Nellie Williams should need no introduction. But there’s plenty of readers who’ve probably never heard of arguably the most Welsh English Woman there is. She’s the organiser of Wales Week / Berkshire, host of the St David’s World Berkshire community, a Brecon Beacons National Park Ambassador, a Welsh History and Culture Ambassador, a keynote speaker, a literary interviewer, an event organiser, a newspaper columnist and a radio contributor. We caught up with Nellie to find out just how her love for Wales came about, and what she has in store next.
Hey Nellie! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I’m Nellie, I’m English, my maiden name is Pritchard-Gordon so there’s a strong Celtic connection, and I’m married to a Welshman from Merthyr Tydfil. We live in Wokingham in Berkshire. We have three daughters who were all born in Reading but are Welsh. We’ve got two dogs, one of which is from Brecon and the other one is from Wiltshire (but he’s got to be Welsh with such a Welsh household).
When did your love affair with Wales begin?
I met my husband 31 years ago and we used to travel up and down the M4/A470 every couple of weekends to see his parents and friends, just for a weekend which was always very busy. When the children arrived and I was in the police I didn’t go as often. 7 years ago, a friend from school at Malvern was diagnosed with a brain tumour and came home to Radyr. When she told us how ill she was we all stepped into action and rallied around, and filled the last 7 months of her life with trips and adventures. The more places we went the more I realised that I knew people from all over the place, in real life or on my phone.
It was during that time that I started coming to Wales in my own right, finding places to go, seeing friends and family as well as meeting people I’d connected with on social media. That’s when the love affair really began. Now I’m doing the marketing for Glanusk, am a Brecon Beacons Ambassador, Welsh History and Culture Ambassador, then this year I started Wales Week / Berkshire. Within 6 weeks I had loads of events confirmed, with pubs, restaurants and cafes all geared up to sell Welsh cakes and Bara Brith, and to stock Welsh produce as well as a Welsh pop up at John Lewis in Reading. I was thrilled to be asked to become a host for St David’s World following their pre-launch at PWC for a Wales Week / London event.
“The Welsh dragon snuck up behind me and breathed fire, love and passion into not just my heart, but my whole life.”
Do you find it unusual for someone who was born English to become that passionate and involved with promoting Wales?
I do, I think it is quite weird. Others ask why and I have to say I don’t really know but with a grin I say the Welsh dragon snuck up behind me and breathed fire, love and passion into not just my heart, but my whole life.
Have you attracted the attention of any Welsh organisations or government bodies that have been interested in what you’re doing?
Yes, at the pre-launch event for St David’s World I met up with a gentlemen from the Welsh Government who thanked me for all that I was doing to promote Wales in Berkshire, and that really took me by surprise to be noticed for what I was doing. I don’t think I’m doing anything particularly special. I’m just sharing my passion. There are many other people promoting, marketing and influencing, so I am not doing anything new or groundbreaking, it’s more at a tangent! I’m English living in England showing Berkshire, England, and quite possibly other parts of the world how wonderful Wales is and what a fabulous country of opportunity it is.
You’ve become a key representative for Wales outside of Wales. How would you like to see Wales represented around the world?
Oh gosh have I? I said to my mother in law (Granny Valley) that the Welsh are very good at telling the Welsh how wonderful Wales is, but they are quite humble in shouting about it. She agreed. So I’m happy being the English shouting girl. I would like people to know more about Wales – the rich history, the culture, the heritage, the important aspects, Welsh rugby, Welsh football (actually my two youngest daughters played football at school coached by Reading FC Women and a lot of the players were Welsh). I’m very comfortable saying Wales is wonderful, but it doesn’t necessarily all happen in Wales – there’s a part of Wales everywhere and I’m surrounded by the Welsh in Berkshire.
There’s many organisations such as St David’s World, Wales Week, Fly 2 Wales, Wales International as well as national and international Welsh societies around the world with so many people that are passionate about Wales. I would like everybody to just wake up and smell the coffee (of which there’s lots of fantastic coffee businesses in Wales) and see that Wales isn’t just at the end of the M4. It isn’t about the rain, it isn’t about sheep, it isn’t just daffodils, it’s a fascinating country with beautiful scenery and views, fascinating history, amazing businesses and fantastic people. There are so many opportunities, whether it’s for holidays, business, or people that come to walk in Wales. There’s loads of Welsh authors and dramas, you only need to look on telly and you’ve got Hinterland, Keeping Faith, Hidden, Stella, Bang etc, and people are now beginning to wake up and realise that there’s something about Wales they want to know about.
