What’s your first Yorkshire memory? My earliest memories of Yorkshire are of when my family first returned from Australia when I was around eight. Both of my parents are antique dealers and we moved house a number of times. I was born in Yorkshire and will always be a Yorkshire-lass. My memories are made up of a kaleidoscopic picture of fish and chips, walking the walls of York, and being fascinated by lots of strange new sights: double-decker buses, red post boxes and Yorkshire’s stone walls. And the moors and woods of Cragg Vale – beautifully damp and leafy, after the baking hot, dry summers of Barossa Valley.
What’s your favourite part of the county and why? The Howardian Hills. Every time I visit I feel so very lucky to have this beautiful landscape right on my doorstep. With every new season it changes, but it always looks so dramatic.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire? Taking Pip (my mum’s gorgeous friendly little Schnauzer) for a walk somewhere near to the Castle Howard estate and ending up at a cosy pub for lunch.
Do you have a favourite walk or view? It would probably have to be the ridgeway above Nunnington. It’s a great haven for dog-walkers, and as you walk along the top you have spectacular views for miles. It gives a great sense of perspective in every meaning of the word - you are just one of many people who must have walked along this ancient pathway for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star (past or present) would you like to take for lunch and why? Hmmm – I’m torn. It would have to be either Dame Judi Dench or Sir Patrick Stewart – both actors I have loved for a very long time, and grown up with, even in Australia. They hardly need explaining – two acting greats from York and Yorkshire who must have the most amazing stories to tell of their lives and careers.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what or where would it be? No surprises here – Fairfax House. Hidden behind its restrained façade is an interior people could just not imagine. It’s still one of York’s best kept secrets – but we plan to change that!
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? Its independent spirit. Its history. Its distance from London.
How do you immerse yourself in Yorkshire’s cultural life? Yorkshire’s fabulous historic houses – a busman’s holiday but I love it all the same. We are spoilt for choice in Yorkshire. From Castle Howard to its smaller historic treasures – I just love any chance to go and visit.
Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub? It feels a little disloyal to two of my favourite pubs, the Crown and Cushion and Fairfax Arms, but for an absolute treat, and to make yourself feel very special, it has to be Middlethorpe Hall. Sipping coffee in the sitting room after dinner makes you feel rather luxurious and resplendent and as though you might just have stepped back in time…
Do you have a favourite food shop? Too many but if I had to choose the food shops of Helmsley are sheer temptations. There is one particular bakery, Cinnamon Twist on Church Street, where all sense of restraint disappears!
Who is the Yorkshire man or woman you most admire and why? Captain Cook – how could I not, having lived in Australia for a large part of my life. His incredible bravery, skill and achievements. A remarkable man – and a hero of the eighteenth century too!
Do you ever find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to others? No – no need. Yorkshire speaks for itself. It needs no hard sell at all!
How has Yorkshire influenced your work? You can’t separate or transplant a historic house away from its setting. The history of Fairfax House is the history of York and Yorkshire, so you can’t talk about one without the other. It has been important to me that all of our exhibition topics (from fashion to timekeeping, Georgian pleasures and entertainments to shopping) are rooted in the region and showcase the world of provincial urban Britain.
Who is your favourite Yorkshire author/artist/performer? John Atkinson Grimshaw, a Victorian artist from Leeds. My mother has passed on her deep love of this artist’s work: his moonlit nights, often foggy or rainy, so evocative they just pull you in to that moment and place in time.
What are you working on at the moment? At the moment, I’m working on a new education initiative, called The Cabinet of Curiosities. This online portal is going to be an entry into the deep, dark and fascinating world of Georgian Britain and will hold stories, articles and research on all things eighteenth-century from rapacious consumerism to exotic pleasures, polite society to politics, food to fashion. I am very excited by the prospect of launching it any day now.