Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
'I worked for Theresa May for nine years, now I'm a poacher turned gamekeeper'

Gillian Owen with Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross

'I worked for Theresa May for nine years, now I'm a poacher turned gamekeeper'

Aberdeenshire Council leader Gillian Owen, who represents the Ellon and District ward, tells Holyrood how she got involved in Tory politics and how a move to London led her to work for Theresa May for nine years.

Describe the area you represent in one sentence

The jewel in the crown of Aberdeenshire.

How long have you lived there?

We’ve been here for 19 years but my husband and his family first moved here in 1973. I come from Margate, where my parents had a 52-bedroom hotel. My husband Steve and I were both Tory Party agents and we met at London meetings. When we got married we moved to Farnham – he was an agent in Tunbridge Wells and I was Theresa May’s agent in Maidenhead. When our son Alexander was coming up to secondary school age Steve said the education he’d received at Ellon Academy had been second to none, so we decided to move north. 

Tell us something we won’t know about your local area

The Kellie Pearl – the largest freshwater pearl ever discovered in the 2,000-year history of the Scottish pearl industry – was found in a tributary of the River Ythan in 1621. It was later presented to King James VI, who had it incorporated in the Scottish crown. It was used for the coronations of King Charles I and II.

Who is the best-known person from your area?

Although he was born and raised in England, computer pioneer Alan Turing’s family was from Foveran. The hereditary baronetcy of Foveran is held by the Turing family – it was created for John Turing in 1638. Alan Turing, who I’m trying to get a road named after, was the uncle of the current baronet. 

What challenges are unique to your particular part of the country?

Roads, it has to be roads. I run the Why Stop at Ellon? campaign. We are very rural and have no rail service so do rely on roads quite significantly but when the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route was built and the A90 was dualled they stopped at Ellon. There’s a lot of heavy industrial traffic going to the port at Peterhead. The road splits a few miles from Ellon at the Toll of Birness with one section going to Fraserburgh and the other to Peterhead, so the traffic does reduce but it’s still significant. I never understood why the dualling stopped at Ellon.

How did you get involved with the Tory party?

My family has always been political – my father was a Kent County councillor and politics was always a big theme. I decided to become a Tory Party agent when I was 19. I did the training – you had to sit exams back then – and started in Woking, working for Cranley Onslow, who was the then chair of the 1922 Committee. Then I decided I wanted more excitement in my life so went to London, where I met Theresa May’s husband as he was chair of the Wimbledon Conservative Association. When Theresa was selected for the Maidenhead seat in 1996 I became her agent and I worked with her for nine years, until I moved to Scotland. After I moved I was North East area manager for the party and the agent for Douglas Ross but I stopped doing that in 2012 as I didn’t feel I could do both that and the job on the council.

What made you stand for election?

Because we’d been Tory Party agents for many years, the Ellon and District branch asked either Steve or me to put our names forward for the 2007 local election. Steve had set up a business so I took it on, not dreaming that I’d win. My role as an agent was to get people elected so from my point of view I was becoming poacher turned gamekeeper.

What’s the one thing Holyrood politicians could do that would be of greatest benefit to the area you represent?

Dual that road, at least to the Toll of Birness.

What’s the best bit about living where you do?

We’ve got the best of everything – sea and mountains, and Ellon has the River Ythan that goes right through the centre of the village. It’s idyllic.

Is there a particular word you love using that only people in your part of the country would recognise?

Probably not, because I’m English. I remember when we first moved here going to the Post Office with Christmas presents and the person serving’s mouth was moving but I didn’t have a clue what they were saying to me.

If you could live anywhere else where would it be?

I’d love to go back down south, back to some of the lovely villages in north east Kent. I never will – this feels like home now and we’ll always stay here – but I do have that hankering.

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Margaret Taylor - 'Oil is bad, period’ is not smart and it won’t solve the climate crisis.


Local Government

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top