Newsmaker: It's hard to say goodbye - Geraldine Peacock Chair,Charity Commission

Stephen Cook

Stepping down, but keen for her work to continue.

Nearly 40 years ago, in a village in Somerset, something sad but not unusual happened: a young couple who were engaged to be married decided that they didn't want to go through with it after all.

In August this year, something much more unusual is to take place: that same couple, after spending most of their adult lives in other places and relationships, will get married in Toronto and then throw a big party in London for their families and friends.

The woman in the pair is Geraldine Peacock, best known in the UK voluntary sector for thinking outside the box and setting a new role and culture for the Charity Commission since she took over as chair in July 2004.

Before that, she was chief executive of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

The man is called Bob, a mining geologist who emigrated to Canada and became wealthy through his stake in a diamond mine in the Northwest Territories and in the big Harry Winston chain of upmarket jewellery shops in the US. They renewed their relationship soon after Peacock was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and he visited her in hospital.

Peacock doesn't want his surname published and points out that his consortium has set up a trust to benefit Inuit people near the mine.

The final chapter in this fairytale is to come early next year, when he will move to England to supervise the opening of a new Harry Winston shop in London's Bond Street and the pair will move back to their native Somerset to live in a house they have bought on the cathedral green in Wells.

Until now, Peacock has managed to balance the new relationship with the demands of chairing the commission - three days a week, in theory, but rather longer in practice. On average, she's been crossing the Atlantic about once a month.

But she has now decided this is no longer tenable - the constant travelling disrupts the regime of medication she uses to control her Parkinson's, and the delays in the Parliamentary progress of the Charities Bill have made her job increasingly onerous.

Peacock's latest information is that the Bill, which has been through the Lords but not the Commons, is expected to become law in June but might not make it until Christmas. Before it's in place, she is unable to appoint the extra commissioners it would permit and as a result, she says, she and her team are "very stretched".

So, about 18 months into her four-year contract, Peacock has concluded that it's time to hand the job to someone else and switch to a mixture of academic work, writing and mentoring.

"It's been such a difficult decision because I'm absolutely passionate about getting the commission up and running as the pivotal point of the sector - the only body that is both independent and touches the lives of every charity in the UK," she says.

"I talked to Charles Clarke and Paul Goggins about it at the Home Office, and they were disappointed, which was gratifying in a way. But if I go now, it's a chance to appoint someone who can be up and running by June and then appoint new commissioners once the Bill becomes law."

But she's been allowed considerable influence in the choice of her successor in the hope that someone will be appointed who will want to continue her project of transforming the commission into an enabling regulator and sector champion. She's writing the job and person description, and she's briefing the headhunters.

"It's a Sidney Carton-like decision - a far, far better thing," she says.

"I'll be there until someone can take over, which won't be later than June but could be sooner. After that, I shall watch enviously from the sidelines."

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