Lora Peacey-Wilcox is somewhat unique. Born on a Cowes council estate she eventually became the town’s mayor. Prince Philip summed her up perfectly on one of several occasions when they met at civic functions. He told her she was like a breath of fresh air, as she revealed far more than your average everyday mayor.

The diminutive former Mayor of Cowes and current IOW Councillor, 42-year old Lora Peacey-Wilcox was the 11th of 12 children in her family. Brought up on a Cowes council estate built by Polish prisoners of war, Lora was a quietly-spoken child who rarely smiled, but listened to everything going on around her, a skill that was to come to the fore in her role as Mayor of Cowes.

Adored by her family and by her teachers, she was taught from an early age to respect your elders, not to answer back, and, most definitely, not to swear. “Our family was the salt of the earth,” she laughs. “Our Dad was a true Welshman and he was brought up in a strictly religious background. He never owed people money and that is why we lived on a council estate. I suppose he didn’t want to owe people money. He paid his rent and owed nobody anything.”

Lora attended Love Lane Primary School and school was a very happy time for her. Although she came from such a large family, she was never treated any differently. Being so little Lora became a firm favourite with the teachers and spent most of her school holidays with the then deputy head teacher, Vera Taylor, who later became Lora’s mentor in life. “Vera was such a wonderfully calm person. She had a little place in Gurnard on the sea front and it was a magical time for me,” Lora remembers.

From her happy days at Love Lane, she completed her education at Cowes High, which was a disappointment to Lora who felt lost among the 1,000 or so children there. She was an aloof and very serious child who was neither an academic success nor an abject failure. She was a middle of the road child among a vast group at that time who were virtually ignored by the education system.

She was good at typing and organization, but hated commerce and left school to join Plessey where she met John Wilcox, now her husband. Lora was 17 and not in the least interested in having a boyfriend, but John met with the approval of her mother, who, says Lora, always knew a good man when she saw one. Not long after meeting John, Lora’s Mother died suddenly and unexpectedly and Lora was left at home to care for her devastated father and two brothers.

“It knocked the stuffing out of all of us, she was our entire world. Everything revolved around her. I didn’t go to the funeral. Mum always said it was no place for women or children. I didn’t want to see her dead and I didn’t want to believe she was gone.”

John and Lora married in 1987 and bought a house in Ryde, but Lora has always been very passionate about Cowes, the home of her birth. John was diagnosed with cancer, the extent of which meant it was unlikely they would ever be able to have children. To their surprise and delight, two girls, Amber and Saffron, were born in 1990 and 1991.

Staying at home to bring up her family and looking after her husband was what Lora was programmed to do by her upbringing. She never had any great ambitions to be anything more, but her passion for the Island was brewing. The quiet thinker, who never really said much, grew in confidence and Lora was appalled when she learned that Northwood House was to be sold.

“It’s such a huge part of Cowes and it meant so much to so many people,” she says almost angrily. “I went to a meeting. I couldn’t sit there and let it happen. As a result of that, I was asked to stand for the Cowes Town Council, although I didn’t know anything about politics. I was 33.”  Lora’s life changed from that moment on.

She was voted onto the council straight away and spent two years as Deputy Mayor and two years in the post of Mayor, something she had never thought possible. But being Mayor brought other problems and the first year was very, very difficult. She had never expected to become Mayor and even as deputy she wasn’t exposed to the role the Mayor of Cowes has to perform.

There were hostilities between groups of people on the council, and Lora had to use her listening skills to pour oil on the troubled waters. “I used to feel physically sick before meetings because I never knew what was going to be reported in the papers,” she says.

By the second year of the two year term, Lora had found her feet and was running a tight ship. Her meetings were formal, short and sharp. “You have to be very well briefed, but get resolutions quickly. Part of my job as Mayor was to keep the calm and to make sure all the councillors had their say, but to make sure they were civil to each other.”

Lora was not your stereotypical Mayor, Lora was a doer. No car with a flag on for Lora, just a small allowance, which barely covered the cost of postage, and a small lump sum to invite the great and the good to a drinks reception during Cowes Week.

As Mayor, Lora was entitled to be on every committee and in addition she still took an active role in the planning and finances committees and was chair of the town improvements committee.

After two years as the Mayor of Cowes, Lora is now, via the IW Council, responsible for homelessness and housing for the Town Council. “Housing is one of the biggest issues on this island and my role is to listen to what the people are saying and feed that back to the council. I am very hands on but I am not a cabinet member,” she explains. “I am a young-ish business woman, but my qualifications aren’t enough for me to be in the cabinet.”

Lora’s passion for the Island still burns bright. She believes there are two major issues which need resolving. Is the Isle of Wight a tourist destination, or is it a regeneration island to which business should be attracted? She doesn’t believe it is possible to be both.

“If we are a tourist island, then we should be following a completely different strategy.” “It is a vital decision. Do we want visitors to enjoy our island or do we want people to come to the Island bringing in big business and spend a lot of money living on the Island. We need to make a decision and then we are clear in which direction we are heading.”

Lora believes firmly in the community and that once-a-month visitors with second homes on the Island do not foster that. “It doesn’t sustain our community, keep our schools full or keep the shops busy. It doesn’t keep our towns and villages alive all year,” she says pointedly.

“We need to determine where we are heading with the Island and find out what people want. Then we can get direction and from there we can focus,” says the impassioned Lora.

Lora Peacey-Wilcox, who never for a moment expected her life to take this path, will never stop campaigning for the Island that she loves. She would like better communication with the public and give them the chance to have their say about the direction in which the Island is heading. “People are very vocal about what goes on on the Island and most people are quite passionate about the Island and about how they feel about things,” she says.

“We value what the Island people say. But are we listening?” she concludes.