Heaven and Hell: Mark Pendlington

Mark Pendlington 

Mark Pendlington - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The maxim if you want something done ask a busy person, applies to Mark Pendlington - chair of the University of Suffolk and the Royal Hospital School, patron of the Green Light Trust and a deputy lieutenant of Suffolk.

He talks to Gina Long MBE about his latest role as chair of the Festival of Suffolk in celebration of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.  

What is your connection to East Anglia? 

I was born in Hertfordshire and apart from five years in childhood living in Cyprus, East Anglia has always been my home, and many of my best friends are here. Although I commuted to work in London for many years, in the time immediately before my early retirement I worked in the region too. I have a number of voluntary roles that take me across the region and I always enjoy seeing the different aspects of town, country and coastline – there’s so much beauty and variety. 

What do you love most about East Anglia? 

The big skies, the air you can breathe, and the endless views tempting you to explore beyond the horizon. 

Mark Pendlington

Mark Pendlington - Credit: David Garrad

What do you hate most about living here? 

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The A14. How can the golden thread of our regional and national economy be so underfunded and unreliable? 40% of goods coming into the UK come through Felixstowe, and many UK regions depend on the Orwell Bridge and the links through Suffolk to work well – but all too often there is a problem.

Which is why I was pleased to accept the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce to chair the A14 Strategy Group, to work alongside many other determined campaigners from the public and private sector to lobby government for better funding and a more integrated transport network – which is what the East needs and deserves. 

What are your favourite East Anglian restaurants? 

Maison Bleue in Bury St Edmunds, Scutchers in Long Melford, and The Ship at Dunwich. Or the simple pleasure of eating excellent fish and chips with a little wooden fork from ‘No1 Cromer’, sitting on the promenade wall by the Pier, people watching. 

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark? 

The coastline. From the wild and spacious north Norfolk coast, to our ports, piers and working harbours, with shingle and sandy beaches and wonderful wildlife. It all nourishes the spirit and more often than not blows the cobwebs away too. 

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year? 

The festivals and shows that demonstrate the diverse and rich cultural, artistic and community life we enjoy here. They are all welcoming and inclusive, and happily this year as we continue to recover from Covid we will appreciate them all the more. 

What your specialist Mastermind subject? 

The English Civil War. I am endlessly fascinated by the big picture politics of it all and the significant consequences and outcomes that have shaped the way we live, even to this day. Also, the power and influence of religion and art at a time without easy or sophisticated communications, and how the war divided families and local communities. It is a remarkable social, economic, and political story on so many levels. But I would not wish to put that knowledge to the test in that scary black chair! 

Mark Pendlington, deputy lieutenant and chair of the Festival of Suffolk

Mark Pendlington, deputy lieutenant and chair of the Festival of Suffolk - Credit: Archant

What is always in your fridge? 

Parmesan cheese - it goes with everything! 

What’s your simple philosophy of life? 

Keep calm and carry on. 

What’s your favourite film? 

Out of Africa. The awe-inspiring landscape, the glorious musical score that brings you out in endless goosebumps, and the powerful story of love and loss. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit Karen Blixen’s farm in Kenya and collected some coffee beans. 

What was your first job? 

I was a year too young to apply for the role that eventually shaped my future career, so I joined the civil service and spent that ‘gap’ year working in an unemployment benefit office. A dreadful, soleless experience, trying to bring some level of humanity to rigid systems and processes that degraded those when at their most vulnerable. All they needed was empathy and understanding, practical help and guidance. It all had a big impact on my younger self. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

My photograph albums from family occasions, holidays, and records of home renovations, lovingly undertaken. Each tells the story of a different time in my life and the friends and experiences I enjoyed. At a time when life moves increasingly quickly, it is often a pleasure to pause however briefly, to be reminded about people and places and the journey to today 

Who do you admire most? 

I am fortunate to have known and admired a number of people along the way, and they still inspire and encourage me – no doubt some would be very surprised to hear that. But I admire The Queen the most. Her lifelong example of integrity, deep faith, continuity and calm, always setting an example, and doing the right thing quietly and without fuss. An anchor in the lives of tens of millions of people and something we have treasured for 70 years – and the hope is of many more to come. 

What is your biggest indulgence? 

