As a Baby I Used to Crawl around Picking Flowers for My Mum; Jill Preston's Early Love of Botany Took Her by a Circuitous Route to Become a Director of Kew Gardens Where She Has Dramatically Increased Visitor Numbers. This Is How She Did It

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

As a Baby I Used to Crawl around Picking Flowers for My Mum; Jill Preston's Early Love of Botany Took Her by a Circuitous Route to Become a Director of Kew Gardens Where She Has Dramatically Increased Visitor Numbers. This Is How She Did It


Byline: ANDREA KON

I WAS born in Yorkshire but grew up in Cornwall where nature was part of my everyday life. My mother, a dress designer with her own company, claims that even before I could walk, I would crawl around in the grass, grabbing handfuls of flowers and handing them to her.

Later, I have fond memories of both my mother and one of my primary school teachers, Miss Maynard, taking me on nature walks.

On my 10th birthday I was given a flower press and it was my all-time favourite present. I would spend hours pressing flowers and then writing out the Latin names in my very best ink handwriting. If I made a mistake I would start again.

I still have the press and that book of flowers.

I went to St Austell Grammar School and decided I wanted to do botany at A-level. The school didn't offer it as a subject, but the biology teacher, Mr Lawson, was a botanist and told me that if I joined the biology class, he'd help me study for it on my own. I was very chuffed when I got a grade A.

I suppose I should have studied botany at university. However, I loved geography, too, so that's what I decided to read. My school geography master, Mr Rice, was my mentor and he not only inspired me but set me challenges to ensure I didn't get too big for my boots. He really made me believe I could get to Oxford. My parents were very supportive. It says a lot for them that two of their three children got to Oxford from this little Cornish grammar school. At Oxford, I had a great tutor, Dr Marjorie Sweeting. She was a world expert on limestone. She was also the sort of person who made you believe that it was possible to do anything you set your mind to.

She asked me what I planned to do during the summer vacation and I told her I wanted to see a volcano. I said I'd like to go to Iceland. "No, no," she said, "boring." Then I suggested Italy. "No, no. The men. The men," she exclaimed in horror. So, I suggested Africa and she thought Kenya was a great idea.

She encouraged me to put forward a proposal to lead a formal Oxford University expedition to Mount Olorgesailie. It was credited by the Royal Geographical Society, so we received funding.

For two months, we stayed with the Masai. We got invited to an initiation ceremony for the young Masai men, which is a great honour. It involved us drinking blood with milk and other unmentionable things. But it was an adventure...as was being chased up a tree by a rhino.

After university, I had three options. I was offered a place at Kenyatta University to carry on the work of the expedition, but that would have been a geological and physics project, neither of which are my interests.

Oxford offered me the opportunity to do a PhD but I wanted to see the world. So I went on a Guide to Business week.

That's when I realised I was interested in marketing as a career. It offered me the chance to use my creative skills. My first job was at United Biscuits.

In the Seventies, there was an enormous sales force, but they were mostly men. It taught me a lot about standing my ground.

A year later, I moved to the marketing department, then joined Cadbury Schweppes, where I rose to branch group manager. But I love wine and decided I really wanted to move into the drinks industry, not only for the wine-tasting perks but because it offered me the chance to travel.

I joined Courage and later Whitbread. In 1990, I joined Seagram distilleries as marketing director of whiskies worldwide. I travelled to Japan and Latin America, but then I came back to Scotland and the natural world I love so much.

As part of the Scottish Whisky project, I was given a budget of around [pounds sterling]7 million to oversee the restoration of four of Scotland's top distilleries. …

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As a Baby I Used to Crawl around Picking Flowers for My Mum; Jill Preston's Early Love of Botany Took Her by a Circuitous Route to Become a Director of Kew Gardens Where She Has Dramatically Increased Visitor Numbers. This Is How She Did It
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