Law & Order
Hi Cressida… How did you get to become Britain’s most senior Police Officer and be awarded with the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service?
Hi Chloe… I was very lucky. I was the third child of two Oxford academics and grew up in a lovely family, surrounded by books and by people who talked about everything. But my father died when I was 11 and it was tough for everyone. I saw my mum’s challenges in bringing us up without a partner. That said, I feel I was very privileged. Lots of people don’t have the advantages I had.
My mum always thought I could do anything my big brother could, which was quite unusual in the 1960s and 1970s when a lot of girls were told you could do this, but you can’t do that. Some were even told that boys were better than girls. My mum would have none of that in our household, and it gave me a lot to confidence to try things out and have a go.
At school I loved sports but, academically, I was not brilliant at anything. When I was 12, 13, 14, I was a bit lazy, and quite naughty as well. Not major crime, just silly things. I was, I think, led astray by others, but I was the one who always got caught. I was an unlikely future police officer.
When I went back to my old school years later there was a newspaper clipping saying something like ‘Local girl is top cop’. My old biology teacher had scrawled across it:
“Poacher turned gamekeeper.”
When I was heading towards A-levels I decided to take science subjects rather than the arts because of the self-discipline involved. I knuckled down to my studies, had some good teachers, and got decent grades. I went on to university and I was not the hardest working student. But I got involved in a lot of outside activities; debating, sports, especially rowing, even though I am only five foot four inches. I’m sure that those activities were just as important, if not more so than academic study in terms of learning about life.
I had been interested in the police for some time. At 16 or 17 I had spent a week with my local police force, going on patrol. I applied to them before I left university, but they turned me down and I never found out why. I wasn’t cross though, it was just disheartening and made me doubt myself a bit. After I got my degree I decided to go out and try something different, to find what really suited me, and to grow up a bit more.
I joined an accountancy firm in London. I was not terrible at it, and I enjoyed being in the City, but I quickly realised it was not the life for me. I applied to the Metropolitan Police, and they accepted me. Almost from the moment I arrived, I love policing. I loved dealing with the public, the company of my colleagues, the level of commitment, the occasional excitement.
I also realised that, then as now, the police offered a lot of different career opportunities. After 30 years I sometimes look back and think of the police careers I could have had. I would have loved going into forensic science or being a dog handler or a DC dealing with sexual offences or armed robbery. I always imagined being a community officer for five or six years and really getting to know that community. I always loved being on the streets.
But don’t get me wrong, I loved the path I took, running operations, becoming a commander in the Met, investigation gun crime. I have really enjoyed running specialist anti-terrorist operations and dealing with the security and intelligence agencies and the military, which is fascinating. And I was so honored to be awarded a CBE for services to Policing in the 2015 New Years Honours’ List. Like anything in life you have to know when it’s time to move on once you have accomplished what you want in a profession. I did that in 2015 by joining the Foreign Office where I am now a Director General.
“My advice to you is… If you find yourself doing something you don’t like, that doesn’t suit you, the brave and the right thing to do is to stop and do something else.
Finally, you may not think this now, but life is short. So if you find an area of work which makes you happy, makes you feel fulfilled, stick with it. Not every day will be brilliant but it’s worth it.”
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)