Features Interviews

Pomp and circumstance

Between 2011 until he retired in November 2020 the Royal’s representative Deputy Lieutenant of Islington was Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes. Nicola Baird of Islington Faces meets him.

A photograph of a 75 year old man in a suit and tie, sitting on a leather armchair, smiling.
Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes at home. Photo: Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes was representative Deputy Lieutenant (DL) of the London Borough of Islington from 2011– 2020. He stepped down at the age of 75, and in July, the Council hosted a celebration of his service to the borough at the Honourable Artillery Company near Old Street. “It was a chance to say goodbye,” said Charles. 

The honorific DL role is both high- and low-profile. The DL represents the Monarch in the absence of the Lord-Lieutenant, so in Charles’ time he acted as Queen Elizabeth II’s “eyes and ears” and met many Islingtonians at awards and ceremonies. His duties included fostering relations with charities, voluntary groups and reserve forces, as well as nominations for individual, voluntary and corporate honours – and the meticulous organisation of Royal family visits, the majority in the south of Islington. 

A qualified physician, barrister and retired soldier who saw action in the first Gulf War, Charles was Conservative MP for Wimbledon from 1987–1997. But he’s always loved Islington. “Whenever I presided over citizenship ceremonies in the Town Hall, I pointed out that those about to receive citizenship had chosen an extremely good place,” he says. “I’d say, ‘I should know because I was born in Islington, was a medical student here, bought a house here, worked here as a consulting physician in Pentonville Road and brought a charity, the London Playing Fields Foundation, to King’s Cross’.” In 1979, he stood against the odds as Conservative candidate for Islington Central – a ward that has since disappeared.Islington Council is of course a long-term Labour hold, but that hasn’t left Charles out on a limb or changed his love of the borough. 

“Just before that election I bought a derelict Georgian house at Theberton Street. By pure chance its garden backed on to my birthplace – the City of London Maternity Hospital in Liverpool Road. ” It was a happy coincidence although as Charles says, “I was meant to be born in Bart’s Hospital, as my father was a consultant paediatrician at Bart’s. But my mother fell out with the obstetrician and went to the City of London instead.” 

As Islington’s DL Charles represented the Queen in the borough when the Lord Lieutenant was not available. “As there are 32 London boroughs the Queen didn’t get to Islington that often” although he hosted her at Sadler’s Wells for the Golden Jubilee. 

Nonetheless he “met every member of the Royal family in Islington, including the Princess of Wales when she and Prince William came to Islington together. I haven’t met Prince Harry – he did have an appointment, but he cancelled it at the last moment. Princess Anne has been the most frequent visitor, an amazingly hard worker who talks without notes and who I’ve met at least half a dozen times. 

“Charles [then Prince of Wales] was delightfully relaxed. Once I received him and Prince Albert of Monaco for an environmental conference at King’s Place, and later got a telephone call from Buckingham Palace saying that both had gone down with Covid so I’d better get checked.” 

To track visits over his decade as DL, Charles put stickers on a map of the borough: red dots for Royal visits; green dots for official visits. The chart shows that the south of the borough got more than its fair share of Royal visits, and Charles also took part in many non-royal events, including at the HAC, on City Road and the Remembrance parades. “Every year in my time in Islington, on Remembrance Sunday and Armed Forces Day, the number of people attending increased with turnouts at three locations: the Royal Northern Hospital, Islington Green and Spa Fields.” 

There’s a special place in his heart for Arsenal football club. “After 1977 when I bought a house in Islington, I was a season-ticket holder at Highbury for many years. I saw Arsenal win the cup. I have a great affection for the old ground and saw Liam Brady, Dennis Bergkamp, Alan Hudson, Robert Pirès, Thierry Henry and John Hollins playing.” 

He’s enjoyed football since school days. “I love football,” says Charles. “I went to a football school, Charterhouse (in Surrey). I know nothing about rugger.” Interestingly, Charterhouse in EC1 is believed to be where the offside rule was devised so that students could play football in the cloisters. It was also “one of the members of the consortium called the Ring [after Far-ring-don] I set up to promote cross-fertilisation between heritage sites on each side of the Islington and City borders including the Charterhouse, the Priory of St John and Goldsmiths’ Centre as well as Bart’s the Great, Bart’s Hospital Museum and Bart’s Hospital itself.” The initiative got a long way, based on the projected opening of the Elizabeth Line but lost momentum. “I’m about to re-activate the Ring, perhaps linked to Culture Mile, as it was widely welcomed and supported by Goldsmiths’, the Corporation of London and Islington Council.” 

There’s another project, along with an unlikely collaboration. “Jeremy Corbyn and I were in the House of Commons together and we have always got on on a personal footing.” The pair have collaborated on the Royal Northern Hospital Memorial, at Manor Gardens near the Sobell Centre. “It’s in dire need of attention and the one remaining war memorial in the country deemed to be at severe risk. The question is how to restore it and I’ve worked with Jeremy Corbyn to try and get this done with the War Memorials Trust, English Heritage and the developers, Bellway Homes. It is very sad it’s dragging on because it is a very important memory of those who fell in two World Wars protecting our freedom.” 

Since March 2022 Islington’s DL has been Paul Herbage, MBE a lifelong volunteer with St John’s Ambulance. But although he’s no longer DL Charles remains busy. His great passion is how to help people suffering from PTSD – and there’s also that war memorial in N7 and The Ring in EC1. Here’s wishing him a very happy retirement.

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