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From waitressing to her present role as the historic site’s head of operations, Heather Carter has seen Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace from the bottom up.
My career began when I did an honours degree in hospitality management at Oxford Brooks. I became a management trainee for Compass Services. After that, I worked at the fabulous Guildhall in the City of London and also at Downing Street. It was great – there was a bit of everything, from contract catering to lavish banqueting.
My first real job was as a catering manager for Rank Xerox in Uxbridge. Before that, I’d worked in bars and restaurants, waitressing all over the place.
I first started working at Blenheim Palace as a waitress when I was a student many years ago. I returned as the catering manager in 1996 having just had my daughter.
No day is ever the same. We have visitors from all over the world and we have all sorts of events from small meetings to huge games fairs, horse trails to car rallies. So there’s always something going on.
My favourite time of year in the events calendar is winter – at Christmas the palace comes to life. It takes on a real Dickensian feel.
My greatest challenge was moving from the job of hospitality manager to operations manager. I went from taking responsibility for banqueting and hospitality to looking after the actual palace and all the artefacts – the paintings, the gold and silver, the guided tours, security, ticketing and car parking.
This venue is suited to all sorts of events, but we have to make sure that we protect the building. We wouldn’t have planes flying over the palace, for example, because that would make everything shake.
We’re excited about our new visitors’ centre. We’ve also opened the Oxfordshire Pantry in conjunction with London caterers Searcys and a new Champagne bar on the water terrace. It’s great to see people looking out over the garden with a glass of Champagne, between showers!
When I’m not at work, my family and friends keep me busy. I love entertaining, going to the theatre and travelling when I can. My next trip – and first of the year – is to India.
I can’t imagine doing any other job but this one. There’s always something new to learn and we’ve got so many plans for the next few years. In 10 years’ time, I’ll hopefully still be here.
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1PP, tel: 01993 813874.
The article originally appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events autumn 2012 magazine.