The Island’s High Sheriff, Caroline Peel, celebrates 50 years of marriage Today ,Tuesday (February 23) and has a particular reason to regret that, due to Covid restrictions, she and husband Jonathan can’t celebrate with family, friends and neighbours.
With just weeks left of her eventful year as one of the highest-ranking Islanders (local precedence places her second only to the Lord-Lieutenant) Caroline would have loved to throw a big party. It would have been a celebration of her golden wedding and a ‘significant’ birthday last September, but she also had an ulterior motive.
She planned to use the occasion to promote the High Sheriff’s Trust, a fund that provides vital grants to Island charities and groups that help the young, the elderly and to prevent crime. It must be said Caroline has form in cajoling people to support the trust; last April she made an appeal to friends and was so persuasive that one cycled 26 miles, raising nearly £4,000.
Caroline’s unique year as High Sheriff during the pandemic started last April with her ‘virtual’ declaration via Zoom. She has thrown herself into the role ever since, supporting organizations struggling through the lockdowns. Projects have included funding for a fogging machine to sanitise Aspire Ryde’s soft play area, new gym and playground equipment for local schools and training 10 mental health volunteers for Newport Minster.
The list of local organizations on the receiving end of her interest and help is long and varied. Working with the Crisis Committee, set up to help with the effects of the pandemic, the trust has helped Sight for Wight, Ability Dogs for Young People, Suicide Prevention and Intervention IOW, Haylands Farm, Age UK IW, the Pop-up Soup Kitchen, the Real Junk Food Project and Wight Dash. Other beneficiaries include Network Ryde’s allotment project, Jigsaw Family Support Centre, Cowes Sea Cadets, Men in Sheds and Jigsaw Community Centre with Operation Geranium helping lonely older people through these difficult times.
A true Caulkhead, Caroline was born in a Cowes nursing home, now the New Holmwood Hotel. Both her and Jonathan’s families lived in Bembridge, with service to the local community a family tradition. Jonathan’s father, Denys Peel, was a previous High Sheriff.
Their 1971 London wedding was a society occasion, with Lady Helen Windsor, great-granddaughter of King George V, a bridesmaid. The bride’s dress was created by renowned dressmaker Belinda Bellville, also a Bembridge girl. The guest list was eclectic to say the least, with Caroline’s cousin, the Duchess of Kent, rubbing shoulders with Kenny Everett, a gay comedian and DJ recently sacked from the BBC for joking that a transport minister’s wife had bribed a driving instructor.
Jonathan’s work as a hugely successful record and film producer (winning two BAFTAs and two EMMYs) meant they had to base themselves in London. Caroline kept herself busy with a variety of careers, setting up a charity which became part of Mencap, doing the books for various friends and small companies and finally co-running a company called Contact London.
The couple visited the Island whenever possible and returned permanently in 2012 – it was always going to be their forever home. Caroline was already involved with the RNLI, raising over £250,000 at a London ball in 2010 towards the new Bembridge Station and organising other events for the charity. She is also a Trustee of the Ventnor Botanic Friends Society.
Jonathan, whilst continuing to work in the film industry, has also busied himself in regenerating the Island branch of the Royal Society of Arts, as president of the Solent Cruising and Racing Association and as chief course setter for the White Group in Cowes Week.
The role of High Sheriff has ancient roots. Originally a royal official tasked with keeping the peace and collecting taxes, the office is now an unpaid privilege that costs taxpayers nothing at all; indeed it comes with significant personal costs for those appointed. Supporting the Crown and the judiciary remain central to the role, including at the annual legal service, axed this year due to Covid. Caroline does hope to hold a tea party marking the end of her year of service to thank those who have done so much to help Islanders through this traumatic time, before handing over the shrieval reins to James Atrill.
Although Caroline is now into the final two months of her appointment, she is very aware there are still urgent projects that need funding. All contributions to the trust, however modest, will be very welcome, with every penny going to help fellow Islanders.
If you would like to contribute, there is a just giving page on highsheriffiw.co.uk or you can contact Caroline on email@example.com.