I was born in 1950. The next couple of decades flowed by effortlessly at Eton, Magdalen College, Oxford, and messing around planting trees and farming in New Zealand and Australia.
I first got involved with environmental issues in 1974, at the same time as I became a teacher in a West London comprehensive, which I absolutely loved. Ten years later (during which I was also very involved in the Green Party), I left teaching to become Director of Friends of the Earth where I stayed until 1991, just prior to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 – which for me, was a life-changing experience.
In 1996, we set up Forum for the Future, which remains my ‘home base’ in terms of all the different things I do today. I was Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission between 2000 and 2009. I got married in 1986, and we have two daughters Eleanor and Rebecca.
At the moment, I’m especially busy promoting my new book, Hope in Hell.
That’s about it – in a nutshell! Still hard at it nearly 50 years on.
My parents moved into 57 Hamilton Terrace in the mid 1970s – and I gratefully moved into their basement flat! I’d just started teaching at a big comprehensive in Shepherd’s Bush, just a 20 minute cycle ride away, and not having to pay any rent was a huge benefit. I used all the money saved to fund my early campaigns as a candidate for the Green Party (or the Ecology Party, as it was in those days) in local, national and European elections.
As history accurately records, I was consistently unsuccessful as a candidate for the Ecology Party, never making much impact on the somewhat bemused voters of NW8. But they were unfailingly polite and even encouraging!
And those were very early days for green politics – or any kind of environmentalism for that matter. When I joined the Ecology Party, there were no more than a couple of hundred members across the whole of London, and none of them were to be found in St John’s Wood. So I first had to recruit a few more or less willing friends of my parents to nominate me as a candidate, and only then could I get out on the campaign trail.
That basement flat served as an excellent campaign HQ through into the early 1980s. Long-suffering friends and fellow teachers would put in long stints of stuffing envelopes with election material, fortified by plentiful supplies of cheap wine. We’d then sally forth with our Ecology Party rosettes and electoral registers to try and locate a few potential voters.
At least we were a presence on the street. Both the local ward and constituency had been Tory since the Dark Ages, so they never bothered much with the arduous business of actually door-stepping the voters. Labour had long given up, and even the Liberals (as they then were!) seemed to be going through the motions.
So I got to know St John’s Wood pretty well over the best part of ten years – the ultra-posh bits, the mansion flats, the council flats, the improbable, hidden ‘cottages’, often at the bottom of what must once have been great big gardens. I learnt to avoid both the garrulous (only too keen to have someone to talk at) and the grumpy (‘So what are you going to do about the parking round here?’), and to relish the eccentrics and those with deep political memories.
In all that, I was lucky. There were many less welcoming constituencies than mine for Ecology Party candidates, especially in those early days. St John’s Wood became my real ‘home territory’ for that amazing time in my life.
But not without some edge. It was (and still is) an unbelievably privileged place to be living, and the contrast between the lives of most of my pupils (particularly on the White City Estate and around Wormwood Scrubs) could not have been more different. And the contrast between my own radical politics and the fusty, inherited conservatism of so many St John’s Wood residents was also fairly telling!