Geoffrey takes tea with the Duchess

T Geoffrey Willey celebrates his 100th birthday with the Duchess of Northumberland.
T Geoffrey Willey celebrates his 100th birthday with the Duchess of Northumberland.

A LONG-TIME supporter of the Alnwick Garden had an ‘absolutely wonderful’ day when he met the Duchess of Northumberland as part of his 100th birthday celebrations.

Geoffrey Willey, who lives in Ponteland, reached the milestone on August 17, but this week was invited to the Treehouse for coffee and a special birthday cake while he had a chat with the Duchess of Northumberland and Ian August, the garden’s liaison director, who has been involved in its creation from the start.

Mr Willey, a professional photographer, has taken photographs and documented the garden ever since he first spotted building work going on at the site.

He became a Friend of the Alnwick Garden and visited for many years, taking a large number of photographs which he shared with the Duchess on Monday.

He also spoke of his book of photographs about the Ryedale Folk Museum in his home county of North Yorkshire, Ryedale In My Heart, which was published two years ago when he was 98.

It contains his photographs which document the early years of the museum, which was founded in Hutton-le-Hole in 1964.

And Mr Willey had no explantion for his long and active life.

“I don’t know. I have always lived a hell of a dangerous life,” he said, recalling being lowered by rope over a cliff to collect eggs when he was a young man.

“But I have always been determined at anything I did, it had to be exactly right.”

Mr Willey, a Yorkshire lad through and through whose father had owned a grocer’s shop in Scarborough, came to the North East in the 1960s when he took a post as a senior photographer at Newcastle University.

The Duchess of Northumberland said: “He has been a Friend (of the garden) for years and has a great photographic record.

“As a character, he can remember everything and has a razor-sharp brain.

“He is a great inspiration to everyone who wants to live until they are 100.”

He has no family following the death of his wife. His neighbours in Ponteland, Neil and Mary Mackley, brought him up to Alnwick for his meeting with the Duchess and lunch at the Treehouse.

Mr Mackley said: “He has lived along the road for 40 years. We have known him well over the years.

“As you can gather, he is a bit of a character so you can’t not know him.

“He brings up apples from his garden but I think he expects the apple pie in return.”

Mr Willey said that his morning had been ‘absolutely wonderful’ and added that he was ‘most grateful’ to meet the Duchess and Mr August and come to the garden again as he doesn’t get to visit regularly as he once did.