Stella’s meteoric rise to the top

AT 41, she is the youngest ever chief executive of Coventry City Council and has already been made an OBE for services to local government. Political Editor FIONA SCOTT meets Stella Manzie, the woman who takes over the reins of a UKL 500 million budget and a staff of thousands today


PRIME MINISTER Tony Blair’s old school held a few surprises for Coventry’s incoming chief executive Stella Manzie when she arrived there to take her A-levels.

The daughter of a senior civil servant in Hertfordshire, she had been educated at state schools before her father Gordon was transferred to Edinburgh with his work.

Her parents did not want to switch her into the different Scottish education system and decided to send her to the top public school, Fettes, which did A-levels.

Firstly, she had to buy her own books and, secondly, call the teachers “Sir” — a habit that, with great political skill, she never adopted during her two years there.

Her greatest shock came when she discovered corporal punishment was used, with masters beating even sixth-form boys for misbehaviour.

Outraged, she set out to interview pupils and teachers for an article in the school newspaper and got an even greater culture shock.

“To the horror of my idealistic self, a number of boys said they would rather be beaten than have other forms of punishment,” she said. “They said they’d rather have it over and done with. I said: ‘Don’t be ridiculous, it’s inhumane.’ They were saying: ‘No, no no. We’d rather have it.'”

She managed to surprise the other pupils too, when they found out during the miners’ strike that her uncle was a miner in the Staffordshire coalfield.

She did, however, become head girl, and went on to Newnham College, Cambridge, and the start of a meteoric career through local government and private sector consultancy work.