‘Lord of Chipping Norton? We haven’t had one of those for 400 years’

Despite the fanfare around David Cameron’s catapult back into the spotlight, Barney Davis found his Cotswolds neighbours somewhat bemused by his newfound peerage

Saturday 25 November 2023 08:08
David Cameron meets Benjamin Netanyahu after Israel-Hamas truce announced

In the bustling market town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, residents are used to spotting a famous face or two.

The bookshop on the high street displays signed copies of local resident Jeremy Clarkson’s latest book in its windows, while Amanda Holden is often seen browsing in the nearby homestore, which sells windchimes made out of dried orange slices.

In the Chequers pub in town, regulars recall Clarkson loudly boasting about having lunch with David Cameron. The former Top Gear host was overshadowed when another punter - who happened to be billionaire property mogul Tony Gallagher, who famously hosted a 50th birthday party for the former prime minister - retorted “So what? I had breakfast with Boris.”

As a result, residents of the Cotswolds town remain unfazed by the latest status of one of their own - none other than Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, as he is now known. The former PM was introduced into the House of Lords this week as part of his surprise return to frontline politics as Rishi Sunak’s foreign secretary and has spent the last few days in Israel, avoiding the scrutiny directed at his time lobbying for finance firm Greensill Capital.

“I’m not going to doff my cap to him [Lord Cameron],” Jeremy Catling, whose family has run the off-licence on the high street for the past 50 years, tells The Independent.

“There are a lot of influential people round here. You get the Murdochs round here - we deliver papers to them - and we deliver papers to Rebekah Brooks too.

“So David Cameron is just another fly in the ointment really. I’m not going to treat him differently if he comes in. I won’t even put the prices up.”

Soho Farmhouse is the trendy hangout of the Chipping Norton set for luminaries, including Clarkson and Cameron, who have houses in and around the area

The town, which lies within Lord Cameron’s former constituency of Witney and known as Chippy by locals, is one of two halves, with the bus stop to Oxford still without a roof, ripped off from a recent storm. A long-awaited new community hub is yet to be built in the old Natwest, while shopworkers complain of rising crime, shoplifting, homelessness and deprivation.

On the other side is Soho Farmhouse, the trendy hangout of the Chipping Norton set - a group of monied luminaries, including Clarkson and Cameron, who have houses in and around the area and socialise with each other at lavish parties.

Others include newspaper editor Rebekah Brooks, PR guru Elisabeth Murdoch, and Alex James, a local cheesemonger and part-time bassist from Blur.

Sandra Coleman, the mayor of Chipping Norton, told The Independent: “Chipping Norton is portrayed by the media as a wealthy Cotswold town, home to the Chipping Norton Set, but is actually a normal rural market town, with significant pockets of deprivation.”

But she praised the former PM’s role in the community, which, according to locals, includes him putting his time and money into the local food bank.

“David Cameron has lived in the area for more than 20 years and has taken an active role in our community so knows the area well and has a deep understanding of the issues those who live here actually face.

Barry Stephens, 42, who was having a cigarette on the steps of the magnificent Palladian-style Town Hall that looms large over the high street, remembers Cameron as a ‘good bloke’

“When David was Prime Minister he took his role as our local MP very seriously and was often seen in the constituency - but I suspect that as Foreign Secretary this may be more difficult.”

NHS receptionist and food bank recipient Dominique Delaney agreed, adding: “He helps the local food bank out of his own pocket and helped deliver the Chippy Larder parcels to most of Chipping Norton. It was a pleasant surprise when he delivered ours and he was very pleasant to talk to as well.”

Others, however, were less complimentary about the new baron, who abruptly resigned in June 2016 in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.

In Nash’s Bakery, owner Angela she felt talked down to by Mr Cameron when he visited the store just after resigning from Number 10. She said: “It was just his attitude… he treated me like a servant.

“I thought ‘don’t take [resigning] out on me’. He had the airs of a Lord already.

“I didn’t realise who he was, I just thought he was like any other customer - it was only my manager who said after ‘I can’t believe you spoke to David Cameron like that’.”

She went on: “He is welcome to come back here, everyone is. But just drop the attitude. He did apologise later.”

Author Lesley Wildman, who has lived in the area for 23 years, said the village had become a “laughing stock” since the announcement of Lord Cameron.

She said: “People keep messaging me taking the p***. They think it’s hilarious.

Author Lesley Wildman said the town had become a “laughing stock” since the announcement.

“It’s all chums and nepotism, I thought we were over this. I thought we lived in a democracy but we obviously don’t, not with this government anyway.”

She added: “We didn’t vote for him so can I just say I’m the lady of Chipping Norton? I have more of a claim than him.”

Pauline Watkins, who has lived in the area her whole life, said: “There was no vote, nothing. Everybody thinks it’s a laugh really. We have so many celebrities around here - we just ignore them all.

“This is the first Lord of Chipping Norton I have heard of. There may have been lords of the manor but that was back in the 1600s.”

Mr Catling echoes other residents’ views that the whole thing is rather baffling: “I thought we were past all those days. I don’t think we have a local squire anymore either - I hope he doesn’t come in one day and go ‘here’s a pitchfork now go into battle for me’.”

In the centre of town, another resident was a little put out by the news - the previous self-proclaimed Lord of Chipping Norton, aka the town’s character Paul “Pinky” Hicks.

Dressed in bright overalls and armed with a litterpicker, the retired tradesman now spends his days picking up rubbish or at the pub. It didn’t take long to find him wandering around the Co-Op where he knows everyone’s name.

“I’m the real lord of Chipping Norton… you can have a photo if you like”, he fervently declared, thrusting his litterpicker in my direction.

The man previously known as The Lord of Chipping Norton - Pinky

“I’m very jealous of David Cameron getting the official title. But I’ve got the lady of Chipping Norton picking me up now. Her name is Kim. I met her 12 months ago in the pub.”

He added: “I met David a couple of times when I was young and so was he. He is a very nice gentleman.”

“There are a hell of a lot of issues around here Lord Cameron could sort out. He could sort out the Chippy Hub for a start. It’s a social centre that’s still being built. It’s taken a long time and he needs to come and open it.

“I’ve got to go around now and pick up litter.”

Barry Stephens, 42, who was having a cigarette on the steps of the magnificent Palladian-style Town Hall that looms large over the high street, remembered when Mr Cameron had come into the electronics shop where he works.

“David Cameron has come in the shop a lot and he seems a good bloke. It’s a shame he lost his job as Prime Minister, to be honest,” he said.

Sam Hurst, whose mother had run for Conservative candidate, said Lord Cameron was a great help to her.

The 19-year-old, who works in gift store Hyde and Home, said: “I thought he was done, to be honest. He would be in Sainsbury’s with all his security guards all the time.

“They used to wait outside as he did his shopping but there aren’t many terrorists in Chipping Norton. We’re alright here.”

Sam Hurst really wants to visit the cinema that has been built to entertain the youngers in the Cotswolds

Dr Mariah Whelan, 37, a local writer, was also cynical about the appointment. He said: “He loves swanning about here getting photographed at the foodbank but the policies he oversaw are the reason our town has some of the worst deprivation rates in the South East.

“There is a level of poverty here that is horrifying. It sickens me to see it side by side with range rovers zooming past on their way to Soho Farmhouse.”

She added: “I’ve never met David Cameron but I would like to understand where he’s coming from.

“I think he was the last Tory Prime Minister who cared. I disagree with his methodologies completely and entirely, but I think he was genuinely trying to make things better.

“And under him, gay marriage was legalised so I have to give him credit for that.”

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