Patrick Peal was driving to work at the East Anglian Air Ambulance charity headquarters in Norwich when he received a call from a clerk at the Old Bailey.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh my god, what have I done?, but she just wanted to invite me to lunch with some of the judges.”
Invitations of this nature are something Patrick will probably have to get used to as the new master of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, but he remains humble.
“It is a huge honour to be elected and it’s going to offer me some amazing opportunities; I’ll have a window to see parts of the City that people would never normally get to see and I’m very much looking forward to that.”
Patrick’s interest in the time-honoured rituals that make the City tick was fostered at a young age, within the very organisation that he will spend the next 12 months leading.
“I have very happy early memories of going to London with my father for one of the Cordwainers’ apprenticeship dinners and being absolutely enthralled by all the history associated with the livery company, and the strong traditions that came along with that.”
These are traditions with which the Peal name is intrinsically linked. Patrick’s father was a Cordwainer, his grandfather was a Cordwainer, and he is a seventh generation descendent of Samuel Peal, founder of bootmakers Peal & Co, which was one of the most renowned producers of bespoke footwear in Britain throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The firm went into liquidation in the 1960s, but the name lives on under US mens’ clothing label Brooks Brothers, which produces a line of British-style footwear under the Peal & Co moniker, and in the family’s strong representation within the Cordwainers. As is the 12th Peal to take the master role, and Patrick is hoping to make his year-long tenure count.
“I think over the last 20 years, the Cordwainers, like many other livery companies, have been reinvigorated and are much more active in charity work and supporting education within the modern industries they represent,” he says. “I want to be part of pushing that forward.”
This means consolidating the Cordwainers’ current 2013-2020 strategic vision, which aims to increase the company’s profile, and double the amount it gives to charity.
As in the case of most City livery companies, charitable giving is the Cordwainers’ largest function; the company raised £63,000 for The Royal Marsden, its chosen charity, in 2015-16.
Patrick has nominated SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, as their fundraising beneficiary for his time at the helm, himself no stranger to the world of NGO’s having helped launch the EAAS in 2000.
The former PR director closed his Norwich agency three years ago to head up the charity as its chief executive officer, a position that, up until recently, made him Prince William’s boss.
The Duke of Cambridge served as a helicopter pilot for the ambulance service for more than two years, before making his final flight late last month in order to take on more royal duties on behalf of the Queen and Prince Philip.
Patrick speaks fondly of the prince, calling him “an extremely valued member of the team.”
“I think a lot of the general public didn’t realise how much time he put in with us; he was a first-class pilot, really hardworking and really very good with the patients and supporting the doctors as they administered care. He will be sorely missed.”
The young royal’s star power could come in handy for Patrick’s other aim for his time at the helm of the Cordwainers, which is to increase participation among younger members, particularly in planning for the next decade, which includes the company’s 750th anniversary in 2022.
“If I look back to when I was young, there were these wonderful venerable gentlemen that the rest of us were in awe of, and it was very much a case of ‘be seen and not heard’,” he says.
“But we’ve come a long way and I’m proud to say that our younger members are very enthusiastically involved in the daily workings of the company.
“We’re not far away from achieving our aims ahead of 2020, so one of the things I want to put in place is to start a working group to look ahead at what we’re going to do in the next decade, and the younger members should play a significant role in that.”
Helping to transform this image of the livery companies being the domain of the older generation is the Cordwainers’ involvement in supporting the next generation of shoe designers and makers through education bursaries and advocacy, a function Patrick is also keen to develop.
“I think we have an important part to play in strengthening links between the universities and employers,” he says.
“All the leathery liveries can act as a catalyst to listen even harder to what the industry wants, and to ensure that the universities are equipping students with the right skills to match that.”
“British footwear design is some of the best in the world, and long may that continue.”
As for the likelihood of Patrick wrangling the Duke or Duchess of Cambridge into turning out to present next year’s Student Footwear Designer of the Year award?
“I live in hope,” he says.