Michael Edwards on why Brighton has become his home
PUBLISHED: 16:06 23 November 2015 | UPDATED: 16:06 23 November 2015
sarah a ketelaars
Michael Edwards, chairman of The Martlets Hospice in Hove, has been an archaeologist in Iran, a police officer in Manchester and is now CEO of Albion in the Community. He tells Jenny Mark-Bell why Brighton has become his home
A few minutes into my interview with Michael Edwards at his home in Preston Park, I realised why it had taken some time to set up a meeting. “My weeks are frantic,” he said. Michael was speaking to me in his capacity as chairman of Hove hospice The Martlets, but his day job is CEO of Brighton & Hove Albion’s charitable arm, Albion in the Community. He is also a trustee of the Royal Pavilion and a non-executive director of the Brighton NHS University Hospitals Trust. I think we can agree that time doesn’t weigh heavy on this man, who also manages to maintain an impressive array of hobbies.
Michael, who was brought up in the West Midlands, came to Brighton because of American Express, where he worked for 25 years, but his is a fascinating career trajectory. “When I was at school I had two passions: archaeology and old cars,” he said. He did an A-level in archaeology and then studied it at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and retains his passion for veteran sports cars. “At the end of my first year at the University of Manchester I was sitting on a bench outside the library recovering from a few pints and the professor of archaeology walked past and asked me what I was doing over the summer. He said they were looking for an extra driver to drive a minibus over to Iran where they were working on a site and they were leaving in three days’ time. I said ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’
“Iran was a different country in 1975, when I first went out there. In the north-western part of Iran there hadn’t been much archaeological work there done so it was virgin territory for us.”
So began an academic specialism in the Middle East and Michael returned to Iran as a postgraduate research student. “Then, rather inconveniently, Iran had a revolution. The Shah left and the Ayatollah arrived and it became very difficult to be there as an English person. I was airlifted by the RAF in a Hercules transport plane on the last evacuation flight from Iran to Cyprus.” After a later trip to Iraq was cut short when the country declared war on Iran, Michael decided he needed a change of direction. After finishing his PhD in Oxford, he was on a train back from London after a job interview when he a newspaper coupon that read “If you want a life of adventure, join the police force.” Within two weeks, he was a police constable in Manchester. Michael rose to inspector by the time he left, feeling that it wasn’t quite right for him. He studied for an MBA at Manchester Business School, joining American Express soon after completing the course. He stayed there for 25 years . His business experience helps with his other roles, he said: “One of the things you get when you work for a large organisation like American Express is organisational culture: how to manage performance of people, how to get strategic clarity in place and how to achieve results. Trying to inculcate some of that spirit into other organisations is, I think, really important and that is what I try to do.”
With a busy schedule during the week, “the weekend is a time for recharging the batteries. I have two daughters, one of whom is at the University of Brighton, but she lives elsewhere in Brighton. She always comes home on a Friday evening and she likes to cook. Friday night is a gathering of the clan, and that’s something I look forward to.”
Saturday might include an afternoon watching Brighton & Hove Albion followed by an evening at the theatre – he and wife Gillian recently enjoyed Constellations at the Theatre Royal – or a meal. Sundays are the time to indulge hobbies: “We might take one of the veteran cars from Brighton to Shoreham Airport for a really good breakfast, then to Steyning via the back lanes, and back.” A Sunday walk might take place in Ditchling Beacon, with lunch afterwards at favourite pub The Bull, and Michael is also a keen cyclist who favours the Brighton to Littlehampton cycle ride.
He has lived and worked in many places, but it seems that for Michael, all roads lead to Brighton: “Very few things surprise me anymore because you find all manner of life here. That’s what gives it its appeal and richness.”
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