I know very little about this illustrious title before I meet Field, but I am aware – thanks to the internet – that a Lord Lieutenant is appointed by the Sovereign on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and that Field is the current Queen’s representative for East Sussex. The emails that have passed between myself and Peter Field’s office have had a charmingly official tone to them: “The Lord Lieutenant, Mr Peter Field, would be delighted to do an interview.”
I have responded in similarly respectful terms, with the kind of formal language I last remember using to address my formidable head of house at secondary school.
It’s therefore with a hint of trepidation that I pick up the phone, and feeling a tad like Hyacinth Bucket from my favourite Nineties sitcom, Keeping Up Appearances, adopt my finest speaking voice and ask if may talk to “the Lord Lieutenant.”
This, after all, is as close as a boy from Watford has got – and indeed is ever likely to get – to high society, let alone royalty.
I need not have worried. When Peter Field comes to the phone the tone of his voice is nothing but genial, and I am immediately put at my ease.
Even so, it feels only appropriate to ask, “May I call you Peter?” “Of course,” he laughs.
My ignorance about Field’s position becomes apparent when I refer to his role as a “job” (he politely explains that he is not paid for his official duties), and when I go on to pronounce his title as “lieu-tenant” rather than “left-tenant”.
“But technically, it should be ‘lieu’,” says Field, “as it is in lieu of the land occupier.” In a level voice Field explains that the position was created by Henry VIII in the middle 1500s, because at the time the country’s Sheriffs were getting a bit out of hand and the monarch – ever controlling – didn’t know what was going on in his realm. The Lord Lieutenant was responsible for reporting back to the King.
Fortunately for Field, these days the position does not involve watching over unruly citizens who are getting ideas above their station. But the key part of the role remains: to represent the Queen in East Sussex. What exactly does this involve?
“When you start you get your own royal charter, which is called Letters Patent,” says Field. “That basically tells me what the Queen expects of me in the course of the role, but it is also governed by an Act of Parliament – the last one being in 1997.”
One of the main aspects of Field’s role is to deal with royal duties. Most things that have a royal connection come across his desk: Queen’s awards, arranging royal visits and honours. If it has anything to do with East Sussex – and that includes the City of Brighton and Hove – Field is involved. To an outsider, arranging a royal visit seems like a daunting task, I remark. But, as Field explains, it is remarkably simple.
“Anyone can do it. You just get in touch with Lord Lieutenant’s office – which you can do via our website – and explain why you want a visit, who your organisation is and we’ll do our best to help out.
“If someone is having some sort of special anniversary or there’s a group that have been doing something for quite a while then it’s certainly possible to get a visit. There’s obviously lots of pressure on the royals, so we try to link them up with things that particularly interest them, or with charities that they strongly support.”
Similarly, I am surprised to learn that nominating someone for an honour is a very simple process.
“It just means visiting the government website and downloading a form,” says Field matter-of-factly. “Anyone can nominate anyone for an honour.” What part does he play in the process?
“I may well give a comment on a nomination if it passes through the county, so yes, I am part of the system.”
Field is also responsible for what has always historically been considered one of the most glamorous aspects of high society: an opportunity to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace. For many people – even those who are not staunch royalists – this is perhaps the most coveted invitation of them all. Field recognises the almost mythic status that an event like this holds in the public conscious.
“Yes, I have quite a good allocation for those,” he says modestly. “I can nominate people and spend quite a bit of time throughout the year trying to identify unsung heroes, who have never had the chance to attend. I also have 38 deputy Lord Lieutenants who are my eyes and ears throughout the county, so they also bring forward nominations. I consider them all and then the invites go out.”
Field is particularly strong on these “unsung heroes” and takes every opportunity he can to champion people who have done good work in the community. His own work has included helping develop major Sussex housing associations such as Brighton Housing Trust and Southdown Housing Association.
The passion in his voice is audible as he speaks of the great charity work that he has played a role in rewarding.
“That’s what I enjoy most about the role: everybody I get to meet. I’ve been so fortunate to meet some fantastic people who have been doing amazing things for our county for many years. It’s a delight.”
Through the Lord Lieutenancy, Field has been afforded considerable access to high society. How does he think our ideas about class have changed within Sussex – and beyond?
“A garden party is, in a sense, a little bit of old England,” he muses. “You have the military bands; the Queen or other members of The Royal Family greet you. It’s a fairly exclusive visit to Buckingham Palace.
“Once upon a time only a certain class would attend such an event. Garden parties originated from debutantes being presented to the Queen. It was the first major event of ‘the season’, when they were introduced to society. That started to change between the wars and then you had the massive changes in the 1960s, when the class barriers began to break down. Now the notion of a garden party is more about recognition of people who are doing something in society. You get a good cross-spectrum of the whole community there.”
And this, Field readily admits, is what brings him the most joy about his role: “Seeing the absolute pleasure that a garden party or a royal visit brings to people really can’t be matched.”
Protocol tips: how do you address members of the Royal Family?
For The Queen: “Your Majesty” on the first occasion, and “Ma’am” thereafter (rhymes with “ham”). Other female members of The Royal Family who hold the title Her Royal Highness: “Your Royal Highness” on the first occasion, and then “Ma’am”. For male members of The Royal Family who hold the title His Royal Highness: “Your Royal Highness” on the first occasion and “Sir” thereafter.