Author Xanthe O’Hara
Madam President, Who Are You?
As I’m driving towards the Presidents Farm I can’t help but think how little we actually know about her. She’s been a key figure in many events of our recent history, but she’s always been behind the scenes. Even as President she’s so far shied away from the limelight and runs her office from a remote farm. The remoteness of the farm isn’t lost on me after I’ve been driving 45 minutes down small winding lanes after an hour on the M2 motorway. Her home is in a wonderful part of the Southern Wolds, the gentle green hills, dotted with picturesque little villages and farmsteads. It’s a part of Izaakia often overlooked in favour of its great cities, mountains and coasts, but no less beautiful and important to our way of life.
As I turn up the track to the farm house, on what is a pleasant late summer day, I’m starting to regret the low ground clearance on my car. Around half way up is a small Shepard’s hut in a dark blue, and out of it comes a charming PC who asks for my ID before sending me through. I find the informality and lack of intrusiveness of the whole security system both welcoming and concerning considering the fate of the presidents predecessor. As I approach the house I notice the building work, turning an old stone cow shed into offices for the Presidential Staff, if not the grandest presidential office in the world, it’ll certainly be the most tranquil and picturesque.
I pull up to the house, which is a charming midsized country house in golden wolds stone, draped ivy. I notice the garden is well cultivated, and well adorned with hardy tropical plants. As I exit the vehicle I notice a dark green off-road vehicle barrelling down a dirt track from the farm at a significant rate of knots. It skids to a stop on the gravel drive near to me and President Storm jumps out with a pair of dogs. She’s very pleasant and welcoming, and apologises for smelling like manure as she’s just been tending to the cows.
She invites me into the house, and offers me a drink before making apologies as she goes to clean up and change. I am certainly struck by the lack of pretence or ceremony, I’ve interviewed many senior statesmen and women in my career and this will go down as the most unusual before it starts. I take my coffee alone in the sitting room and take in my surroundings, from the oak beams, to the cast iron fireplace, it can only be described as a very traditional, homely, but meticulously tidy farmhouse.
After a few short minutes, she returns apologises profusely for not having been ready to receive and offers lunch outside. We have what she describes as a beef sandwich, but in reality is a delicious BBQ’d steak from one of her cows adorned with Chimmi Churri and salad in a flat bread accompanied by a beer. As we’re eating and admiring the view we get to work and start doing the interview.
I firstly ask how long she’s been at this lovely home?
“Oh we’ve been here since 2005, back then it was little more than a run down cottage so we got it cheap. You see the old part of the house on the left there, that’s the original building and when we got here the roof had collapsed and it needed a total rebuild, had to connect it to the electricity and water, really needed the works. We added the other wing and the connecting area in 2013 when we were first expecting children.”
We don’t actually know much about you, would tell us a bit more about your family?
“Well, my husband Rory, he’s an Architect in the city, he’s actually designed quite a bit of the new Blancopolis city centre that’s being built, apparently it’s going to be very sustainable. We have three kids, 2 boys and a girl, they’re all in primary school for now, although not too long left now for the eldest, and of course you’ve met our two dogs Sharkey and Greybeard. My parents actually live across the valley, you can see the wind mill, it used to be a grain mill, but they moved in there about 10 years ago, they’re a tremendous help with the farm. Actually Rory’s parents are considering moving here too now they’re retired, theres a sheep shed that we don’t use that we might renovate.”
So you’re quite close to your parents, what was life like growing up?
“Well, daddy was a colonel, so we moved around a fair bit between bases, often overseas on detachments, and mummy was a teacher who would follow his career and teach in the local or base school. So as you can imagine, it was a pretty unsettled childhood, we moved house every couple of years, so I guess I’m a bit of an army brat. I have a brother and a sister, they both live in the city, and as we were growing up we were very close. From there i suppose I went to uni where I met Rory, studied Geography, and then went to the Artemesia Military Academy and the got a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Black Watch”
You’re not famous for being a member of the Black Watch, but actually as a commander in the Special Air Service. Could you shine some light on your career?
