Tony Attard - Lancashire High Sheriff
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 September 2018
Lancashire's High Sheriff talks to Olivia Assheton about the relevance of the role in the 21st century
When a man runs a multi-million pound textile business and harboured early ambitions to be a fashion designer, he can be forgiven wanting to dress with some small degree of originality. But when Tony Attard suggested a few changes to his uniform as new High Sheriff of Lancashire, it was met with a stony silence.
He soon realised that an office going back to John O’Gaunt had certain traditions that could not be changed to meet the prevailing fashions or, more importantly, to provide the wearer with a little more comfort. The heavy blue dress uniform with its high military collar is worn on duty even when the temperature sizzles.
Mr Attard is originally from Dorset but he regards himself as an adopted Lancastrian, with a wife, Pat, from Poulton-le-Fylde and three sons raised in the county.
From its head office in Hapton, near Accrington, his company Panaz designs and manufactures exclusive flame-retardant fabrics for international markets such as hotels, hospitals, medical and leisure facilities. With a turnover of £20 million and offices in Dubai and the USA, Panaz is one of Lancashire’s success stories, winning Queens Awards both for Innovation and Export.
Tony studied Design Management at the University of Manchester, after being awarded a scholarship from Courtaulds. He worked for them and Tootal Textiles before founding Panaz in 1986. It grew rapidly, gaining a reputation for both for innovation and responsible employment practices. In 2013 it was in the FT’s 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain Tony was awarded an OBE.
His most high-profile role in the county had been as chairman of Marketing Lancashire but he has many hats. Retaining two posts with his alma mater, he is also a member of the Textile Institute and the Institute of Directors and has a string of other industry positions to his name. He is also a benefactor of the Helping Hands sewing rooms in Skelmersdale, a charity that helps women make new lives.
Why take on so much? ‘The trouble with entrepreneurs is that they like to stick their fingers in a lot of pies,’ he says. ‘My tombstone should probably read “He should have said no a bit more often”, but I am blessed with a wonderfully understanding, as well as lovely, wife Patricia and Karen, my executive assistant, is fantastically efficient.’
The High Sheriff, installed during a shield hanging ceremony at Lancaster Castle, often attends royal visits to the county and lends support to High Court judges. ‘It has been fascinating,’ he says. ‘So far, I’ve sat on the bench with a judge during a murder trial and was involved in the Hillsborough Inquiry.’
Increasingly the role extends to support the police and emergency services, as well as public sector agencies such as the probation and prison services.
Tony has just been to a junior school to talk about the Commonwealth, which he found inspiring, and is particularly concerned in his year of office, to engage with young people as much as possible, as well as to get across a strong business message.
‘I started from very humble beginnings and want to show that this country gives you the opportunity to reach for the stars from a young age through hard work, perseverance and discipline.
‘We have wonderful traditions in the UK, but we also have a great spirit of entrepreneurship. In Lancashire we also have fantastic schools, vibrant manufacturing and professional services sectors and, of course, the best restaurants and pubs in the land!’
The High Sheriff’s hobbies are sailing and painting. ‘I guess I won’t have a lot of time for either, this year but I really would like to start painting more,’ he says. He will, however, be able to visit many parts of his beloved county – the favourites being the Forest of Bowland where he often cycles, and our superb coastline.