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BBC sounds, music, radio, podcasts Hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the Desert Island Discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were castaway to a desert island for rights reasons. The music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening.


My castaway this week is Colonel Lucy Giles. In 2015, she made history when she became the first woman to command a college at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Its motto, served to lead, could have been written with her in mind. By the age of 25, she was commanding 72 men on operations in Bosnia. She served in over 20 countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, excelling in a field that is 90 percent male. Her extraordinary success wasn't easy to predict.


Her family had no military connections, and at school, the careers advice included becoming a hairdresser. Now, as a senior female officer in the British Army, an institution which she describes as evolving in its attitudes, she says, "I hope I can act as some kind of role model for some of the soldiers and officers out there showing you can be a mum, you can marry a person that has a busy job, and you can try and hold down a job yourself as well".


If that's role modeling, I embrace it. Colonel Lucy Giles, welcome to Desert Island Discs.


Thank you. It's absolutely fantastic to be here.


So, Lucy, you've had a long career in the Army and you're currently president of the Army Officer Selection Board. That's another role that you are the first woman to hold.


What qualities do you look for in an officer?


Mental resilience is really important and the ability to get home with people in your team is also a critical skill. The foundation of our training at Sandhurst is to build upon that. So we always start with quite intense few weeks where you don't go out of camp, etc. and that's for us to be able to build the teams up together. And also in terms of physicality, we know we can do a lot of that training at Sandhurst, but we do need to see the building blocks that people have put in a bit of preparation before they come to our selection.


Tell me a little bit more about that Sandhurst motto, Serve to lead. What does it mean to you?


It's the compass point that guides us, I think, particularly in the officer corps. It's written on the front of the officer's mess at Sandhurst. It's about selfless commitment. It's about looking after your soldiers, leading by example, leading from the front ultimately to achieve the goals that you set to sell and where you're deployed on operations. It's not just about a set of words and a phrase. You've got to live that, you know. And so you have to be prepared to embark in this journey, not just because it's a job, but because it's a way of life and you have to really believe it and be authentic with it.


I think stress is a fact of life in a job like yours, isn't it? Is music something that has helped you manage that through the years?


I think music has been a great distress, particularly when you're in operations. I remember sitting out in the sun outside my career in my early tours in Bosnia, and it just took you away from what you were doing on a day to day business. Some of it was exciting. Some of it was a real eye opener, particularly for someone like me who was quite new to the army at that stage. So it can take you back to a place that triggers lots of memories, happy and sometimes a little bit sad.


But it's important to feed that emotional part of you because that's the thing that keeps us human.


Well, let's get stuck into the disks then, starting with your first tell us about this one.


I used this particular song The Day That Never Comes from Metallica, to describe some of the ethical decision-making that you could face as a leader when you're up against it and when you're perhaps faced with difficult decisions to make. So it's an emotional roller coaster of a song and a story, and that's why I like it.


Metallica and "The Day That Never Comes". So leadership then Lucy Giles? That track represents that to you. And there are lots of theories about it. How on earth do you go about teaching it?


I think we try and keep it as simple as it possibly can be, what leaders are, what their values are, what's important to them. How leaders behave is, is perhaps the biggest change we've made in terms of articulating what we mean in the army. And that was launched in the leadership code in 2015.


And that was the change there?


Well, it really focused in on not just having a set of attributes, a list of acronyms that you can then use to remind yourself that you've got to be, you know, have trust and integrity. It's about bringing that to life. It's about behaving in a way that extols the values.


And, of course, you're living those values yourself. What sort of leader are you and how would you describe your leadership style?


I don't think I would define leadership in one simple sentence or say that I am a leader and describe myself as X, Y and Z.


I think the important thing that you must be, however, in a leadership role is, is you've got to be true to yourself and you've got to be authentic, because if you're not, people are never going to believe what you're saying, trust you, follow you. And when the chips are down and when you're having to ask that extra bit from people, they, you know, will be less inclined to do it.


They say it's time for disk Number two. Tell us what we're going to hear next and why you're taking it with you today.


I met my husband Nick in 1991, and in meeting Nick, he sort of changed my musical taste. And I suppose this is a bit of an example of how that music changed. And when I started Sandhurst in January 1992, the first night I was sitting there with one of my tapes that Nick had made me playing songs like this with my mate Jane Aronson and Amanda Hassell.


And we they've been friends ever since. But I think I probably changed their cultural tastes as well.


But it's "Heart-shaped Box" of Nirvana.


Nirvana and "Heart-Shaped Box". So, Colonel Lucy Giles, you're the eldest of four, born in Somerset's, is that where you first forged your leadership skills, then as a big sister?