Books. I have hundreds of them and am addicted to buying latest titles. My idea of heaven is a couple of hours in a bookshop, and I never leave empty-handed. And East Anglia has many independent bookshops owned by people who enjoy taking time to advise on interesting titles – and often treasures to be found in second-hand sections too. I love to hold a book, to turn each page and to feel the story. I have a Kindle but quickly lost patience with it as every book feels and looks the same. I believe that reading should be a sensory experience, not a mechanical process. 

Mark Pendlington, Jane Townsend and the Countess of Euston at the plaque unveiling launching Rural Enterprise East Picture

Mark Pendlington, Jane Townsend and the Countess of Euston at the plaque unveiling launching Rural Enterprise East Picture - Credit: Sarah Chambers

What do you like about yourself most? 

Perhaps not the ideal question for someone with a tendency to imposter syndrome. 

What’s your worst character trait? 

Impatience. I am always wanting to move on to the next thing, without realising that others may wish to work at a different pace 

Where is your favourite holiday destination? 

Anywhere where nature is in charge, which is why I have loved safaris in Africa. The joy of sitting with penguins on ice floes in Antarctica, and and the experience of sailing across the Atlantic in all weathers, when the sea likes to remind you at every opportunity that nature is firmly in charge 

When was the best day of your life? 

This may sound trite, but I believe we should try and make every day the best day. There is always something good and fulfilling to be found, even on the dullest of days. The effort of finding it is rewarded more often than not. 

Mark Pendlington

Mark Pendlington - Credit: Mark Pendlington

What’s your favourite breakfast? 

Kippers, freshly-caught, cooked at the Wentworth Hotel in Aldeburgh or at The Swan in Southwold. At home, I prefer honey and ginger yoghurt with mixed seeds and dried fruit, followed by oatcakes and too much butter. 

What’s your favourite tipple? 

Gin and tonic. The endless varieties of both. It seems rude not to try them all, doesn’t it? 

What’s your hidden talent? 

On a good day, with the wind behind me, I can play the trombone. 

What’s your earliest memory? 

I was aged four or five, sitting on a seat on the crossbar of my father’s bicycle as he took me on regular outings to watch the steam engines at Hitchin station, in the days when the Edinburgh services stopped there. I remember the magical and powerful blue Mallard steam engine hissing steam, and the smell of the coal smoke. In those days, passengers dressed up to travel, so it was all very busy and glamorous. It’s not quite the same today. 

What would you like played at your funeral? 

Thank you for asking, but no need to start printing the order of service just yet. When the time comes, anything by John Rutter – and plenty of it. Dignified, beautiful, reflective. And the hymn Be Still in the Presence of The Lord. Something of a family favourite for farewells. 

Tell us something people don’t know about you? 

I pulled one of the first pints in the Queen Vic on the set of Eastenders. A week before the first episode was televised I was invited to meet the producer and cast, and tour the set, never imagining the success it would become. 

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you? 

If someone ever said to me ‘you have let me down’, I would be absolutely mortified. 

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else? 

Because East Anglia makes me happy and there is something to be found and experienced here for every mood or occasion. I love the art and culture, the beautiful countryside and coast, the extraordinary variety of people, and the strong sense of community and belonging. 

What do you want to tell our readers about most? 

The Festival of Suffolk is the county’s biggest and most glorious celebration for The Queens’s Platinum Jubilee. Three years in the planning and the inspiration of our Lord Lieutenant, Clare, Countess of Euston, it is shining a spotlight on everything that is special about Suffolk - with the ambition to bring generations and diverse communities together in joyful celebration.

Events large and small are happening between May to September, and we hope to create a powerful legacy to increase the visibility of Suffolk and to improve local lives for many years to come.

From the 580-mile torch relay, to a Festival of the Sea, the planting of over 750,000 tress for The Queen’s Green Canopy, Beacon lighting, eight business expos, the publication of a new book 'A New Suffolk Garland', and a concert for up to 15,000 party goers at Trinity Park. Not forgetting hundreds of community street parties, park runs and sporting events. I'd like to give a heartfelt thanks to all those whose support is making it happen. What a triumphant Platinum Jubilee it’s been to date, with lots more exciting events to follow.

To find out more, visit festivalofsuffolk.org

If you have a story, email gina@hallfarmfornham.com