Sutton Park owner, Lady Victoria Sheffield talks to Yorkshire Life
PUBLISHED: 00:32 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:23 20 February 2013
Lady Victoria Sheffield - owner of Sutton Park, world-class angler and derring-do travel enthusiast - tells Tony Greenway about her Yorkshire life. PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEREMY PHILLIPS
Lady Victoria Sheffield could, if she wanted, live a very comfortable life.
She and her husband, Sir Reginald Sheffield, eighth baronet, are the owners of two sumptuous estates, Normanby Park (in Lincolnshire) and Sutton Park (in the village of Sutton on the Forest, near York). Lady Victoria has three children with Sir Reginald - and one of his children from his first marriage, Samantha, is wife of a certain D Cameron, Esq., who is currently leader of the Conservative Party. Which makes Lady Sheffield - goodness, let's see if we can get this right - step-mother-in-law (is there such a thing?) to The Man Who Would Be PM. Talk about well-connected.
So far, so very, very Yorkshire Life. You're thinking tea on the terrace, aren't you? You're thinking a retinue of servants, cocktails on the lawn and then dinner at 8pm, sharp. Right? Wrong. The thing is they broke the mould when they made Lady Sheffield, who was born Victoria Penelope Walker, trained as a graphic designer and worked for the iconic Mary Quant at the height of the Swinging Sixties.
She thinks nothing of yomping off across the world's most volatile hotspots, including Vietnam, Pakistan, Cambodia and Afghanistan whereas we think we're living on the edge if we drive from York to Scarborough on a Bank Holiday weekend (I mean come on: have you seen those traffic jams?)
Lady Sheffield has even fired a gun during her many jaunts ('Although nothing too serious,' she says. 'Just a few warning shots'); whereas the most dangerous piece of equipment we have operated abroad is the trouser-press in our hotel room.
She is also, notes The Daily Telegraph, one of the most accomplished anglers in the country. So where is Lady Sheffield off to next? And, before she goes, can she describe her Yorkshire life to us?
Q: Are you an adventurer? I think you must be.
A:No, I'm not. I'm just curious.
Q: You famously enjoy an adventure, though, have you been off on your travels recently?
A: Yes, I have. I went to Cambodia last year, which is a most beautiful country despite the despotic war. Better not to walk too far in the countryside, though, as there are still so many landmines around. It's so tempting to wander off into the jungle to discover another hidden temple, but that you must not do. Every time I've been to Vietnam I've always planned on going to Cambodia - but there was always a war going on, so I never got in. This year we went to Sri Lanka. It's quite dangerous now. There were bombs going off everywhere.
Q: To our ears, the places you like seem to be... well... on the dangerous side. Aren't you ever worried for your safety?
A:No. I think if you appear frightened or nervous, trouble will come your way. I do have butterflies over ridiculous things, though. I work for the Henry Smith Charity, they have 25million to give away to English worthy causes every year, so I assess for them whether a potential cause is genuine and doing the right thing with the money. I get in a panic going to see these places. I'll always get lost in the middle of Leeds, and then I'm late and as nervous as a kitten.
Q: What's the worst scrape you've ever been in?
A: In 1970, I was taken to the DMZ Zone in South Vietnam by a Vietnamese captain. In the bombed out town of Quang Tri, I left the captain's side and started to explore. Suddenly everything went quiet and I looked around to see shocked faces. I had wandered off on a path laid with mines and no-one dared to follow me. I realised my mistake and trod back in my original footsteps. All was well!
Q: Is there a place in the world you haven't been but would love to visit?
A:New York.We had all the children home this weekend and one of them is going there shortly. I admitted I'd never been and they all screamed at me. It's something I will have to rectify.
Q: What's do you think is the most exciting city in the world?
A: Hanoi. In the old days it was so communist, you couldn't get in.When I first went in the 1980s it was so poor and run down. There was no food and you never saw a car.Whereas now, it's still communist, but suddenly it's flourishing. It's French colonial, charming but buzzy and I just adore it there. Plus, the food is fantastic and transport is working now.
Q: You're an accomplished angler too, and fish all over the world. Where's the strangest place you've cast a line?
A: Fishing on the Koala Peninsula in Russia. It is Arctic Tundra at the end of the world. Last year I caught a 36lb salmon there. I've also fished on the Mekong River. Fishing appeals because I love the hunt and the beauty of every river.
Q: You particularly love your trips to Afghanistan and remote bits of Pakistan. But, surely, those must be off limits at present?
A: Sadly both countries are not easy to go to now, but I hear it will be possible to travel to the Northern Provinces in Afghanistan soon. One of my best friends is an author called James Fergusson who has just written a brilliant book about the place called A Million Bullets. He goes out to Afghanistan all the time, living and dressing as an Afghan and he thinks that the northern provinces will soon be OK to travel to because they are so far away from where the war is in the south.
Q: Let's get closer to home. Do you have a favourite place in Yorkshire?
A:Whitby. I think it's so charming and slightly old fashioned. Sort of shabby chic. I go in the winter rather than the summer because it's packed and you just can't get there in the summer, anyway. I have been cod fishing out on the sea there and looking back at the town from the boat is wonderful. Plus, I do love fish and chips.
Q: Do you have a favourite restaurant in Yorkshire?
A: The Gulshan Tandoori Restaurant, White Dog Inn in Stillington. It does the most delicious Tandoori food. Really good, very authentic. Once I get to Sutton Park, though, I hardly go out. I only get three days a week here, so I'm either gardening all day and cooking all night, or we have visitors staying and I'm cooking for them. One of the gardeners is a chef, which is wonderful. He doesn't want to cook every day but he will get in the kitchen when I need him.
Q: What did you think of Yorkshire when you first came here?
A: I'm a Lancashire girl but Yorkshire is stunning with a beautiful coastline.
Q: Did you ever have that famous Lancashire v Yorkshire attitude and a broad Lancashire accent?
A:No, I haven't lived there since I was 11. I was born in Bolton. It's funny: my two youngest girls went to prep school in Hull and talked with a broad Hull accent. Then they went off to boarding school in the south and within two days one of them rang and this awful Sloane voice said over the telephone: 'Hello mummy.' I said: 'That can't be you.' The same happened to me, I suppose. I was sent to school in the south.
Q: Is there anything you don't like about Yorkshire?
A:No, except for the terrible traffic on the roads to the coast. That ring road around York is a complete disaster. They should have thought about that before they built it.
Q: At the moment, it's looking pretty certain that you're going to be stepmother- in-law to the next Prime Minister. Did you always think David Cameron would be a high-achieving politician?
A: Yes. Ever since I've known him - which is for many years now - he has always said that he wanted to be Prime Minster.
Q: Well, not long to go now.
A: No, but you never know in politics!
Q: Do you and Sir Reginald see a lot of David, Samantha and the children?
A: Yes, they stay here with us quite frequently with the grandchildren. They were up here last week because David was in Yorkshire to support David Davis in Howden. So we see a lot of them one way or another, in either house or in London. I'm going to London tomorrow and I'll see them all while I'm there.
Q: What's the best thing about living at Sutton Park?
A: Sutton Park is a beautiful house inside and I love the romantic garden. It's a gem of a place.
Q: What are your ambitions?
A: To keep on going until I'm 100 and still have the energy to fish and travel more.