“Well, as you know not much happened in terms of Izaakian conflict between when I was commissioned in 2005 and 2019 I suppose. So in the early days of the black watch it was mainly training exercises abroad and peacekeeping missions. There’s nothing particularly exceptional about my career at that point. In 2009 I applied for a commission as captain in the SAS and from there never looked back. The SAS was a really interesting place to work, and tends to be based in Izaakia, so it was great for raising a family. There were a few special operations that we shouldn’t put in the press, but I suppose the main one in the early days was the 2010 embassy siege in Izaakston where we got the hostages out alive. By 2017 I’d been promoted to Commanding General of the SAS, and that’s when things really started to kick off.”
Shall we start with the Unification Incident, what was your role in that?
“To be honest, it was all a bit of a shock. You see there were no conventional Izaakian armed forces in Montaica and Brodlancia at the start. It was run by the secret service and mercenaries out of the Prime Ministers office. So actually the first thing I knew was from the news, and then I got a text from an ex-colleague who was doing mercenary work letting me know what was going on. I suppose the rest is common knowledge, the SAS and armed forces along side empress Astrid helped prevent a coup by Le Rogue, and then stabilised the Montacia and Brodlancia regions following the Le Rogue invasion. That’s actually, how I became a duchess, the Empress was highly thankful, although you can just call me Clara.”
Would you describe yourself as a royalist or as a Republican?
“I would say I’m a traditionalist and a democrat. The idea of an unelected head of state doesn’t sit comfortably with me, but at the same time our system is built around being a constitutional monarchy, and not a republic, and I think recently we’ve seen the weaknesses in that system. I think at some point before the next election we need to decide a way forward, do we return to a constitutional monarchy, or do we reform the system into a Republican one. The current system where I have what is in effect unlimited power is not sustainable. Some people like President Blanc can wield that power effectively and for the better, but we can’t always be sure to avoid rogue elements in our leaders.”
You famously saw active combat in N&GB, Ryccia and Valora, do you think it was right for us to be involved in these countries, and what do you think we can learn?
“Absolutely, we have to stand up for a more secure and democratic future for everyone, the tyrants of the world need to know there is a line they cannot cross. I think our main learning from these conflicts is that you shouldn’t leave before the job is complete.”
What do you want your legacy as President to be?
“Hopefully one of stability, growth and an ever closer Union. I think the main way we can do that is to rebuild bridges that have been burnt with foreign nations and neighbours. Our relations with our fellow democracies have never been in such a poor state, and I think it’s time to reset that.”
You’re currently in the process of moving the Presidential office here to the farm, what made you break with tradition?
“Well, it’s home, I think I will work better in these surroundings and I think it’s good for people from the city to work here and see a bit more of what they’re working towards. It’s also better for the kids to keep them away from the limelight”
How do your staff feel about working 2 hours drive from their homes in Izaakston?
“Theres a train station in the village, it takes 25 minutes from Izaakston on the South Wolds Express and it’s a 5 or 10 minute walk from there. So it’s not a major issue for them, or for me to get to parliament.”
Do you mind if I ask a few quick-fire questions?
“Sure, go ahead.”
What’s your favourite animal?
“After Sharkey and Greybeard it’s got to be the Highland Cow”
What’s your favourite dish?
“Roast lamb with a mustard glaze, with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, vegetables and gravy”
What’s your favourite drink?
“Gin and Tonic, we actually make a gin here, the hillside over there has juniper berries”
What’s your favourite pass time?
“I love sailing, surfing, swimming, anything with water really.”
Thank you for your time and your hospitality Madam President.
As I drive away from the interview, I’m miffed about not knowing the train was 4 times faster to get here, but also struck by the impression the President has made. As a successful military woman, I was expecting her to be formal and ordered, but the reality was much different. She was remarkably informal, comfortable in her own skin and well reasoned. Her home and life are both exceptional, and i come away from the interview reassured that the fate of our country is in a pair of safe hands.