Dee Simson said that she accepted she would be expected to be formal at times when she becomes mayor of Brighton and Hove. But, she said, “I also want to have fun.”
Councillor Simson, who represents Woodingdean on Brighton and Hove City Council, is expected to be confirmed as the new mayor this afternoon (Thursday 17 May).
The 68-year-old Conservative has spent the past year as deputy mayor, which has given her an insight into what lies ahead.
For starters, she will be expected to chair meetings of the full council impartially.
Given that local elections are due to take place in a year’s time, the council chamber is likely to become livelier.
It will be challenging, Councillor Simson said, adding: “More politics than normal will be flying round that chamber. That’s fine but it shouldn’t get personal.”
The Brighton-born councillor said that becoming mayor of her home town felt “almost surreal”.
She said: “It’s an amazing honour. Sitting in that council chamber, seeing my name on that board with all those people who’ve shaped the city … that’s what I hope to do. Help shape the city.
“I hope to get the message out that it’s an amazing city. Bring your business. Take your holidays here. That’s what I want to do.
“I want to use my mayoral year not only to raise money for charity but to help the economic development of Brighton, including tourism.
“Wherever you go in the world, if you say you’re from Brighton, people know where you mean and they know we’re by the sea. I want to harness that.”
While the mayor is often called upon to open conferences held in Brighton, as the representative of the council and the first citizen of the city, she wants to see them off too.
She said: “I want to go out as much as I can to welcome them – and say the goodbyes too. Thank you for coming. We hope you enjoyed our amazing city and please come back again soon.”
Councillor Simson was born in the house in Woodingdean where she lives to this day. It was built by her father in the 1930s.
She went to Woodingdean Primary School and Westlain Grammar, leaving at 16 to become a tax officer.
Her two years with the Inland Revenue, in Regent Hill, Brighton, were the start of what she described as “a varied career” although for the past 35 years she has been a market trader.
She was a stalwart of the old Brighton station car park market on a Sunday morning and is now a regular at the Marina. Before either of those, she had a stall at the old indoor market in Air Street.
In the past she’s pulled pints, been a waitress and worked as a tour guide. She is a familiar face at the Java Community Café, in Warren Way, near her home. And she has given long service to numerous community groups in the area.
Her husband Paul will be her consort and her three daughters are due to be present for the mayor-making ceremony at Brighton Town Hall this afternoon. She has five grandchildren too.
Her mayoralty comes just under 20 years after she was elected, when her former ward colleague Pamela Stiles persuaded her to stand for the seat.
Her focus has been on the role of the community and voluntary sector and services for young people – “those are the things closest to my heart”.
She said: “I’ve worked hard to develop those in the city and in my local community.”
Since 2005 she has also sat on dozens of licensing panels, making crucial decisions for a succession of businesses, in particular those wanting to serve alcohol.
Her role as mayor is more about being a figurehead. She said: “People think you’re going to change the world when you’re mayor!”
A big difference made by the mayors of Brighton and Hove year in year out is the sums they raise for their chosen charities.
Dee Simson has chosen four – the Martlets Hospice, Rockinghorse, Off The Fence and the Grace Eyre Foundation.
She said: “I’ve chosen four but it doesn’t mean I’m not there for all the others. I want to get out and support as many of them as I can.”
The role has a serious side and Councillor Simson is well prepared for the formality.
But as Brighton and Hove’s first citizen – and the human face of the council – she is looking forward to getting out into the community, spreading some joy and having fun.