Last year was the first time I’d gone up to the Royal Welsh Show and I had never been in an environment where there were so many Welsh people and so many Welsh dialects, there were farmers, business people, small businesses, big tractors (huge tractors!) and everyone had a real sense of pride. It was sort of like another reawakening because Wales has such a broad spectrum of people. There’s just so much going on and I think I’m only scratching the surface.
Now that you’ve got Wales Week / Berkshire. Which county will you be annexing for Wales next?
Ha! I’ve had enquiries from people in the bordering counties of Hampshire, Surrey, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire so there is definitely an opportunity to get them going. I have spoken to Dan and Mike from Wales Week about identifying people with enthusiasm in these places with a view to having a chat with them about how they could possibly start up their own county’s Wales Week. Imagine if there was a UK-wide Wales Week in all UK counties it would be wonderful, with every county doing something to celebrate, ideal for those that have left Wales but their heart is still there.
Even if it’s just a coffee morning in a small village in a county, if it’s happening then people will naturally want to be involved, especially if it’s down the road. I’ve been vocal and people are curious and with so much focus on Wales at the moment, people are genuinely interested.
Have any famous faces been lucky enough to attend one of your events?
Well, apart from me of course! Matt Johnson and Alis Hawkins who are Welsh writers and head up Crime Cymru, a collection of Welsh authors, came for an event which was packed out. I also managed to get a few friendly familiar faces to do videos wishing Wales Week / Berkshire all the best, sending us lots of love and that was lovely. People were quite nosey asking “how come you got Jonathan Davies to do a video? How come Scott Quinnell did one? You know Terry Walton from ‘The Allotment’?”. People are quite familiar-face-driven, yes they are familiar famous people, but they’re also people and I really appreciate them giving up their time.
What are your plans for 2021?
Behind the scenes I am talking to schools, venues, hospitality etc about how they can get involved, obviously we have no idea what we will be doing in February and March but if we can get some dates in the diary then that will be something to look forward to. I have a part on my website dedicated to Wales Week / Berkshire and Wales so I am going to cobble it all together and create Cymru Collective, a Welsh shopfront in the event we are unable to run physical events so that people can get more of a taste of my favourites in Wales.
Away from Wales Week / Berkshire I am excited to be organising Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival, a crime writing festival in Aberystwyth in April 2022, as well as writing blogs Wales : In their own words.
How can St David’s World and other organisations help you promote your initiatives?
I would love for all the organisations that deal in the diaspora space to come together and collectively push the Wales brand, then we could get more people, more events and more exposure. If we all work together it’s all for the good of Wales that we’re doing this – it’s the love and passion and we all share it. How about Wales Always Linking Everyone Somewhere (WALES)?!!
There’s the brilliant and hugely supportive Dorian of Fly 2 Wales doing international tourism, St David’s World connecting everybody, Global Welsh operating in the business space, Wales Week popping up with events and celebrations all over the world for a week either side of St David’s Day, Wales International, Welsh societies and this ditsy English girl who’s whipping everybody up in Berkshire and beyond. I would love to work with all the partner organisations, we’ve all got different strengths and niches that we can draw on. I can go into a crowded room or strike up a conversation out of nowhere and talk about where to go, what to do, who to see, what to listen to, what and where to eat and what Wales means to me. I want to know more about the people behind the businesses as well.
What would be your message for Welsh people in Berkshire and beyond?
I would like to hear from Welsh people in Berkshire, whether or not they work in Berkshire and live elsewhere, or whether they live in Berkshire, or have a connection to Berkshire and Wales as well as Welsh businesses who have links to Berkshire. There’s so many people that I want to bring from Wales to Berkshire. There’s nothing stopping them really.
For me, because Wales Week / Berkshire is still young, it’s a very social networking environment. But I do hope that in time it becomes a firm fixture in everyone’s diaries. For two weeks people can say “I can’t get to Wales for lovely food and drink or Welsh banter at the moment, but I do I know that I can get it in Berkshire and other Wales Week venues”. If that can happen for two weeks in the year, why can’t it happen for the other 50? I would love to see shops and farm shops with a great Welsh selection all year round – just enough to remind them of home.
Berkshire Community: https://stdavids.world/communities/wales-week-berkshire/
Nellie Williams: https://stdavids.world/members/nellie-williams/