5 minutes with: Lord Burlington

As Chancellor of the University of Derby and now Chair of the Business School Council, Lord Burlington discusses his roles and responsibilities, as well as his interests.

You have a range of responsibilities and many different interests, what does a typical day look like for you?

It’s a well-worn cliche but there really is no typical day. At work, any one day could range from a long-term strategy meeting to decisions about heritage conservation, or how to make it easier for first time Chatsworth visitors to really connect with nature. I love the variety but ultimately it all boils down to people. We have an amazing team, and it is my job to try to ensure they are suitably motivated, challenged, fulfilled, and hopefully successful, whatever their role involves.

You have been Chancellor at the University since 2018, why did you accept the role and on doing so what did you hope to achieve?

Being invited to be Chancellor of the University is an extraordinary honour and, like any voluntary role, it is not one to accept lightly. The part the University plays in transforming lives and communities is a vital aspect of 21st century life but, once again, it came down to people. I met the senior executive team and I quickly understood what an inspirational group of people they were. It was ultimately an easy decision to get behind them and support the Vice-Chancellor in everything she and her team aspire to do.  

As Chancellor what has been your most memorable moment so far?

There have been many. Being the first to congratulate graduates as their names are announced and they cross the stage at their graduation ceremony is an experience like no other. The pride, relief and joy is something to behold and no matter how many ceremonies I attend, this privilege will always be humbling, uplifting and deeply memorable. I’m getting goose bumps thinking about it even now.

Chancellor of the University of Derby Lord Burlington smiling at Chatsworth House
Lord Burlington, Chancellor of the University of Derby

On a broader scale, seeing how the University responded to the global pandemic, keeping the welfare of students and staff at the forefront of everything yet still managing to deliver a world-class learning environment was truly inspiring, and the resilience of the students as they navigated the added challenges being thrown at them was remarkable. I also remember recording a video message for students during this period. It was the summer holidays and I was wearing a jacket and tie, but as it was via Zoom I was wearing shorts, which wouldn’t show on screen. Trying to be 'the Chancellor' is slightly harder at home as, well, let’s say there are other priorities, and as I was trying to put my all into the video message I remember my son, aged all of eight years old at the time, sauntering past saying “you look ridiculous”. Which of course I did!

One other memorable moment was getting a taxi from the station once. The destination was the Kedleston Road site and the chat got on to the University’s standing in the city. The driver was unbelievably positive about the University’s impact, and I remember thinking never mind the league tables and all the official metrics, this is what matters. If the taxi guys believe in what the University is doing, we must be doing something right.

Once your tenure as Chancellor is over, what would you like your legacy to be?

Legacy is a big word! Compared to the University’s executive team, the staff, and the student body, my role is so peripheral I’m not sure that considering ‘my legacy' would be appropriate. But if during the time I am involved, the University continues to improve its student offering, builds on its position as a meaningful contributor to the local and regional economy, develops a thriving and meaningful alumni network, and creates a business school that has an immediate as well as long-lasting impact, well I certainly wouldn’t think of it as my legacy, but I would feel extremely proud to have been a tiny part of it.

In your career as a photographer what has been your most interesting subject to photograph?

Being primarily an editorial portrait photographer gave me the opportunity to step into other people’s lives, albeit briefly, and to have privileged access to worlds that I might know little or nothing about. The first paid work I did, back in the 1990s, was photographing the only man in Britain making his living out of farming wild boars. I had no idea this was something that even happened in the UK. I learnt a great deal and became completely hooked. Photographing artists in their studios was always my favourite commission, and usually – though not always – they were easier to wrangle than wild boar piglets.

You have recently become Chair of the Business School Council. What does the role involve and why do you think the Business School is an important project for the University?

The new Derby Business School building will be in the centre of the city, making it a focal point for the business community. This will help to create jobs, attract and retain talent in the region, act as a magnet for investment into Derby and Derbyshire and thereby contribute to the prosperity of our community.  All this is on top of the fundamental essence of the School, which is, of course, to deliver outstanding student outcomes. This is the best possible next step for the University and the region, and my role is to help coordinate and achieve the investment required to make it happen.

It must be fantastic having a home on the Chatsworth Estate – what is your favourite part of Chatsworth and why?

Fantastic is the right word – it is a truly fantastical place. I ride my bike all over the Peak District and throughout Derbyshire, some of the most stunning parts of Britain, yet every single time I get back to the park at Chatsworth I marvel at its beauty. Of course, I am totally biased – but then again who wouldn’t be?

Aside from supporting the University what else keeps you busy?

I like being busy. Our family business and the charities associated with Chatsworth keep me busy, so do various voluntary roles and other charitable activities. Underpinning everything is time spent with my wife and three children aged 13, 11 and 9. The children are busy in their own right now and I love watching them throw themselves in to their various activities, and now and then taking part myself, though don’t tell them but I have definitely retired from the trampoline!