Madeline Wilks: the new High Sheriff of Wiltshire
PUBLISHED: 10:50 05 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013
The office of High Sheriff of a county is one of the oldest in the country, formerly second only to the person of the monarch. Now largely formal, but no less prestigious for that, Wiltshire has just appointed its new High Sheriff for the year.
"They say there are a lot of things you have to give up when you become the High Sheriff," Madeline Wilks told me when I spoke to her at her home in North Newnton shortly before she was due to take office, "but one thing I am not prepared to give up is my lovely grandchildren." By the time this article goes to press, Madeline (God willing) will have five grandchildren, the latest of which will be a real Moonraker, being born to parents living in Urchfont, near Devizes. There couldn't be any more appropriate start to Madeline's year-long reign. "I'm that old-fashioned sort of woman who hasn't really had a career," Madeline said, "but I've done lot of different things in my life and been involved in a lot of community issues. For one thing I'm a governor of the primary school in Woodborough, the village in which I was born, three miles away. I didn't actually go to the school because my parents moved away before I was of school age, but I wish I had done because it really epitomises what a village school should be."
The arts are something else close to Madeline's heart, particularly music. She has sung in various choirs throughout her life and is currently involved with one attached to Marlborough College. She also runs Operaluna, a charitable organisation dedicated to bringing opera at affordable prices to the general public. The organisation brings a professional performance of opera to Marlborough College every summer, providing employment for local young musicians and helping raise money for local musical charities at the same time. The 'Riverbank Project' is something else with which Madeline is closely involved, seeking to find venues to help arts projects get off the ground, a cinema for rural areas being amongst the issues being promulgated.
One intensely personal charity with which Madeline is involved is in supporting the Prada-Willi Syndrome Association (www.pwsa.co.uk) , raising funds for research into the little-known genetic disorder that results in children having emotional instabilities, physical abnormalities in varying degrees and potential obesity problems - a condition which one of her adored grandchildren suffers from.
It goes almost without saying that someone who holds high office in the county is more than a little in love with Wiltshire, and that certainly holds true for Madeline Wilks. "Wiltshire has always pulled at my heartstrings and driving into the county always lifts my spirits. I love being fifth generation Wiltshire and I feel lucky to have very strong roots here. I dislike leaving it and can't imagine wanting to live anywhere else now. It's a county with immense diversity. In the west we have the wonderful stone-built towns like Melksham and Bradford-on-Avon and in the Pusey Vale in the east we have quaint thatched, chocolate box cottages. Then, of course, we have Salisbury Plain and the antiquities and the real feeling that Wiltshire can lay claim to being the civilizing influence for England in prehistoric times. It's a county of great contrasts that I just love - and we still have immense open spaces here: Wiltshire is purported to be the least densely populated county in England."
History and archaeology is one of Madeline's personal interests - as it could hardly fail to be for anyone who loves the county and its heritage. "People do sometimes tend to take that for granted, but they shouldn't because Wiltshire is a spectacular place for prehistory and Avebury, for instance, should be made much more of than it is, in my opinion."
When she takes office as High Sheriff in April, Madeline will be largely involved with community issues, but there is an historic link with the Police and Fire Service that the office still maintains. "We are very involved with Wiltshire Crimebeat, an organisation that helps very disadvantaged children, teaching them valuable skills, and in a similar vein the Fire Service runs something called the 'Salamander Service'." Although the High Sheriff isn't necessarily a fund raising position, there will be opportunities to do things that will help to raise money to put towards these two services. A lot of what the High Sheriff can do to help local charities comes via the Wiltshire Community Foundation which allocates a special fund. "As well as this, I shall also be hoping to take the opportunity to raise some funds for more arts-based projects, which is where my own interests lie."
Although she may not be prepared to give up her grandchildren to the exigencies of the position of High Sheriff, cooking is one thing that will be put on the back burner, much as she enjoys it. "Not that we're going to stop eating," she explained, "it's just that I won't be spending quite so much time in the kitchen - much to my husband's disgust, I have to say." But High office requires high ideals I suppose, and I'm sure that Madeline Wilks will bring the highest ideals to her time in office as High Sheriff.