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Getting to know you: Wendy Chamberlain

Getting to know you: Wendy Chamberlain

The recently elected Lib Dem MP confesses to her early life of crime and her passion for Cadbury’s Creme Eggs

What is your earliest memory?

Getting caught stealing at playgroup. 

Oh gosh, tell me more… 

So, I am the oldest of two daughters. This is going back to the 70s/early 80s. There were these plastic animals you could press down and there was like a sucker, and they sprung up. And basically, I wanted one but was told I couldn’t have one in case my wee sister tried to eat it. So, at playgroup, a child brought one in and when we came to collect our stuff at the end of the week, I helped myself to the blue leopard and got caught. 

I’m now wondering about your career as a police officer and where it all began…

That early brush with the law maybe sent me on a different path. 

What were you like at school otherwise?

I was probably quite a goody-two-shoes, like a typical older child looking for people to think I was good, a prefect and things. But I also did things like amateur dramatics, so I did all the musicals and things at school. 

Did you play any musical instruments or did you sing..?

It was acting and singing. I did Scottish Youth Theatre when I was 15/16 for five weeks up in Dundee. And at university, I was in the Edinburgh Uni Footlights. One thing I have ticked off the bucket list was that I was in a Fringe show – pick of the day in The Scotsman, four stars. 

Four-star review? That’s a pretty good Fringe experience. What was the show?

It was Little Shop of Horrors. 

So, after uni you joined the police

Yeah, so I graduated in 1998 and then did take a wee while to decide what I wanted to do, but then successfully was accepted in December 98 and joined in August 99. At that time, they weren’t recruiting, so it was a wee bit of a wait.

What motivated you to sign up?

Well, my dad was a police officer through in the West and realistically, it was a case of last year at uni, looking at graduate programmes. I did apply to the Tesco programme cos that’s where I was working as a student, and I did get down to the last 60 in the UK, but I remember sort of thinking that I wanted to do something a wee bit more meaningful… That was the time that I found that the police had a similar graduate scheme, so I made my application from there. 

Are there any similarities between being a police officer and working in politics?

Oh yeah, absolutely. So, I suppose the majority of people who get involved in politics get involved from wanting to help people. One of the strongest similarities has been the surgeries that I’ve run so far. In some ways, they’re like going to calls: ‘Hello, give me your full details, tell me about your issue, tell me what your expectations are and here’s what I can potentially do.’ And just the fact that, from a casework perspective, you are meeting and sometimes dealing with people who are in crisis. I worked out in Wester Hailes early on in my police service, so I have managed people sometimes whose lifestyles are quite chaotic. 

What’s your most treasured possession?

It’s actually my wedding ring. But I do have this in my purse, because I’ve been meaning to find somewhere to put it in my office in Westminster...It’s a camanachd cup winning medal from 1958. It says I. MacIntosh on the back - I don’t know who that is. It’s through my grandfather’s collection that I got it. 

Who would be your dream dinner guest?

I’d probably pick my grandfather, my father’s father. He [was a] shinty person; shinty is a big part of my life. So, he died when I was nine and I remember doing an article in Scotland on Sunday with Dani Garavelli when the shinty association turned 125 and people said, ‘you know, your grandad would be really proud of you being on the board of the Camanachd Association’. 

Do you play much shinty?

Not as much as I would like. I was a latecomer to it in terms of playing because the growth of the women’s game, I probably missed by a few years. But I really took up playing about three or four years ago, just through my daughter, who is now 15, coming through primary school shinty. 

What is your greatest fear?

Something happening to one of my kids. 

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Eating Creme Eggs whole. I came home last week and there were three boxes in the press at home – my husband knows me so well.

Speaking of which, I read your husband is a member of the SNP. Do you have any relationship advice?

Well, it’s funny because I met Kezia Dugdale for coffee a few weeks ago and we did suggest that we should get Jenny [Gilruth] and my husband together. And one of my best friends is an SNP councillor, so I think it comes back to that earlier point about people getting involved in politics genuinely to make a difference and to help people. So, how I look at it is the fact that we both want the same things, we just believe that there’s different ways of achieving them. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

It’s probably something around the old cliché of feel the fear and do it anyway. I joined the Lib Dems in 2015, had never considered being a candidate. Snap election gets called in 2017 and a certain Willie Rennie, also known as my work husband, gave me a phone and said, ‘I think you should think about it’. 

What’s the best holiday you’ve ever been on?

Portugal is our favourite country. We have been to a place called Alvor about seven times. It just works as a family holiday. We’ve got friends that go there at the same time and we’ve made friends there...it just ticks so many boxes. We can get a flight from Edinburgh at seven o’clock and by 12, the kids are in the pool and I’m with a vinho verde.

What is your top TV programme or film?

Top film, very sadly, is probably, still, The Shawshank Redemption. One of the few films that is better than the book. Top TV programme is...well, I loved Grey’s Anatomy until they killed off McDreamy in such a meaningless way. I basically refused to watch it after that.

Binary Politics: 

Salt and vinegar/salt and sauce

Just salt - there’s a third way!

Cats or dogs

Cats

Pub or wine bar

Pub

Early bird or night owl

Night owl

Full Scottish or continental

Cooked

Coffee or tea

Tea

Fame or fortune

Fortune

Book or film

Book

Night in or night out

Night out

Couch or gym

On the couch – with a book!

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