The Trust’s offices are a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey. It was a crisp cold day in early January, people were just heading back to work after the Christmas break, and the buildings looked fabulous as I walked round Parliament Square with the stonework sharp-edged in the winter sun.
I’d spent the night before with a friend in Hammersmith, outlining what I wanted to do and why – a useful dress rehearsal! She’d asked searching questions, but had been positive and supportive. I hoped my answers might have the same effect on the interview panel.
Nick Danziger has a string of award winning documentaries and books to his name, with collections of his photographs held by numerous museums. He used his Churchill Fellowship, awarded in 1982, to trace ancient trade routes from Turkey to China.
Jeremy Soames is a grandson of Sir Winston Churchill and has been a trustee of the Memorial Trust since 1998. His career has largely been in investment management and banking, in Europe, Asia and the USA.
John Baker is a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers and a commitment to strong, positive international relationships has been the central pillar of his career. He splits his time between the UK and California, and became a trustee for the Memorial Trust in 2011.
The Trust’s Director General Jamie Balfour, and Fellowship Director Julia Weston, made up the complete panel.
The setup felt formal, but the atmosphere was relaxed, and I didn’t feel unduly on edge. It was good to have the chance to expand on my idea and explain more about my thinking – although I’d have very much appreciated spending a little longer with the panel to find out more about them.
And that was the thing. Time went quickly, and the questions came thick and fast. Not the ones I’d been expecting, either. A lot on the budget: I could justify everything I’d asked for to guarantee value for money, but I didn’t expect to come away feeling they thought I’d underestimated the cost.
I’ve clearly been working for charities for far too long – I’m too used to making nothing go a very long way!
The interview was timed to the minute. We covered a lot of ground, but if I’m honest as I shook hands and left there were doubts in my mind. I normally do OK in interviews, or at least come away feeling – like Andy Murray on a good day – that I’ve left everything on court and there’s nothing to regret. But I didn’t feel that this time. I was surprised by questions they didn’t ask, and which I didn’t have time to raise. As I sat over coffee and started texting the many people who were wishing me luck, I remembered more and more things I probably should have said. I still had absolute faith in what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t be sure I’d convinced the panel, and the long journey home gave me plenty of time to think of how I could have handled it better.
By the time I got off the train I was convinced there would be other, better, stronger projects out there than mine. I told friends and family so. Everyone very kindly said exactly what I would to them in the circumstances: “You can’t say for sure, and I bet you did better than you thought”. My referees both told me in no uncertain terms that I was being way too pessimistic. But of course they hadn’t been there, I thought darkly. I knew better.
Except I didn’t. They were right – and I’ve never been more delighted than when the acceptance letter arrived and proved me wrong!