The number of OEs who have been awarded a Knighthood by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf is undoubtedly a very short list! James Hedley (OE1981-84) is an investment director at Rathbones in Liverpool, who over the years has had extensive family, social and business links to Sweden which resulted in him becoming a UK Consul to the prosperous Scandinavian country. James recalled this honour in a previous interview as to how he came to receive his full title of ‘Knight 1st Class, of the Royal Order of the Polar Star’ in 2011, which was recently elevated to a higher degree, ‘(Knight) Commander of the Order’ in a recent confirmation from the Swedish Embassy.

I was summoned for an interview at the Embassy. His Excellency was kind enough to endorse me and my candidacy was approved by both the Foreign Offices of Sweden and the UK. The initial process is rather subtle, although thereafter a clear set of formal procedures must be satisfied, which includes liaison between the two nation states involved. The role of a Consul in ways is similar to being a consultant or counsellor. Typically, people will contact the Consulate with requests, in need of referrals or references. Others will need assistance with personal civic rights and identity registration and documentation, such as birth, travel, marriage, pension and death – from cradle to grave you might say!”

James’ consulate jurisdiction covers Liverpool and Merseyside, the adjacent North West of England and North Wales & Anglesey where around 6,000 Swedes live and many others who are the descendants of the 60,000 who arrived on Merseyside in the 1920s.

Although James did not arrive at Emanuel until he was thirteen, with the Year 9 entry, he had attended the local primary Honeywell until the age of eight, before relocating to the rural prep boarding school, Vinehall. James recalled the switch: “I had to transition from being a streetwise, local long-haired (it was 1976!) Raleigh Chopper-riding kid from our house on Bolingbroke Grove, to a very traditional ‘Trains, tuckboxes and trunks type’ boarding prep school in what was initially an austere, remote country house. Any suggestion of a south London twang was mocked out of me.”

At 13 he arrived back in Battersea and had to quickly reclaim his south London street smarts (and accent!). He recalled: “Five years on and a complete reverse transition back home again: and into a city school where all the other now street-savvy boys, had been established for two years – it was a baptism of fire! I had risen to the pinnacle of my prep school in Sussex and grown accustomed to its privileged culture, which made me an alien at Emanuel.”

In looking back at his time at Emanuel James felt he learned important life lessons, an important one being ‘take stock, adapt, survive and then thrive!’ He noted important lessons also took place beyond the confines of the classroom, specifically on the nearby sports fields on Wandsworth Common, where James and his peers “played football with both gusto and intent to see who could be the best mud-monster by the final whistle. The trick was to undertake legitimate lengthy slide-tackles (“slider!!”) on soft ground to win the accolade!”

James enjoys receiving OE correspondences from the school and follows the Facebook page. He realises how much Emanuel has changed and modernised since his time here and has commented upon the high level of pastoral care which just did not exist in his era. “The school was clearly in a difficult place at the time as it began to modernise with Headmaster Peter Thomson, who joined when I was leaving, and faced an evolution away from Grammar status through state grant assistance to full fees.”

After Emanuel, James attended MPW Sixth Form College, studied Economic History at the University of East Anglia and then took a different route by completing an MSc in Forestry at the University of Wales. You might think that history and forestry are a million miles away from number crunching and high level investment but James has another take on it: “Economic history encompasses many of the broad concepts essential for successful investing such as how to avoid getting caught up in Tulip-Mania, whilst forestry, being a very long term business, demands a knowledge of statistics, computer modelling and complex mathematics. These skills were easily transferable to the world of investments.”

Who knows, if James’s career had taken a slightly different path he may well have ended up managing sections of Britain’s historic landscapes or forests. However, agriculture’s loss ended up being investment management’s gain! His career in finance began at Neilson Cobbold and now spans nearly 30 years. He is a founder and senior member of Rathbones collectives research committee, with a specialism in Asia, emerging markets and commodities and is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Securities Institute and a Chartered Wealth Manager too.

As a Consul, James has always enjoyed the working relationship between both countries which he believes to be very strong: “There is a genuinely close relationship that exists at a national level between the UK and Sweden. This is one of considerable commercial and cultural co-operation and collaboration. It is a force for good as the shared and common values of both countries are modern and progressive, pro-democracy, freedom of individual self and self-expression, with a strong tradition of law and order and pride in one’s cultural history.”

Although much of what James deals with on a day-to-day basis as a Consul is confidential, ultimately the role is to “help people help themselves”. He has had occasions which have involved aspects of international drugs smuggling, child custody issues, political protests, international child paternity cases, liaison with Special Branch, managing electoral polling stations and assisting with civil rights. James is also delighted that the job is no longer quite so wide ranging as in the past: “I think my predecessor had more on his plate than I do now. For instance, whenever a Swedish ship came into port he had to go to the docks with the harbour authorities and sign off the sailors for shore leave.”

Coincidentally, as far as roots and lineage go, James’ ancestry points in the correct direction: “I took part in a national DNA survey only a few years ago, which proved that via my direct male line descent, my ancestors left Scandinavia and ended up in Northumberland via Greenland (and possibly Vinland, as they called America) – about 1,200 years ago!”

Tony Jones (Senior Librarian & Archivist)