Well, probably, although I think my siblings probably saw it more as being a bit bossy. I had, I think, a very happy childhood.


When I look back, I just helped Dad in the garden and with horses.


So your dad was the village vet and he was tending to a lot of local farm animals. And also, when you say horses, I mean, were big animals that you had.


They were Scheier horses. So at one stage I think Dandi were at eighteen hands high.


It was one of the biggest horses in the country at the time. I look back now and I can't believe that my parents let me do it, but I'd be wandering in amongst the legs of this gentle giants and help pluck the tail. And I was able to volt on to him just about. But there was always companion horses, so which are really horses that I think dad had saved from being put elsewhere because they were broken. And so I ended up along with my sister actually at the time we used to do a bit of riding and mucking about with horses, as we say.


And you would accompany your dad when he'd go on Colditz as a vet.


I do recall going out with him on one occasion when I was 12 or 13 and we went to a farm and all these years they were pregnant and were dying and nobody could work out what was happening. And so an immediate post-mortem, which was a bit new for me to see that kind of thing going on. And then I watched my dad slowly work out what happened. And because they moved from one type of grazing to another, they were deficient in some magnesium.


It was. And Dad got hold of some magnesium, injected one of the use, and she immediately went from on her knees up and chipping away and quite happy as Larry. It was fantastic to watch and be part of.


So you were passionate about horses as a girl. Did you consider following in your dad's footsteps and working with animals?


You know, I'd have loved to have done that because we were always surrounded by dogs and things coming in, you know, whether it be a three legged lamb or a broken fox or a badger at the bottom of the garden. I just didn't have the application, I think academically to reach the standard that you needed to have, I think.


What are we going to hear next? It's disk number three.


It was my music teacher that was a real influence on me. So Mrs Dommett used to bring us all into the class and play us things like "Dark Side of the Moon" or the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. She got us to do things like be in the choir or orchestra and stand up. And it instilled a lot more confidence, I think, in myself and my friendship group.


She would be taking us up to London along with some of the other teachers. We hadn't been to London and to go and see these amazingly produced stage musical.


And you could just lose yourself in that world for a bit. And I just loved it. This is linked in to that experience when I was younger. It's a particular excerpt from Jesus Christ Superstar. It's a short piece, but it's one I love. And it's "Pilot's Dream".


"Pilot's Dream" from Jesus Christ Superstar sung by Barry Denon, words and music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.


Taking you back, Colonel Lucy Giles to your school, music and drama loving days.


Singing and doing drama then stuck with me even through the army. So one of my postings, I did stage musical staff and I was always part of a production or direction team. And I have been known to do a bit of a turn on the commissioning board as well.


That's getting up on stage at the big do.


Yeah, and they weren't expecting their college commander to be doing that. That's for sure.


Do you have a signature performance piece?


Well, it could be a bit of sweet child of mine, although Mustang Sally can take an appearance as well.


Wow. So let's go back a little bit. You went to study biological sciences at the University of Exeter, and while you were there, you got involved in the university officer's training corps. What kind of things were you doing?


It was a couple of friends that were in the Hall of Residence that said, "why don't you come along for a selection weekend?" And I thought, "I have no idea what you mean by that". They said, "Oh, come on, it'll be good fun". And I thought, "Alright." Anyway, I found that I could boss people about and get away with it.


But also I mentioned that one of the best things we can do in the armed services is challenge people. And that's what exactly happened to me. So I was put in situations which I didn't think I would be able to do at heights or in a group of people or whether it was skiing or diving or it's just so many things that I was able to have the opportunity to experience. And I genuinely met some real friends for life there because I didn't realise it at the time.


But that's exactly what Bonds use, those shared experiences where you're putting yourself under a bit of pressure.


And it wasn't until I left, travelled a bit, had some attachments with the regular army through the Odyssey and getting a bit sort of cajoled by my mate Alison that I ended up deciding to sign up.


You needed a little while to kind of get your head around the idea.


I think I did, because I just come straight from my local comprehensive, went to my local sixth form and went straight to a hall of residence at a campus university. I had quite a narrow outlook if I reflect back on it. So I needed that broadening. And I think the chance of through the odyssey of getting away and doing different things I think really helped.


It's time for small music.


Lucy, December four. What are we going to hear?


When I went to university, it was a bit of an awakening and I met some great friends there that were on my course. But it was the friends I met in the halls of residence I was at in Lopez. We ended up living together for a couple of years after that. So Andy, Miranda and Katy have been Stoltz and my closest friends. So this record, it's got to be Love Shack and the B 52.


