Spotlight interview: Bea Walcot
RAF Group Captain (Colonel OF-5), Bea Lawson née Walcot (RGS 1982-1984), is the Defence Attaché at the British Embassy in Vietnam. Sparked by her time in the CCF, she has put her gift for languages and love of travel to maximum use during her exciting and varied military career.
On leaving RGS you studied Russian and French at the University of Exeter, before completing a Masters in Defence Studies at King’s College London. Briefly outline your career
33 years as a Royal Air Force Officer, thanks to RGS CCF and Exeter Officer Training Corp! As a Personnel Support Officer, the portfolio is pretty broad – from core HR, outer-office duties, estates/airfield management to instructional duties, policy drafting and career management. Highlights include commanding RAF Stations Brampton, Wyton and Henlow, two operational deployments to Afghanistan (2007 and 2013) and, in Cyprus, as Chief of Staff for personnel, logistics and infrastructure supporting air operations against ISIS. Most recently, director of career management for RAF ground branches.
You are currently the UK Defence Attaché at the British Embassy in Hanoi – what does this role involve and what do you enjoy most?
I advise the Ambassador on defence issues, facilitate safe access for any UK military activity including visits by Royal Navy ships and British Army training teams, assist the Vietnam People’s Army in building capability, and promote UK defence sales. Yes, it does involve a lot of networking and the occasional tennis/golf/G&T! The bit I enjoy most (apart from the opportunity to travel) is working alongside other Government departments and other nationalities – a bit like a mini-UN.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome?
Persistent impostor syndrome! I joined just as women were allowed to fly and to stay in the service as working mothers, and it did feel like a new era for some male colleagues. Whilst I have never encountered discrimination (I am one of very few female Defence Attachés) I have occasionally wondered how on earth I got to where I am today.
What would you say is your greatest achievement?
Hard question: graduating from RAF Officer training in 1989 and climbing Mount Kenya in 2016 were equally hard – at the time. Staying fit and healthy!
What advice would you give current students considering a career in defence?
Ignore stereotypes! It’s immensely rewarding, can be hard work and you need to be a team player. Opportunities await – adventurous training, travel, testing new skills and competences such as learning new languages. It provides transferable skills, for example, junior officers can undertake Masters’ level degrees as part of their career paths. I would say you do need understanding families and partners. But talk to someone – use LinkedIn and the Reigatian community to find people like me.
Mid-career, you studied for a Classics degree with the Open University, what sparked this?
As a diversion from a busy policy job, and the RAF funded my degree! Despite a very mediocre Latin A Level result (apologies to Mr Louis and Mr Arnold!) I love the ancient world, revived by three tours (nine years) in Cyprus which is a terrific location for ancient ruins and mosaics.
If you could go back in time and witness any historical event, what would you want to see?
The VE day celebrations in London on 8 May 1945. Both of my parents served during WWII (Bletchley Park and the British Army in Burma) and my mother never tired of describing the sheer joy of the celebrations in London – joined, as we now know, by the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.
What would you most like to tell yourself aged 16?
Where do I start? Don’t take yourself too seriously, have a perspective on life and nurture close friendships which will buoy you up throughout your journey. Do not panic that you don’t know what you want to do next; work hard at A Levels!