Anne Bishop has had to deal with controversy and personal tragedy while bringing up a young child. But she is determined to carry on.
When the going gets tough, she’ll bring in doughnuts for the entire office. Anne Bishop, town councillor and deputy mayor of Shanklin, likes to make things better. She entered politics at the age of 18 to do just that, and has been campaigning at a local level ever since. But the last couple of years have dealt her a nasty hand. Her husband died after a two-year struggle with cancer, while at the same time she felt the rough edge of being a public figure. Anne has needed to call on all her resources to keep positive.
“I’m a glass half full sort of person,” she confides. Which is just as well, given what she has had to endure recently. Lets deal with the political trouble first. Anne was hauled over the coals when, in 2007, she put in a planning application to change the hotel she and her husband owned to flats. “My application was approved by the committee and the officers called for a cooling off period. When it went back to the committee, planning was refused.”
Not just refused but reported to the Standards Body, and Anne was accused of bringing the council into disrepute. The then council Leader, Andy Sutton, felt he had to resign over the issue, which ensured it made the headlines. “I feel I’ve been singled out,” says Anne, when prompted to air her feelings. “There have been hotels before and since my application which have been allowed to convert to flats.” She feels particularly aggrieved because it was only the modern part at the back she was intending to change. The Victorian frontage would have remained untouched, to keep the street scene the same.
The issue is still unresolved, and a hearing in three or four months time hangs over her. “It’s been a very stressful time and I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong, I did not want any special advantage, just a normal level playing field along with everyone else.”
Being caught up in such a maelstrom would have been bad enough in most circumstances. But while all this was going on Anne’s husband Colin was dying. In 2006 his persistent backache had been diagnosed as multiple myealoma, and Anne had cared for him over 18 horrible months as he battled the cancer. They had been together 26 years. “His greatest sadness was that he would not see Nicholas grow up,” she says sadly. “I am very grateful that Colin died at home with Nicholas in his arms and with me at his side.”
Nicholas, now six, was a joy to his father – and a bit of a shock for his mother. Colin had two daughters from his previous marriage but Anne could not have children. “Healthy as a horse but funny hormones,” she says briskly, “so imagine my surprise to find out that a suspected pulled muscle from a showjumping lesson was in fact my being six months pregnant.” She gave birth to Nicholas in 2002.
“Colin loved Nicholas so much,” said Anne. “He took him to school – so he got there on time – and had limitless patience with him. Nicholas has definitely inherited his father’s love of trains,” she goes on. “Colin always explained he was ‘operating a scale model railway’ not ‘playing trains’,” she laughs.
Theirs was a good partnership. “Colin was a farmer, he’d trained at the Royal Agricultural College, and was much older than me. Friends and acquaintances put it down to his mid-life crisis and gave us six months. Well 26 years later we had the last laugh,” said Anne.
It was whilst she was canvassing in Thurrock that they met. “I knocked on his door to see if he had been out to vote and 26 years later, as they say, it’s history.” For Anne was just 18 when she got involved with the conservative party, and although she jokes that “she’s always been sad like that,” she is obviously committed to finding a way to make changes.
Anne was an only child, born in the East End Maternity Hospital in 1961. “I’m a proper cockney,” she says. If her beginnings were ordinary, her academic aptitude was not: she achieved 13 O levels in one sitting. “But reality bit back with ‘A’ levels where I ended up with four lousy passes,” said Anne, with a characteristic tendency towards self-deprecation. She went on to complete two years of an honours degree in Law at the Bournemouth Institute of Higher education.
Anne’s father was an engineer and she grew up visiting factories. Once they made a detour to a factory and her mother, who had been left in the car, came to find them. She found Anne at the controls of a mobile crane, with her father precariously positioned on the end of the jib, about 20 foot up in the air, replacing a light fitting. “Health and Safety issues aside it seemed logical and effective but mother was not convinced and bordered on hysteria,” remembered Anne.
Her parents were supportive and loving. They sent her to tennis and riding lessons, and she can thank her grandmother, she says, “for my love of hats, a department store card at the age of 18 and an eternal addiction to chocolate.”
After meeting Colin the couple moved to Spain and Anne started working with British Airways as an airport rep in Malaga and Gibraltar Airports. “Having worked for BA for a year at the airports, checking in flights and doing transfers, the golf rep left and I was asked to take over, liaising with the many golf courses on the Costa del Sol and arranging accommodation and car hire for the golfers and groups that visited,” she explained. Her responsibilities grew when she moved to Intersun. “I organized Pro-Ams in Portugal, the Balearics as well as mainland Spain,” said Anne proudly.
Any ideas of relaxing beach holidays were abandoned once Anne and Colin discovered safaris in Africa. “It has always surprised me that, although in zoos you can see exotic species just a few feet away, there is nothing to compare to the thrill of catching a glimpse of the rear of an elephant disappearing behind a tree in its natural habitat.”
After 1985 Anne worked during the summers in her parents’ hotel, the Craven Court in Shanklin. The Island allowed her to indulge a passion for horses, golf, cars and flying. “The Island does look lovely from the sky,” she says.
But her passion for politics is by no means dissipated by the energy she puts into her many other activities. Anne has been a town councillor for over a decade and is currently deputy Mayor of Shanklin. For nearly four years she has been County Councillor for Shanklin South where she lives with her retired mother and Nicholas, now six years old.
She is currently fighting a campaign to have the speed camera in Victoria Avenue in Shanklin removed: “It’s a revenue camera! Pedestrians would have to jump over a hedge to get run over!” But she would like to see a camera installed in the Old Village or Beeper Shute – to prevent accidents. Another issue she supports is the campaign for an Island abattoir.
Dealing with real issues is something she takes very seriously, but her sideways look at life often bubbles to the fore. She has chaired the Isle of Wight Council Audit and Performance Committee and was a member of the Scrutiny Committee. “I joined a group of cross party councillors called “Civic Pride” which in its first stages looked at public conveniences. We planned to start at the bottom and work up,” she chortles.
You somehow feel that whatever life throws at Anne Bishop, she will come through. “Life has been a little unkind to me in the last few years, but what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger. I am constantly surprised by the kindness of other people. I think I am a lucky person, I have my health, a lovely son, very good friends and a future full of exciting challenges.”