ROMSEY THANKSGIVING SERVICE
31 March 2000
ADDRESS BY AMANDA, ARABELLA AND JAMIE
Daily Mail – Monday, 17 September 1956. From Valetta, Malta:
"Grenadier Guards Captain Michael Colvin, 23, tumbled from his camp bed at dawn as the hot sirocco windstorm whined outside his Nissen hut at the disused airfield here, where British crisis troops are stationed.
"He shaved and washed from his nine-gallon water ration, put on a biscuit-coloured, hopsack suit, and drove off in a rickety hired car to marry the beautiful 19 year-old Miss Nichola Cayzer.
"Captain Colvin's wedding was to have been on a cool autumn day with great crowds at St Peter's Eaton Square and with Sir Nicholas Cayzer, vice-chairman of Clan Line and the Union Castle shipping company to give his daughter away. That was the wedding that they planned and would have had if President Nasser hadn't seized the Suez Canal.
"Instead they were faced with three options: wait until spring; get 48 hours leave and fly back to Britain; or to marry immediately on Malta. They chose the latter.
"The bride had no dress, the groom no suit or shirt.
"So the bridegroom and the best man hurried to the tailor's, the bride to the dressmakers. Captain Colvin's suit cost 12 pounds, described by him as 'a bit of old sackcloth run-up in the dickens of a hurry'.
"The bride had a piece of white nylon made up in 24 hours and bought a pair of white shoes that were too tight for her.
"Neither set of parents could get to Malta in time so Colonel Alex Gregory-Hood, Commanding Officer of the Grenadier Guards in Malta, agreed to give the bride away.
"Their honeymoon lasted just eight hours."
But what a life was to follow.
* * *
Our parents would be amazed and delighted to see here today so many of their family and friends; political colleagues; constituents; people from Tangley, our home; and representatives of the many causes they supported.
But who were these two, our parents, who married in such an exciting and colourful manner and who carried that colour, warmth and excitement through the rest of their lives.
Our father was a Hampshire Hog with a splash of Scotch. Son of a naval officer he was brought up at Foyle near Basingstoke and went to preparatory school at West Downs in Winchester. It was here that Dadda first experienced service, with the Boy Scouts. He prided himself in getting more badges than anyone else but later confessed to us that it was pure vanity and pride that drove him in those early years.
He also spent much of his childhood in Scotland with his brother Alastair and their Scottish cousins. Here he learnt to love and respect the countryside and perfect the skills of a sportsman. Also, encouraged by his mother, he developed the love of drawing.
After his Eton schooldays, Dadda went to Sandhurst, which he enjoyed greatly. But already, he was developing the politician's knack of turning the most negative situation into a positive one.
Once, in his final months at Sandhurst, Dadda and four other officer cadets were driving over Bagshot Heath on the way to London, when they inadvertently knocked a large lady off her bicycle. They immediately stopped, and on finding that she was shaken but otherwise unstirred, drove her off to the nearby pub for a restorative brandy and ale. Half an hour later, her nerves restored, they parted company only to be told by the lady that she felt it an honour to be knocked down by such polite young men. And, what is more, she wished them to know that she would be sure to be bicycling on the very same route, at the very same time, on the following day.
Our mother, like Dadda, also had close links with Scotland, being born in Glasgow, which was at that time the hub of the family's shipping business. As our grandfather's work took him to Liverpool, she moved with her parents to Cheshire but was evacuated during the war to Bodnant in North Wales with its beautiful gardens, the background and inspiration maybe to her own garden at Tangley.
Mamma could read fluently from the age of five, as she delighted to tell her grandchildren. But she omitted to tell them that, unlike her rather cleverer sister Elizabeth, she had never learnt to spell, a fact well-known by anyone who ever received one of her letters.
Her schooldays were happy but she wasn't to shine as she did in later life. In fact an old school friend has described her as one of the most mischievous girls in her class; but no doubt her charm and winning smile always saw her through. Surprisingly she was rather shy, but her talent for acting helped her to overcome this. Letters home spoke of history being her favourite subject and of her constant irritation that she was NEVER given enough food.
After school, she went up to London to do 'the season'. How many men must have lost their hearts to her; but once she had met Dadda she had eyes for no other man.
* * *
For the first five years of their married life, our parents lived in London. Our father worked with J Walter Thomson in advertising and together they created our first family home, at Chelsea Park Gardens. But life in London with two small girls and a dog soon seemed cramped and they decided to move to the country.