B52's and "Love Shack". So Colonel Lucy Giles, you've finished your biology degree and then spent a year out travelling, doing operation roughly before you decided to join the Army.


My family were absolutely relieved that I finally got myself a proper job and was focused on something that could offer a career.


You were part of the last female only company to commission at Sandhurst. What was the thinking behind moving to fully mixed commissioning courses?


I think the Army realized that having three separate courses, actually one for graduate men, one for non graduate men and for mixed graduate non graduate women wasn't really reflective of how we were being employed into the future. So Sandhurst changed in September 92 to having a system where they would have companies on a regular commissioning course, but they would still have a female platoon. And it wasn't until 2015 that we made it all completely mix. And that was on my watch.


Are there pros and cons to it being mixed?


No, there's only pros.




Yeah, because we need to train as we fight and we fight as the diverse gang of people. What we were doing inadvertently wasn't deliberate, was creating a misogyny in a way where there was this distrust of the girls were doing something slightly different to what the boys were doing.




And I think that's unhealthy. And it did pervade because I experienced it.


What happened? What was the misogyny that you experienced?


It wasn't so much that I was entering an organisation that was deliberately misogynistic. It was because it's just always been done that way. And so the behaviours then tended to match it. So I was teaching in an organisation even 10 years ago where one of my colleagues had never work with females before ever. And it's not because he's not wanting to. It's just he just never had that experience. And it does mean that you can think that it's a challenge to work with females when it's a predominately male environment.


But we're all just getting on with our jobs and wanting to focus on the task in hand.


So it's about the prevailing culture, really, and the attitude to go with that.


And I wonder if your your own attitudes are changing and have changed over your careers, because I know that you felt you didn't have a lot of female role models when you were rising through the ranks.


But actually, you know, now you have become a role model to young women.


When I started in the army, at the highest rank that I remember seeing was captains, majors who were females. And now it has massively changed. One thing I'm very proud of within the organisation is that has adapted over the last quarter of a century to be able to have more inclusive policies and paternity maternity opportunities. I did have a bit of a light bulb moment when I started at New College at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, when I was queuing for my boots and there was a couple of girls in the same queue as me doing the same thing.


They were getting some items from the quartermaster stores and one of them nudged the other one and said, "I think that's her". And I looked to them and they said, "Excuse me, ma'am, are you the new college commander that's just starting?" And I said, "Yes, I am". And they both looked at each other and smiled and said, "We're so excited because we've never seen a lieutenant colonel before". And I realised then, as do some of my colleagues as well in the similar position, that whether I liked it or not, I had a duty and I had a role to play as somebody that they could be inspired by, perhaps.


And so I've I've made it my mission since then to do the best I can.


Currently, about 11 percent of military personnel are female. Lucy, how do you think about a gender balance would shape the army of the future?


What difference would it make if it if it was a more diverse organisation?


There is a real role to play if you've got a mixed force. So, you know, if you're going into a particular country that requires interface with the local population and you can only interface with half the population because you're a predominantly male battle group, then that doesn't make sense. It's not operationally effective. So that's the sort of argument that I would put forward as to why we need to be more diverse.


Time for disk number five. Lucy, what are we going to hear?


Disk number five is from a band that I fell in love with in the early 90s when I was based in Abingdon, having done my tour in Germany and I became a member of their fan club. I've still got the badge. And my claim to fame is that I overlapped Exito with the lead singer, which is Thom Yorke.


But I only found out then that Nick had been at school with Radiohead in Abingdon.


And not only that. His sister, Toye and Justin know them all quite well, and they were very kind to my sister in sister-in-law and Justin when they lost their daughter and they dedicated one of the albums to her. So not only really fantastic musicians, but they were also extraordinarily good people. And this is "Street Spirit" by Radiohead.


Radiohead and "Street Spirit". Colonel Lucy Giles, one of your first leadership roles, entails being deployed as a troop commander in Bosnia. You were just 25 years old and had 70 men, one woman and 110 vehicles under your command.


Tell me a little bit about that tour.


To have that responsibility, which, of course, you just you lap up at the time.


But when I look back at, you know, it was it was quite immense. I mean, our role was to support the distribution of material and kit and equipment and people all across the area of operations. So we were based in splitting Croatia and then our logistic runs would be sometimes 12 hours. And we've had one that was 18 hours in the snow right up to Mercalli Vitez calling for couth, those sort of areas to support the British forces deployment.


You were in a zone of conflict, of course. How dangerous was it for you?


Well, we deployed in the October and Christmas was the R and R, so I was meant to be going home for two weeks. And just at that time, one of my soldiers, two of them actually were held hostage in Sarajevo and there was nothing I could do. But I was told to go back home and I went to see one of my team's family to just sort of explain what was going on.


