Cllr Mark Williams is Lord Mayor of Chester 2019-20. We spoke to him and his wife, the Lady Mayoress Denise.
SC: How do you become Lord Mayor?
Mark : First of all you’ve got to be a councillor. Its non political. Within each group there are arrangements, its normally long service. When the opportunity came up, I mentioned it to Denise and first reactions were no, no , no , no! I said , its a wonderful opportunity!
SC: What qualities do you need to be a successful Lord Mayor ?
Denise : you’ve got to have people skills. You’ve go to be able to communicate with people, because we’ve met a huge variety of people from different backgrounds. You have to be diverse..
SC: What is our association with the city and your past career?
Mark: Well there’s something coming out in the Chronicle this week..
SC: Yeah, don’t worry about that ..
Denise: what bought Mark to Chester was he was in the RAF.
Mark: I was posted at RAF Sealand. I remember doing a parade when I was 20 years old marching through the city, being annoyed that I had to give up my weekend! I met this young lady at a nightclub called Cinderella Rockerfellas. Me and my mates went to The Plantation , it was “grab a granny ” night …
Denise: you cant say that !
Mark : My mate got thrown out, and being young air force lads we stuck together. So we went to this other club and I met this young lady on the dancefloor. I thought “you’ll do!”
Denise: that was May 1983.. That was when we met, we’ve been married 35 years
Mark: 2 kids, 2 grandchildren
SC: How long have you been a councillor for ?
Mark: 1992. What happened was, I had no interest in politics , but I walked on the local playing fields in Huntington with my 6 year old son and I thought, “this is rubbish!” So I joined the parish council. I’m still on there and I’ve chaired it for 13 years. City council came up, I stood in a few places, then Huntington came up and I won. Then the city council was abolished and became Cheshire West and Cheshire and I’ve been with Cwac since inception. But people don’t realise we have normal jobs…
Denise: we both work full time. I work in a high school
Mark: She’s off now for 6 weeks !
SC: How has the role affected your lives?
Denise: it is quite intense. During August its not quite so busy, people are on holiday. But we should have done Chester Pride today and we were so looking forward to that .
Mark: it took me two and a half hours to write the speech!
Denise: its not had a major impact on us. Mark is self employed so he has done a lot more than I have done. But everything we have done so far has been a real eye opener. I’ve lived in Chester for 42 years and there is so much about this place that I do not know. I didn’t know that LIVE Cheshire, one of the organisations we’re supporting existed. There was one young lady who did a speech, she has cerebral palsy. She told us about her background and it was heart-breaking hearing about her life. She makes the teas and coffee there, and it gives us her a purpose. They are based in the community centre in Newton. (See http://livecheshire.org.uk/)
Mark: they look after disabled people together and the elderly, they bring people together. We were really impressed.
SC: What other charities are you supporting ?
Mark: The Hospice, because we’ve supported them before. We did a rally across Europe, ten countries. It was a good trip! We are going to do it again in 2020.
Denise: they do an amazing job, not just for people who are ill, but supporting families.
Mark: its not just the end of life palliative care, its much wider…
Combat Stress was a no brainer for me, being ex forces .. I’ve spent my whole life in design and manufacture of military equipment. I’m still doing it now. I’ve built submarines, sonars. (The charity provide mental health support for veterans, see https://www.combatstress.org.uk/)
SC: Do we still need a Lord Mayor give the cost, its often a subject of debate ?
Denise: Chester has a lot of history, from the mayors but the Lord Mayor only came in 1992.
Mark: in the town hall theres a book of 1000 years of Chester history. You can see the names of the sheriffs from 1190 something. The history is there.
Denise: we are ordinary people…we’re not special .I can see both sides of the argument, but I pay for the Lord Mayor in my own council tax! I am enjoying what we do and we are getting to meet people we would never normally meet.
SC: Its quite a prestigious position. Are there any perks to the job?
Mark: not really! A lot of hours! There is a small allowance, which is taxable.
Denise: Having the opportunity to be in the same room as the Queen last year, I never thought that would happen.
Mark: we went to sit on Meghan’s table and got bounced off, so we were on the Ladies in Waiting table! The protocol was quite strange, there was a pianist playing God Save the Queen and you’re not supposed to sing it..
SC: so you dont get all the best tables in the restaurants then?
Denise: no, not like that and we wouldn’t expect there to be.
SC: Do you need the big car or could you just use a King Kab?
