man who has achieved so much in his working life, as well as being very involved in charity work, it is difficult to imagine Sir Richard being satisfied with pottering for long.

An occasional stint doing "simple things with tractors," is as much hands-on farming as Sir Richard Nichols does but his wife Shelagh has an interest in a dried flower enterprise.

Sir Richard Nichols ready to receive guests at the Mansion House. Entertaining is an important part of the Lord Mayors responsibilities.

In the childrens pantomime Dick Whittington becomes

Lord Mayor of London with the help of a large black cat.

In real life, it took Sir Richard Nichols 15 years to achieve,

as Liz Mason explains