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Barking and Dagenham Mayor reflects on ‘eye-opening’ year in office

PUBLISHED: 11:58 09 May 2017

Cllr Eileen Keller joins council leader Darren Rodwell in drumming at national play day being at Valence Park in Dagenham.

Cllr Eileen Keller joins council leader Darren Rodwell in drumming at national play day being at Valence Park in Dagenham.

Archant

Whether it’s being interviewed for Turkish TV or getting mistaken for the Queen – it’s all in a day’s work for the borough’s mayor.

The Mayor joins other dignitaries in raising a glass to a historic moment, as China's first freight train to the UK arrives at the Barking rail freight terminal. The Mayor joins other dignitaries in raising a glass to a historic moment, as China's first freight train to the UK arrives at the Barking rail freight terminal.

Cllr Eileen Keller, who will lay down the ceremonial chain in a fortnight, admits her year in the role has been “eye-opening”.

“It’s been brilliant, I’ve been to places and done things that I don’t think I’d ever have been otherwise,” she said.

A councillor for Dagenham’s River ward for seven years and a council worker for 26 years before that, the 68-year-old’s duties have stepped up a gear since she put on her mayoral robes.

“I’ll have up to four appointments a day,” admitted the grandmother-of-six, for whom a typical day might comprise a press interview, a school opening, a citizen-making ceremony and a governor’s meeting.

Cllr Eileen Keller said she relied heavily on mayoress Kira Keller and husband Reg Keller during her year in office. Cllr Eileen Keller said she relied heavily on mayoress Kira Keller and husband Reg Keller during her year in office.

A highlight for Eileen was the arrival of the first freight train from eastern China to the UK over 7.500 miles and 18 days.

“It was great,” enthused Eileen, who addressed crowds of international visitors at DB Cargo’s London Eurohub in Ripple Road, Barking, in January. “If a regular route gets the go-ahead it will bring in a lot of jobs to the area which would be brilliant. When I was young it was a busy area but now it’s more or less desolate.”

Eileen was also filmed for German and Turkish TV, but didn’t let this phase her. “It’s about being ambassador for the borough,” she explained. “You have got to go out there and show this borough that we do care.”

Is speaking at events like this nerve-wracking?

“I don’t get nervous because everything I’ve gone to I’ve believed in,” she explained, citing her work with her charity of the year Richard House children’s hospice and meeting everyone from police cadets to charities.

Another highlight has been the ongoing broadening of her horizons, which has seen her visit a mosque and synagogue for the first time.

“I’ve been to every church in the borough, soon I’ll have been to [a place of worship of] every denomination. I’d never been to a mosque before,” she said, adding: “It’s been eye-opening. I’ve been treated really well wherever I’ve gone.”

Eileen stresses her reliance on her consort and husband Reg, 68, who she lives with in Broad Street, Dagenham.

“We’ve been married for 48 years, we make a great couple,” she said, adding: “He’s a dab hand at ironing too.”

Reg and her grandaughter Kira, 18, a student at Robert Clack School in Dagenham, have helped her make the role.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said, recollecting a Bollywood night where Kira spent half the night dancing with the Lord Mayor of Westminster.

“Everywhere I’ve gone they’ve loved her,” admitted the proud grandmother, whose star granddaughter is the youngest mayoress in London.

Eileen says she has “a lot more to give” post mayoralty in her roles as councillor, chair of the CAB, Dagenham Park School governor, mum, grandma and wife.

“I’ll miss it, it’s been an honour,” she said. “Children seem to love it – they’ve asked me many times if I’m the Queen. I feel I’ve been able to give something back to the community.”

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