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Former Northgate High School head, Neil Watts shares his East Anglian life - and love of chocolate

PUBLISHED: 14:36 06 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:36 06 August 2018

Former Northgate High School headteacher Neil Watts loves East Anglia. Here's why...Photos by Lucy Taylor Photography

Former Northgate High School headteacher Neil Watts loves East Anglia. Here's why...Photos by Lucy Taylor Photography

Lucy Taylor Photography

Neil Watts had four consecutive outstanding Ofsted inspections whilst headteacher of Northgate High School in Ipswich. Now the founding member of the Board of both Ofqual and the Complaints Committee of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), he tells Gina Long what he loves most about East Anglia

What is your connection to East Anglia?

I was a student at Magdalene College, Cambridge from 1970-3 and after teaching at King Henry VIII School in Coventry for four years, came to live in South Suffolk when I was appointed Head of Economics and Business Studies at Hedingham School. A few years later, I moved to the Stowmarket area, where I have remained ever since.

What is your East Anglian Heaven i.e. what do you love most about East Anglia?

East Anglia is a perfect ‘tapestry’…. from the north Norfolk coastline, through Norwich and historic villages and churches to the wide open fields of Mid Suffolk and finishing at the University of Suffolk on the Ipswich waterfront. It has so much to offer.

What is your East Anglian Hell ie what you hate most about living here?

The ‘march’ of the traffic light across East Anglia, where once we had only roundabouts and clear open roads!

What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?

There are so many to choose from but a family lunch in the conservatory at the Wentworth Hotel in Aldeburgh is a special delight.

What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?

A meal with my wife on the Ipswich waterfront, followed by a musical theatre production at the New Wolsey.

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?

The House in the Clouds at Thorpeness – such an iconic landmark on the East Anglian coast. We love walking to Thorpeness after fish and chips (and a glass of Muscadet) at the Upper Deck in Aldeburgh.

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

The Celebration of Schools Music at Snape Maltings, which has given thousands of young people the opportunity to experience the thrill of performing on the stage of this international venue. Both as a parent and a seasoned headteacher each night’s performance brings a lump to the throat.

What your specialist Mastermind subject?

Rochdale AFC 1957 – 2018. I am a shareholder and passionate supporter. Grant Holt, Norwich City legend, first made his name at the Spotland stadium.

What is always in your fridge?

Lemonade and Fever Tree tonic – to mix with Pimm’s or gin respectively as a reward for a hard day’s gardening!

What’s your simple philosophy of life?

One Life, Live It - it’s ‘OLLI’ for me!

What’s your favourite film?

Zulu, Murder on the Orient Express, and the Greatest Showman…an eclectic mix, best enjoyed at the Regal in Stowmarket – a hidden treasure of Suffolk.

What was your first job?

I was an assistant unqualified temporary teacher at Butterworth Lane County Primary School, Chadderton before going to university. I took over the year 6 class once they had sat their 11 plus exam. Amazingly really, a raw 18 year old left in charge of thirty 11 year olds – I survived and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘rhythm’ of school life.

What is your most treasured possession?

1962 League Cup Final programme, Second Leg – Norwich City v Rochdale. (Anybody out there got the First Leg programme for sale…?!)

Who do you admire most?

Family Carers of all ages. I currently chair the Suffolk Family Carers Partnership Board and am constantly humbled by the love and care shown by so many, many people – the unsung heroes of our country.

What is your biggest indulgence?

Rochdale AFC….and Belgian chocolates, usually brought home after visiting our family in Antwerp.

What do you like about yourself most?

The cup is always half-full. I am naturally optimistic – as a lifelong supporter of Rochdale AFC I have to be……

What’s your worst character trait?

I like to be in charge!

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

In Europe Malta; worldwide, San Diego. Closer to home Center Parcs at Elveden has been the setting for many happy family gatherings. It caters so well for a mixture of all ages.

Best day of your life?

Receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Suffolk with four generations of my family in the congregation – my mother Joan, my wife Sadie, our daughter and son Sarah and Robert, and our baby granddaughter, Clara.

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Full English, followed by wholemeal toast and thick-cut marmalade, preferably in a cruise ship restaurant about to visit a new port of call…

What’s your favourite tipple?

Champagne or Adnam’s bitter – depending upon the setting!

What’s your hidden talent?

As a teenager I learned to play the banjo and was in a folk group. We were approached by a potential manager and offered a contract but turned it down in order to concentrate on our studies. Life might have been so different...

When were you most embarrassed?

When I was the headteacher of Sudbury Upper School, the Princess Royal visited and I accompanied her on a tour of the school lasting almost two hours, introducing her to well over a hundred staff, governors and students. I relaxed too soon however for as the tour concluded I forgot the name of the last member of staff we met – so near, but so far!

What’s your earliest memory?

Family holidays in Scarborough, playing cricket on the beach; as I got older we moved ‘wicket’ to the South beach at Lowestoft.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

The Circle of Life - from the Lion King.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

Whilst at university, I was a gravedigger’s assistant in Royton cemetery (Lancashire) during the summer of 1971. I learned a lot, about many things, that summer!

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

“I’m afraid your baby has a problem” – when our 9-week-old son was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, and a very uncertain future.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.

Employment brought me to East Anglia, our children were born in Bury St Edmunds and, despite my Lancashire roots, I am well and truly ‘Suffolkated’! I cannot imagine living anywhere else, we are so fortunate living here, as my dear mother says, ‘count your blessings’.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

Always ‘Take Five’- stop and think before acting where your money and personal information is concerned. My work as Citizen Advocate on the Advisory Board at Cifas reveals that identity theft is at a record level and we have recently seen a 27% increase in young people acting as money mules. If in doubt, stop and ask – do not press that button!

Neil Watts spoke to Gina Long

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