And I found that really difficult because I was impotent to do anything. Another incident that happened during that time was that a convoy was mortared. So when they came back to come and you then saw the damage that was done and you just knew how lucky they were. And I've still got a bit of shrapnel from it.


But it's the presence of mind of our junior and young soldiers that saved the day on that one. And that's why the British army so strong. So we got that backbone of experience and and resolve at the lowest level.


I can hear how much you care about the people that you're working with and how closely bonded you are, too.


But obviously, that's a lot to process at just 25. I mean, these days there's much more emphasis on mental health. But were people adequately helped at the time if they needed it?


I don't think we recognised how much we did need it. Then, like a lot of uniformed organisation, a way of sorting things out is getting together socially and dark sense of humor, that kind of world. That out of context is probably not appropriate.


But that's, I think, how people manage to deal with some things that were more often pretty hideous.


And, of course, talking about emotions in a profession which is all about being seen as a strong, you know, and as invincible in a way, I think for you leading from the front on that issue, is it important to say, yes, I'm human and I've been through some things that have been very difficult to it's vital that you you say it how it is.


I think otherwise you're just talking in words, some meaningless conceptual ideas.


You know, whenever I was doing my leadership experience lectures to officer cadets at Sandhurst, I would try and bring it to life with real stories of things I'd experience. And I was very honest where I'd got things right and where I got things wrong so that they can learn and they can take these on board.


You met your husband, Nick, quite early on in your Army career, as you mentioned. How easy is it been for both of you to progress in your individual careers, especially with all the travel that entails?


We've made it work because we both love what we do. We enjoy it. And there's the sort of healthy respect for each other's part in the bigger picture.


But we did make a pact sort of early on in our marriage, which was if it all gets a bit too tricky and if either of us are really unhappy, we need to do something about it. And that's been at the back of my mind in particular to guide me when I'm having those moments of thinking, is this all worth it? And what are those tipping points where Nick's been away for long periods and he's been away for three year long tours?


There are moments in that where it can be quite tough. You know, when you left behind an.


It can be challenging. Do you worry about each other? Yeah, yeah, I think so. Well, yes, I know so. Which is why the hem that I've got is the next desk is is so important is when I've been busy, busy doing job, busy doing.


They're so busy doing that, especially when Nick's been away. I've never really allowed myself to stop and think about it too much. So the only time you have the pause for reflection is I found that in the church I've been at a chapel service or a remembrance parade or over Christmas or whatever. It's when you have those small moments of reflection that it does come to you. The hymn that I've chosen is the next yes, it's a verse from Those in Peril on the Sea, which recognises the role of the armed forces on land and sea and air and and finally culminates in that final verses being, you know, a trinity of love and power absolutely always makes me emotional because it reminds me of the time when when it's not necessarily with us.


So it's a hymn that's played at Sandhurst at Chapel Sundays and IT commissioning services. So for three and a half years, of which he was away for two of them every Sunday, this would always make my eyes prickle because you sit and you reflect about the enormous sacrifice.


It's not only that we doing at the moment around the world, but it's what's happened in the past and inevitably will happen in the future.


For those in peril on the sea in a special arrangement by Lieutenant Colonel Simon Hawk, who was conducting the members of the Guard's Chapel Choir and the Band of the Coldstream Guards, very moving the scales, amazingly talented corps of Army musicians that we've got in the Army and a very special piece of music.


You hear definitely lossy young army recruits who are 16 and 17 years old. They start in the service at a target. And the commanding officer there recently said that about a third of what you would describe as really disadvantaged, excluded from school, maybe with behavioral issues or often coming from broken homes.


I wonder how you tackle the moral dimension there. There's a duty of care, isn't there, to those young men and women?


There certainly is. When we welcome people into the army and they step over the line and they attest in the first week of their training, they're not just coming in to do a job, they're coming in and joining a family. So it does give a sense of purpose to some of these young men and women that are coming from maybe not such privileged backgrounds as I experience, for example.


And yeah, there is definitely a duty of care that we have to make sure that these young people are supported and trained effectively. And also we realign the values that may have slipped in their younger years so that they're absolutely focused on it.


And then conversely, last year, I think half of the officer cadets arriving at Sandhurst were privately educated. So is there still a class divide between officers and other ranks?


When you look at the statistics across the year, we do have more from the state sector, actually, than we do from public school all up. But the balance is about 55 45 at the moment. There is the opportunity for anybody to be able to apply to become an officer and apply online through the Army websites, no matter what their background.


