Geoffrey takes tea with a 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 PONTELAND photographer was invited to tea at his favourite subject to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Geoffrey Willey reached the milestone on August 17, but this week he was invited to Alnwick Garden Treehouse to share coffee and a birthday cake 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.

However, Mr Willey had no explanation 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 whose father 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.”

Mr Willey’s neighbours Neil and Mary Mackley took him to Alnwick.

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

“He is a bit of a character so you can’t not know him.

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

Mr Willey said his morning had been “absolutely wonderful”, adding that he was most grateful to meet the Duchess and Mr August and visit the garden again.