They bought Tangley in 1962. The house was a rather undesirable property with no land, no farm and very little garden. It needed what modern-day estate agents would call 'a large amount of sympathetic restoration'. But both Mamma and Dadda had the vision to see its potential and it was soon transformed by them and their many kind helpers into the most friendly and beautiful family home. Its gates were always open for fetes, parties and our mother's never-ending fundraising events.
Animals played an enormous part in our lives; and it was often frustrating for us to find that whereas dogs and cats could do no wrong the same rules did not apply to us.
Any cat in need of help had a good chance of being rescued by them; Fred, being the first of many. He was a true St. James's Street cat with white bib and white spats and lived just outside the Turf Club. He had become a menace to Grace, the club's porter, who announced to Dadda, while staying there, that Fred was about to be caught up and taken away. On hearing this, Mamma took immediate action. She told our father that she and the cat were inseparable; and that he must choose between her and the cat, or neither. Dadda relented and Fred was whisked off to Tangley, where within hours he had killed a passing pheasant and went on to live a very happy country life for the next 14 years.
Those early years not only created a wonderful home but also the most secure environment for the three of us to grow up in. But family and farming life was not enough for our parents. Their belief that you should give more in life than you take from it was already leading them into their life of public service. And very soon, school runs on Friday were being done not by Mamma but by Dadda, driving his battered old Land Rover after his morning meeting at the rural district council. His involvement in local politics, both at district and county level, was to last many years and it was only the threat of being elected as mayor that hastened him into national politics, first as Member of Parliament for Bristol North West and then Romsey.
* * *
He would be so pleased that this service is taking place here. Our parents loved this Abbey and this is clearly shown in a letter Dadda sent to me – I quote:
"We went to Romsey Abbey for the Carol Service last night and came away far more uplifted than any amount of champagne could have done. The combination of choir, the lovely Norman Nave and superb lighting was magical."
And how grateful we are to the Vicar for allowing us all to celebrate this service here today.
The whole family relished the thrill of General Elections. We would treat them as exciting but nerve-wracking times, often shared with many of their friends who would join the campaign team. We used to delight in spotting blue Colvin posters beaming out at us from every window, every fence and every tree. During one election, we encountered a horse and trap approaching us from behind. True to his advertising roots, Dadda immediately saw the potential of this moving billboard; and, sure enough, it was soon on its way with VOTE COLVIN attached to its back.
We also came to appreciate our parents' extraordinary commitment to their constituency, the teamwork they inspired in all who worked with them, and how they were both able to motivate everyone around them to go that extra mile, with nothing more than their enthusiasm, energy and easy-going manner.
The tributes our father received bear witness to his rare character of old fashion charm and good manners.
A colleague said of him:
"Being a backbencher who is good at the job is just as important as being a Minister, if not more. And that is a badge of honour that he takes with him."
Another friend from Bristol wrote:
"Mike had the great ability to be able to attack people's political views without attacking them personally."
We were proud to read in Country Life:
"The countryside has lost a real champion. He stood for continuing values in a changing world."
But the quote that really made the three of us smile was:
"Michael was beholden to no man, but to one woman – Nichola."
The partnership between our parents was really 'two for the price of one' and although they loved Westminster, it was always the Constituency, which came first. Mamma played such a vital role, whether it was supporting Dadda or standing in for him when parliamentary business called him away. But it was not just being the smiling wife at his side that fulfilled her. She was almost happier helping behind the tea-counter, selling raffle tickets or simply sitting on the floor stuffing envelopes.
One of the stories, which we think best illustrates the political value of our mother, occurred during the count at the 1992 General Election. After Dadda had retained his seat and made his post-election speech, one of the Liberal Democrat campaign managers came across and asked Mamma for a quiet word. We all quizzed her afterwards as to what she had been doing with our supposed opponents.
"Oh," she said, "he was a very charming man. He just wanted to know whether I would be prepared to stand against Michael at the next General Election as he thought that it would give the Lib Dems an excellent chance of victory."
Our parents ended their days healthy and happy, and in probably the most contented phase of their entire lives. They adored their foreign travels together, meeting new friends and as always supporting Romsey in every way they could.
They were secure in each other's love, their vision for Tangley was complete, their children were happily married and they thrived on the love of their grandchildren, Nicholas, Alexander, Emily, Eleanor, Molly, George and Lily.
Our comfort is that Mamma and Dadda will stay forever as they were. There they will be walking in their garden weathering time well.
Who could wish for a better epitaph?