In a way, when you start your training, it doesn't matter where you've come from because the playing field is level pretty quickly. Or at least time for some more music. It's desk number seven. What are we going to hear next? And why are you taking this with you today?


Well, this particular track reminds me of the school run and the mad half hours on a Saturday afternoon playing with the children. Jass was born in 2004. Alex was born in 2008. Jessica had picked up all the lyrics and Alex was just shouting a lot. So. So when I hear this track, it just takes me back to and makes me laugh. And again was always who could hold on to the word fire. The longest was very interesting car journeys that we had.


So this is from Kassabian and it's my. Still, my son will not see them on. Kassabian and Fire, so Colonel Lucy Giles, the desert island isn't the only desert in your future. I happen to know in your downtime you are a sports enthusiast and I think you're down to do the toughest race on earth. The marathon disabler, six days, 251 kilometres.


This is an ultra marathon in the Sahara Desert.


What is the appeal of an event like that?


The original plan was to do it as a sort of I'm 50 and I can do anything kind of challenge. But Cavey put a bit of a a spanner in the works in 2020 to try to be run in the September as well. So this is my third and final effort. So hopefully we can get across the start line in April. But I do love the challenge and it just helps keep me alive. And you never stop learning about yourself either.


And of course, the next challenge for you is going to be life on the island. Now, I'm imagining that all of your training in the army is toughened you up and that you will take it in your stride.


What's the first thing that you set about doing when we cast you away?


Do you think it's got to be fire shelter? I mean, that's my standard training. When I did my survival courses, that was what you needed to look for and get make sure you got water in and a bit of food. But the classic is that you end up doing that and then you go round the corner and it's all there laid out. So, you know, doing a recce time spending, planning is never wasted. OK, so quick recce first, just to make sure it hasn't recently been exited by another castaways.


Exactly. I see. All right. Got it. And how are you with your own company? Of course, because the psychological challenge of that is going to be tricky.


I'm actually very comfortable in my own company and I like socialising and people who know me will know that only too well. But I'm also quite reflective and I'm quite happy. My own company, I'm very happy to go for a walk with our new little sprocket belly and just lose myself in music or lose myself in nature, in the environment.


Something I learnt when I was studying biology and and also working with my dad.


Actually, one more disc before you go then, Lucy. What are we going to hear for your final choice today?


Well, this is a track that takes me straight back to school and my German exchange. And I'd had a pen pal that had come over from just if I think it was.


And so it's our turn to go over there. So there I was. I had my RA fluorescent fingerless gloves looking the part and thinking I was super cool on the dance floor. So this is a track called Big in Japan by Alphaville. And I have to say that is the go to mummy track for the long car journeys that we are going in. And, you know, I got it on vinyl from my fiftieth, so it's been with me for a while.


One person inside. Thanks so much. I know this is something your Alphaville and big in Japan, so Colonel Lucija, I'm going to send you away to the island.


I will give you the books, the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare to take with you. You can also have another what will your book choice be, Lucy?


I would go for the complete works of Agatha Christie, but I think one will just do because I can never remember who actually does it and murder somebody in the end. So I think it will keep me entertained, trying to keep guessing any favorites.


You know, I don't have a favorite because as I say, I've got a brain the size of a pea when it comes to remembering books and things. So anyone will do or. Right.


You can also have a luxury item to make your stay a little bit more enjoyable. What will that be?


My luxury is time, but I'm going to have plenty of time on my side. So the thing I think I would love to occupy my time with is doing a large jigsaw puzzle, but not just any jigsaw puzzle or I think I'd need an illustrated map of the island that would be on the picture with nature notes around it.


So I can learn because I'm innately curious about the natural world. And on the back of it, I'd have pictures of my family, so I get a few for the price of one. So it's a jigsaw puzzle, which is what I would take.


Oh, that's a fantastic choice.


And finally, which one track would you save from the waves if you had to?


I think I'd say Metallica the day that never comes. Not only is it the longest track there, so I think I've got good value for money. And it just reminds me of a very happy time at Sandhurst. And the kids love it, too.


Colonel Lucy Giles, thank you very much for letting us hear your Desert Island Discs. It's been an absolute pleasure.


Hello. I really hope you enjoyed that interview with Colonel Lucy Giles. We've cast many people from the armed forces away over the years. They include General Sir David Richards, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamin, and our 3000 castaway, Captain Eric Winkel Brown. The fleet, our arms most decorated pilot. You can hear their programs if you search through the Desert Island Discs website or on BBC Sande's. And if, like Lucy, you're a Radiohead fan, you can also find Thom Yorke, Desert Island Discs in that.