Icons of Essex
PUBLISHED: 09:04 08 February 2008 | UPDATED: 15:01 20 February 2013
We all love the county of Essex, but what is it that makes it such a special place? Here Laura White picks six icons of Essex which she feels give the county its unique quality
Sir Alan Sugar
No one embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of Essex more than Sir Alan Sugar. The tough talking, East-end-boy-made-good is an inspiration in a county where many residents can trace their past back to less privileged days on the edge of the capital. Born in Hackney, the down-to-earth Knight of the realm now lives with his family in his mansion in the Essex countryside.
It is a well-told tale that Sir Alan began by selling electrical goods out of the back of a van using his £100 savings. Now, at 60 years old and with a multitude of business ventures under his belt, including Amstrad and a large property portfolio, he is worth an estimated £830 million and ranks 84th in the Sunday Times Rich List.
In recent years Sir Alan has become a familiar face on our TV screens in the BBC series, The Apprentice. The phenomenally popular show has catapulted Sir Alan into the limelight with his finger-pointing catchphrase, 'You're fired'. Firm but fair, Sir Alan's respect for his roots is evident as he strives to allow another to succeed in business with his assistance.
A good time girl
Dame Helen Mirren
Throughout her career Dame Helen Mirren has won an assortment of Baftas, Golden Globes and Emmys, but it was her mind-blowing portrayal of Elizabeth II in The Queen that got her the top prize - an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2006. And all this from an Essex girl.
Born in 1945, Helen Mirren lived in Ilford after a spell in Westcliffe-on-Sea. She attended St Bernard's Catholic High School in Southend-on-Sea where her passion for acting was ignited in a number of amateur productions. It was from here that her career flourished, and by the tender age of 20 she was playing Cleopatra for The National Youth Theatre at London's Old Vic.
On a recent trip back to Southend, Helen recalls that it was at school that her talent was nurtured.
'My teacher, Mrs Welding, really launched me on my career,' she says. 'As a girl I used to sit on the seafront, wishing a Hollywood director would drive by and spot me.'
There is many an Essex girl who has hoped to be picked out for the celebrity lifestyle. Dame Helen leads the way.
A touch of the mysterious
Epping Forest and Dick Turpin
Epping Forest's reputation for mysterious beauty stretches across the country. The largest public open space in the county, the forest covers nearly 6,000 acres with stunning grassland, rivers, ponds, flora and fauna. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were keen visitors to the forest for riding and hunting and the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge is still a popular attraction situated in the Chingford area of the forest. Throughout time it has been referenced in music, plays, books and used many times as a film set, even appearing in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.
But with this beauty comes an element of mystery and intrique, integral in the Essex psyche. Part of the legend of highwayman Dick Turpin and The Gregory Gang takes place in Epping Forest. It is thought that after the grizzly 'Loughton Incident' when the gang raided the home of Widow Shelley and robbed her, they hid in the depths of the forest until the coast was clear.
Oysters and seafood
When it comes to food, it is oysters that best charcaterise the county of Essex and its unique qualities. Oyster-lovers from across the world recognise Essex as one of the best coastal areas to pick up this treasured delicacy. Locals and visitors will be licking their lips at present as the Essex native oyster season is in full swing (it runs from September to the end of April). Love them or hate them, it seems that nationally the popularity of our local delicacy is increasing, with many people visiting the area to sample the gems from our shores.
James McHoul, Fisheries Partnership Officer, said: 'The seasonality of our native oysters is something that should be celebrated. Quite often we find that the French and Belgians appreciate the quality of our oysters more than their own. Essex oysters are revered throughout the greater seafood eating nations of the world for this unique taste and quality.' It is not just oysters but first-class seafood of all varieties that are associated with Essex, particularly Maldon, where you can sample all kinds of delicious sea fare and eat in some of the finest seafood restaurants that line the entire Essex coastline.
History and heritage
Colchester and Constable Country
What an honour that Essex can claim the title of having the oldest town in Britain. Mentioned by Roman Pliney the Elder in 77AD, Colchester was given the Roman name of Camulodunum. After the Roman Empire fell, the town did not diminish in national relevance, as during the Saxon, Medieval and Tudor periods, new defences, churches and even a castle were erected in this prominent location. Once capital of Roman Britain, Colchester's history is anything but dull. It has seen devastation by Boudica, invasion by the Normans and siege during the English Civil War.
Nowadays, Colchester is a popular Essex town with a vibrant cultural scene and busy Army garrison.
Close to Colchester, on the Essex/Suffolk border is the immensely popular countryside known as Constable Country where many of Romantic painter, John Constable's works were created. Known principally for landscape paintings such as Dedham Vale, The Cornfield and The Hay Wain, this timeless English great can be treasured in the rolling countryside of the county underlining the importance of history and heritage in Essex.
The Coastline and Southend Pier
Stretching out into the sea off the sprawling Essex coastline is the iconic image of Southend Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world, at a glorious 1.33 miles. The old man of the Essex coastline, Southend Pier has seen two world wars, ravishing fires and modern development, but never has its unerring presence faltered.
The Essex coast is treasured by everyone in the county for its beauty and vibrancy. The longest in county coastline in England and among the most important biologically and economically, it is a true jewel in our crown.
Walton-on-the-Naze, Clacton, Frinton, Southend and Westcliffe are traditionally favourite destinations for days out or extended holidays and long shall they continue to be as the popularity of the British holiday re-emerges.