In honour of International Women’s Day on 8 March we’d like to spotlight women from Victoria and Westminster that have made history, and those who continue to light a torch, inspiring future generations of women in their stead.
At 31 years old, Olivia Byrne is the Company Director of Eccleston Square Hotel, known globally as one of the most technologically advanced hotels in Europe.
Born in Paris and raised in Switzerland, Olivia graduated from L’Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne after which she went straight onto becoming the youngest hotelier in London in 2011, at age 23. Growing up in a family in the hotel business in Paris, she always knew that she wanted to work in the industry.
The boutique hotel has won many national and international awards, like the European Hospitality Awards’ In-Room Technology Innovation Award and for three years, the Best Kept Secret Awards for Best Hotel Gadgets by Laterooms.com (2011, 2012, 2015). In 2016, Eccleston Square Hotel was awarded Best Luxury Central London Hideaway (Lux Magazine’s Hotel & Spa Awards) and the Luxury Travel Guide’s Best Luxury Boutique Hotel in London.
Helena Puolakka is the Executive Head Chef at Aster. The Finnish-born chef was inspired to become a chef at her grandmother’s home in the archipelago where she spent her summers fishing and foraging. She attributes growing up in the south-west coast of Finland as an influence in shaping her style of cooking, focusing on uncomplicated, homemade food and distinctive flavours.
Helena sums up her style of cooking as Nordic/French, a combination that is evident in the dishes offered at Aster.
In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female MP to take a seat in Westminster. She was born into a wealthy American railroad family, but moved to the UK when she was 26 years old.
She went on to marry Waldorf Astor who was already a career politician at the time. Waldorf’s ascension to the House of Lords in 1919 caused him to relinquish his seat of Plymouth Sutton in the House of Commons, where Nancy decided to stand in his place. Upon winning the seat, she became the first woman to sit in the House of Commons.
In 1987, Dianne Abbot became the first Black woman to be elected to the British Parliament, and has since served as the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Rising through the ranks of the Labour Party, she also currently serves as the Shadow Home Secretary.
Born in Paddington in 1953 to Jamaican parents, she attended the grammar school Harrow County and later obtained a degree in History from Newnham College Cambridge. After graduation, she joined the government as a Home Office Civil Servant and later went on to work for the lobby group the National Council for Civil Liberties, then she became a journalist.
Diane hosts an annual conference for educators, children and their parents, an annual academic awards ceremony, and is the founder of the London Schools and the Black Child initiative, which aims to raise educational achievement levels amongst Black children.
Peggy Porschen is an award-winning Cake Designer, Author and Creative Director. Growing up in Cologne, Germany, Peggy knew that she wanted to become a cake designer. But it wasn’t until she was working as a flight attendant with regular visits to London that she discovered the art of ‘British Sugar Craft’ and pursued her passion for baking. Inspired, she completed Le Cordon Bleu’s ‘The Grand Diploma of Cuisine & Patisserie’ in 1999, before going on to launch her bespoke cake company in 2003.
In 2010, the Peggy Porschen Parlour in Belgravia which serves freshly baked cupcakes, cookies, layer cakes and uniquely blended teas, opened and for the first time she was able to offer her previously made-to-order only designs to a wider audience. In January 2011, the Peggy’s Cake Academy launched and became London’s first cookery school entirely dedicated to baking, cake decorating and sugar craft.
Peggy’s client list includes A-list events such as the 2011 wedding of Kate Moss and Jamie Hince, Elton John’s White Tie & Tiara Ball, Stella McCartney’s wedding, Sir Anthony Hopkins’ 70th birthday, Damien Hirst’s auction at Sotheby’s and parties for Sting and Trudie Styler, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, amongst others.
Fiona Barratt-Campbell is an entrepreneur and award-wining designer of Fiona Barratt Interiors, a multi-disciplinary design studio founded in 2006.
Born and raised in Northumberland, Fiona shares that her greatest inspiration is her grandfather, Sir Lawrie Barratt. Although she often draws inspiration from the rich history and landscape of her childhood, imbuing the strong identity of the North with the grandeur of Roman architecture.
Fiona’s first project was a ski chalet in Verbier for Sir Richard Branson which set the tone for design studio, attracting both prestigious residential and private clients to commercial developers in the UK and internationally.
Fiona Barratt Interiors offers tailored architecture and interior design, procurement services, curated fine art, custom-made furniture, lighting and accessories.
Born on 28 April 1854, Hertha Ayrton was an engineer, mathematician, physicist and inventor.
In 1904, she became the first woman to read a paper “The Origin and Growth of Ripple Marks” before the Royal Society, after having been denied the opportunity to do so three years prior, due to her sex.
In 1906, she became the fifth recipient of the Royal Society’s prestigious Hughes Medal which recognises an original discovery in the physical sciences, for her work on electric arcs and ripples in sand and water.
She lived in 41 Norfolk Square in Paddington, City of Westminster which received an English Heritage blue plaque in 2007.
In 1929, Margaret Bondfield became the first female cabinet minister in British history. Her path to joining the Labour Party began in 1898 when she joined the National Union of Shop Assistants and campaigned about the awful conditions and pay she earned while working as a draper’s assistant in a clothing store.
In 1923, she became a Labour Party member of the House of Commons and six years later was elected as minister of labour Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. Her autobiography, A Life’s Work, was published in 1949.