Mark: its the prestige of the Office… Its a special deal, like a lease we have. You borrow it for a year and then they give you another one in a year. It adds to the prestige and history of the Office.
Denise: it is advertising and it is keeping jobs going.
(Denise is speaking to a staff member in the market)
Mark: everywhere I go its “hello miss!” from ex students! One of the first jobs we did, I walked into an event at Cheshire College, as Deputy Lord Mayor. She’s more well known than me!
My other title is Admiral of the Dee. The reason why Chester is here is because it was the biggest port this side of the country for the Romans. Then, hundred of years ago the major at the time needed extra taxes, so they taxed candles and salt. They made the mayor at the time, the Admiral of the Dee. If there’s ever a ship on the racecourse I’ll be out there collecting taxes!
SC: Becoming Lord Mayor has that increased your knowledge of the city?
Mark: Immensely. I’m learning so much. One thing that gets me in the Town hall is the wooden paintings of the Earls at the top of the stairs. And I’ve asked the question, “how come they’ve all got the same faces?” When I spotted that I went to the Cathedral for the Church Breakfast and if you look at the stained glass windows, a lot of the faces are very similar!
SC: Has it changed our perception of the city?
Mark: I’ve lived here a long time, and when you come to visit , because its there, you’re used to it. When you take this role on you start to understand how it all fits together. When I used to live in the city, and you’d walk down these little alleyways, you’ve probably walked them all!
Denise: I haven’t seen every single street in Chester and I’ve lived here 42 years!
Mark: We’ve been married so long. we think the same things!
Denise: I work in a home economics department so I’m cooking all day with the kids, I’ll be sitting at home thinking about getting a takeaway and Mark will suddenly say “shall we get a takeaway?”
Mark: we take it in turns cooking. I can do beans on toast. When its my turn to cook, I order in or go the chippy!
SC: We all know that there’s parts of Chester that need some work. What do you think we can improve in the city ?
Mark: I want to open the amphitheatre up! I know its a bit awkward at the moment..
Denise: I would say the parking…
Mark: Dee House should be flattened…
SC: I dont think we should get into that ha ha ha
Mark: its an attraction. you get the lions back out!!
SC: the Northgate walls have been propped up for over 8 years now…the bridge is closed.
Mark: it needs fixing !
SC: what do you think would take Chester to the next level?
Mark: Besides an amphitheatre!?
Denise: Storyhouse is an amazing development … The market needs a facelift (as part of the Northgate development)
SC: well theres the new market and the cinema. We probably shouldn’t discuss this as its very political and people are debating it intensely!
SC: Tell us about the phone covers charity campaign you’ve been running?
Denise: we were at the raft race and our driver had Marks phone because he was in a better position to take photos. Mark asked for my phone and somebody on the bridge took a photo and tweeted it, and you retweeted it. and the photographer had commented “nice phone cover” . So , doing it this way is a good way of raising funds and awareness of the charities. Mark was going to do a lovely one for Pride.
Mark: I might have My Little Pony for Monday, its a schools event. What I’m trying to do is… we did the Peppa Pig one which was tongue in cheek, Then we did the Clangers with the Dean. I’m not doing it all the time, every other week I’ll get a new phone cover. If you go to the JustGiving site, and donate a pound and make a suggestion I’ll pull them out of a hat. People have asked me where I get them from… is it a place in China? Its our secret for the moment, but it doesn’t matter what it is, I can find it!
SC: the diary can be quite packed, I know from talking other Lord Mayors..
Mark: I work in Bolton, so if theres an evening event I come home, get changed, so straight out… We’re getting invites now to Christmas light switch ons already..
SC: What do you think about the chains on the rows?
Mark: I think they’re terrible and they should come down..
Denise: its part of our heritage as a city. I had no idea they were owned by the businesses. What if a child hurts themselves on the spike?
What are you looking forward to in the year ahead ?
Mark: I’ve just had one that was amazing, for the Polish air force. It was very moving.
SC: Another good event is the Diwali parade. Alex Black did some good dancing last year at that…
Mark: we haven’t had that invitation yet. But we have some charity events coming up in November and January. Our Lord Mayors banquet is in March. Flag raising, the Duck race, citizenship ceremonies are every month… We have a training course arranged for Makaton. I want to be the first Mayor to be trained in Makaton!
Thanks to Mark and Denise for their time. To donate to their campaign visit: