Thursday, 20 November 2014

Charlotte Scott: I was the cheekiest child



 

 Dr Guy Scott with wife, Charlotte.



Charlotte Scott, the wife of Republican Vice-President, Dr Guy Scott, is a witty and independent woman who, like her husband, speaks out her mind. She gave up her high-flying career at the United Nations for the sake of her husband’s political career. But will she remain in her husband’s shadow? She spoke exclusively to our senior writer, Jack Zimba.

Charlotte Scott has the look of a woman full of contentment and simplicity. She wears no flashy jewels, no designer dresses and she most certainly does not wear Prada.
For a woman whose husband wields so much political power and holds the second-highest position in the Zambian government, she gives an impression of a woman who is really down-to-earth. 
And maybe she is. On a wintry June morning at the couple’s residence in State Lodge, east of Lusaka, Charlotte offers us tea and coffee which she brews and serves herself, apologising for the mismatched coffee mugs.
“This is not Government House (the Vice-President’s official residence) where you have everything,” she says as she breaks into a hearty laughter.
Her remark passes as a joke, but it says a lot about the Scotts’ way of life and their belief about material wealth.
“If you spend time seeking and valuing yourself by what you own, and hankering over what you do not own – what you would like to own – you will not be happy. You have to find happiness and contentment in something that isn’t just about a product,” she adds, sounding philosophical.
And referring to her husband, she says: “He has very few actual possessions and has never shown much wish for them. He’s never been interested in stuff… I think he’s got a watch now.”
And she admits she has only added a few formal dresses to her own wardrobe for her official engagements since her husband became Vice-President.
Although the Scotts’ simple way of life may be a talking point for many people, Charlotte quickly brushes the topic aside and makes it clear she and her husband are very happy.
Charlotte was born in Blackheath near Greenwich south of London on November 13, 1963 to Robin and Janet Harland.
Both her parents are graduates of the prestigious Oxford University in London where they met and fell in love. Robin studied English language while Janet graduated with a degree in history.
The second of three children, Charlotte describes her childhood as happy.
“We had a very normal London upbringing with a lot of emphasis on education. I was brought up in a house full of books.”
And although the Harlands, who have been involved in community activism much of their working lives, did not make a huge fortune out of their careers, Charlotte says the family led a ‘comfortable’ life.
“I can’t say that we suffered terrible hardships, but on the other hand there wasn’t wealth and money floating everywhere,” she says.
Among some of Charlotte’s recollections as a little girl are the outings the family used to have, including camping trips to the coast.
“We used to have a lot of fun doing outdoor things as a family,” she says.
As a little girl, Charlotte is said to have been an outgoing, sporty kid.
“She was very much the same person that she is right now; very outgoing, very determined, very thoughtful. She liked sports and the open-air life – a bit of a Tom Boy,” says her mother, who was recently in the country visiting the Scotts with her husband. Although “Tom Boy” is a description Charlotte’s father, who sounds very
conservative, does not subscribe to.
“She was very resourceful,” he says, sounding rather vague.
But Charlotte, herself, has a rather damning description of herself as a young girl.
“I was the cheekiest child in school. I was very naughty,” she says.
She still recalls how she was once made to write an apology letter to her science teacher over her behavior in class.
That, however, did not stop her from getting the grades and she later went to study development studies at Oxford, before doing her Masters at Reading University.
Her first paying job after completing her university studies was as a lift operator in a London shop where she earned about 200 pounds a month.
Coming to Africa
So how did a typical London girl find herself in the dusty town of Mpika?
Charlotte’s life was dramatically changed by one telephone call she received from a British international humanitarian organisation in 1989.
“They asked me if I could take up a job in Zambia and I said ‘yes’.”
Although she jumped on that opportunity, Charlotte knew nothing about Zambia.
“The only connection I had of this area, which was not Zambia at all, is that my grandparents had been missionaries in Tanzania,” she says.
Her mother’s step-mother had also lived in Zimbabwe where she was married for a few years before her husband got eaten by a lion. Then she returned to England and got married to Charlotte’s maternal grandfather, who had been widowed.
She says she heard stories about Africa from her grandparents.
Her first experience of Africa was in 1985 when she visited a small rural community in Nyanza, Kenya and although she liked it, she thought India, which she had visited earlier for her school project when she was only 17, would be a better place for her work. She fell in love with India and still talks about it with nostalgia. “I loved
the food,” she says.
Charlotte arrived in Zambia in July 1989.
“I remember it was during the long July holiday,” she says.
Although her parents did not try to stop the young Charlotte to travel to Zambia, they were worried for her safety.
“We were a little worried because any country beginning with letter zed was controversial at that time, but we only had to come once to see that everything was fine,” says Robin.
A photo of her first days in Zambia shows a beautiful 26-year-old Charlotte enjoying the out-door life in the Luangwa game reserve.
Charlotte’s attachment to Mpika is an unmistakable in her voice.
“It was great. I absolutely loved it,” she says. “The people were friendly and it was very easy to settle down. I was very fascinated by the area; loved living there.”
But perhaps even more significant, it was in Mpika that Charlotte met Dr Guy Scott.
Dr Scott, who was in the company of Mr Michael Sata (who would later become President of Zambia) was on a campaign trail for the Mpika parliamentary seat at the dawn of multiparty politics in 1991.
Charlotte was no stranger to President Sata at that point. Not only was she based in Mr Sata’s home town, but her project also fell under the ministry of state, which was headed by Mr Sata. And then her house was in Chitulika village where President Sata’s late father was the headman.
In 1994, Charlotte and Dr Scott got married at the Lusaka Civic Centre and later had a small wedding reception at Dr Scott’s farm in State Lodge.
Her mother had bought her two dresses for her wedding and she wore both of them.
Charlotte has not only kept the two dresses to this day, but she still wears them.
“I wore one the other day,” she says.
“You still fit in them?” I ask.
“I do, yeah,” she says excitedly.
She describes her marriage to Dr Scott simply as “long”.
“He is a very interesting person to be married to. Not necessarily conventional in all respects,” she says.
“We both speak out our minds,” she says, but she rebuffs any slight suggestion that that causes any trouble in their marriage.
“Why would that be a problem? We don’t argue. I can’t remember arguing,” she says.
Although the couple does not have a child together, they have an adopted daughter called Thandie.
Charlotte dotes on her, describing her as a “perfect daughter”.
“We’re the luckiest people we have this fantastic girl,” she says.
Now nearly 20, Thandie just completed her foundational course in art at a university in the UK.
Thandie has also competed for Zambia in swimming.
Charlotte also speaks highly of the first lady, Dr Christine Kaseba, whom she has known for many years.
“I’m one of her huge funs for what she does,” she says. “She is
obviously an exceptional person in her own right, completely independent of her husband.”
Charlotte, herself, is actively involved in raising funds for a charitable group of women who are spouses of cabinet ministers’. She chairs the group by virtue of being the Vice-President’s wife.
Charlotte turns 50 years later this year, but she is not planning anything grand for her golden jubilee.
“I’m going to hide with my head under a pillow,” she says when asked how she plans to celebrate her birthday. A couple of months ago, Dr Scott celebrated his 68th birthday with a dinner with friends at home.
The Scotts usually invite friends to their home for dinners to avoid the security detail that goes into their travel.
Although the Scotts live very busy lives and ‘free time’ sounds a bit of a joke, they have both taken to playing golf as a form of exercise, but she jokingly confesses she digs more holes with the club than she hits the ball.
Charlotte also boasts of reading more books than her scholarly husband, whom she describes as a “picky reader”.
“I read just about everything, but he doesn’t read fiction,” says Charlotte, who also has keen interest in photography and art.
She also likes gardening, one of the reasons, perhaps, why the Scotts have refused to move to Government House.
“It’s nice at home, I love my gardens – it’s our house,” she says.
She says it was not compulsory for them to move to the official residence.
The couple, however, usually has lunch at the official residence and also host official guests there.
And when it comes to religious views, it seems there is still a lot of Britishness about Mrs Scott as she still claims membership of the Church of England.
“I was confirmed in the Church of England and I think my husband, too. So I would say we’re both members of the Church of England,” says Charlotte, whose grandparents were missionaries in the church. Although none of their children and grandchildren followed in their path.
The Harlands only had daughters, but they say they have never regretted not having a boy.
“I cheered all three when they arrived,” says Robin.
And their emphasis on education did pay off.
Stephanie, who is the oldest of the three daughters and also a graduate of Oxford, holds an influential position in a major British charity, while Charlotte’s younger sister, Lucy, works as an independent media expert. She has also worked for the BBC.
Both Stephanie and Lucy have regularly visited Zambia.
“We are lucky to have three very interesting daughters who give us something to think about in our old age,” says Janet, who turns 80 at the end of the year. Her husband is 81.
Before the 2011 general elections that ushered the Patriotic Front into office, Charlotte had a high-flying career at the United Nations agency for children, UNICEF, where she worked as chief of Social Policy and Economic Analysis, Planning Monitoring and Evaluation.
But when her husband was appointed Vice-President, she was presented with some hard choices.
If she had to keep her job, she had to move to another country, another continent even, as per UN regulations.
“The only thing they would have accepted is if I had gone outside of the region which would have meant leaving my husband here to be vice-president and going to be a UNICEF person in another continent,” she says.
“I didn’t think that was really very viable. I know people who do sacrifice by living in different countries, but I don’t think that is for me. I admire people who can do that,” she says.
Although she doesn’t state categorically weather she regrets the decision to quit her job, there is a rueful tone in her voice when she talks about her prospects at the UN agency.
“If I had stayed in there I would have had the prospect of moving upwards in the organisation and it was an organisation I was massively proud to work for,” she says.
Her work at UNICEF has taken her to almost every district in Zambia.
Name one remote place, Charlotte Scott has been there, but she seems to gravitate more northward and romanticizes places like Chinsali.
Charlotte, who recently attained her PhD from the University of Bath in England, but is hardly ever referred to as “Dr Harland” or “Dr Scott” – says it doesn’t bother her that people don’t call her by her title.
“Namewise I don’t mind whether Harland or Scott, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not going to lose sleep if somebody does not use it,” she says.
She doesn’t seem to lose sleep over political attacks against her husband, either.
“He’s a politician he’s got tough skin,” she says. “If I were married to a boxer would I always go ‘ouch!’ whenever he got punched?”
And although she seldom expresses political views, herself, Charlotte Scott does not rule out choosing a political career.
Asked if she had any political ambitions and if she would consider standing for MP some day, she responded without hesitation: “Maybe.
Why not?”

This article was first published in 2013

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