Derby’s Walk of Fame – on Albion Street - is really something special.
Like many of you, I’ve been to Cannes and Hollywood and, in my humble unbiased view, neither hold a candle to what we have done in Derby. Let me tell you why.
Yes, being French, the Path of Stars laid out in Cannes has an elegant élan - handprints and signatures impressed in clay, located around the Palais des Festivals– but aside from looking at them, there is no opportunity for further information nor interaction.
Meanwhile, in surprisingly seedy Hollywood, the influence of characters such as Harvey Weinstein and, of course, the god that is cash – stars actually pay a $30,000 ‘fee’ for the pleasure of recognition – cheapens the experience of seeing almost 900 stars (honestly, there are that many) but no place for the likes of Robert de Niro, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie or Spike Lee. Odd that.
The catalyst here in Derby was the success of City of Derby club swimmer, Adam Peaty, who started bagging gold medals all over the world. This begged a question - how do we celebrate our heroes?
We decided to do things differently and sought nominations from the wider Derby public, to then employ local artisans and materials in creating the physical stars and, finally, introduce a hi-tech innovation, enabling people to engage with each star’s back story and more via an augmented reality app.
From this, came the name of our walk – Made in Derby.
To garner nominations, the Derby Telegraph ran a number of stories and 400 names were submitted. A small stakeholder panel then selected 10 individuals to be represented in phase one, which we agreed to locate on Albion Street in the city’s current regeneration priority area, the St Peters Quarter.
These 10 people manifest an astonishing reflection of 500 years of bravery and brilliance connected with the city.
Bess of Hardwick is the most historic name on the walk, dating back to the 16th century.
Imagine building a visitor attraction today, which is even more popular at the end of the 25th century? Well, that’s essentially what Bess did. If you have ever visited Chatsworth or Hardwick Hall you have witnessed her historic fingerprint.
From a poor background, Bess married four times and had eight children, she knew the likes of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and Charles Stuart – but Bess may be one of our greatest business people. Go see her tomb at Derby Cathedral.
I don’t need to wax lyrical in this column about Brian Clough, Peter Taylor, John Hurt, Charles Rolls, Henry Royce or Joseph Wright, all of whom feature on the walk but what do you know about Alice Wheeldon?
Alice is an interesting character - like Bess, a woman ahead of her time – who was a suffragist and fervent anti-war campaigner. Alice lived in the city’s ever-edgy Normanton neighbourhood and kept a safe house there for conscientious objectors.
Her notoriety is rooted in the fact that she was subjected to a Le Carré-style secret service spook entrapment and subsequently found guilty at the Old Bailey of plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister, Lloyd George.
Another name you might not know is that of Louis Martin, hailed as Britain’s greatest weightlifter. Louis was part of the Windrush generation – another citizen of Normanton – who loved Derby and went on to conquer the world, winning gold medals and championships.
A genuine local hero, at his peak, Louis was represented at Madame Tussaud’s, awarded an MBE, and set up a series of gyms across the city. Again, ahead of his time, his mixed marriage to a local girl in 1964 – 50 years before Harry met Meghan - featured in the Sunday Times magazine.
Last, but by no means least, is Lord Noel Baker, a man I was lucky to meet just before his death.
This guy was a rare polymath – Derby MP for 34 years, a medal-winning Olympian who brought the Olympic Games to London in 1948, one of the creators of the United Nations - oh, and did I say, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize?
In my student days, he treated me to lunch at the House of Lords (long story) where he talked nonchalantly of his meetings with the likes of Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
Rather embarrassingly, I told him I thought he was a school (these of course were pre-Google days) but he forgave me and we quickly found common ground when I noticed he was proudly wearing a DCFC tie and told him where I was from.
Ten very different stories of ten very different characters.
But, what binds them together is a fearless ambition to challenge the conventions of their time, seeking to change their city and the wider world for the better, contributing to their community, which is why they will be remembered for many more centuries to come.