‘Woking made me what I am’ says Claire the Mayor

Claire Darke, the Mayor of Wolverhampton, wrote to the News & Mail inviting readers to take part in forthcoming charity fundraising events. She mentioned that she grew up in Woking, where she married her husband, Paul, who is from Frimley. Claire the Mayor, as she is known, told Stuart Flitton about her abiding affection for Woking

Claire the Mayor with her husband and consort, Paul Darke

CLAIRE DARKE, whose maiden name was McDonnell, moved to Woking when she was very young after her father, Dominic, got a job in London.

Claire attended St Dunstan’s and St John the Baptist schools and then worked at the DSS office in Woking, Pickering & Phillips dental practice in Guildford Road and James Walker in Maybury.

She took evening classes in first aid with St John ambulance and then trained as a nurse, working at Frimley Park Hospital on the orthopaedic ward, where she met Paul.

The couple were married at the old St Dunstan’s Church in 1986 and then moved to Bilston, near Wolverhampton, for work.

Until the pandemic restrictions, Claire had regularly visited Woking, where her mother, Mary, still lives.

“I have been happy to see the developments over the past 30 years, from the Ade Adepitan, HG Wells and the Alien sculptures to regularly eating in the new foodie avenue of Commercial Way,” Claire said.

“I seek out the parks and the football club at least once every visit and it is safe to say that Woking made me what I am.”

Claire said that her heart is in Woking and Wolverhampton.

“Like myself, Woking has constantly adapted, survived and thrived and I look forward to coming to Woking this year, having not been in a year due to COVID-19, and seeing my mother, and continuing to enjoy all the joys that Woking, and Camberley, has to offer.”

Claire was a warden of a sheltered housing scheme for elderly people in Bilston and then gained a degree in higher education and qualifications in social studies.

Claire (McDonell) Darke when she was at St John the Baptist School in Woking

 She worked in those fields and, after taking a career break to have a family, joined a campaign to save a local swimming pool from closure.

This led to her standing in a local election as the “keep the pool open” candidate, which helped to defeat the sitting councillor.

Claire was elected the following year as a Liberal Democrat and the party formed a coalition with the Conservatives to run the council.

She resigned from the coalition and later joined the Labour Party, keeping her seat by a big majority in the 2012 and 2016 elections.

Claire has been cabinet member for education and chaired the equalities and health committees and a review into child mortality. She became mayor in 2019.

Her husband Paul was born with a disability and is a disability studies scholar and artist. She was heavily involved in setting up the street sculpture Wolves in Wolves in Wolverhampton and more recently The Family Tree exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, which is due to come to The Lightbox in Woking in the next two years.

Claire said: “What was fascinating was how it revealed how the place is instrumental in forming who you are as much as the ancestors that you have.

“For the exhibition, I discovered and visited where my sister, who had Down’s Syndrome and died a few days after being born, was buried in Brookwood Cemetery. I also discovered, and visited, where my husband’s grandmother was buried in a pauper’s grave in a Guildford cemetery.  

“Our history is our places and Woking, Surrey, is my heritage.”

* Claire the Mayor’s Free online Spring Quiz will be held on 13 May at 7pm with a link via Wolverhampton Today on Facebook. There will also be a week-long charity auction. Claire and Paul are on Twitter (@WolvesMayor and @drpauldarke).

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