Natalie Anglesey speaks with the High Sheriff of Greater Manchester, Gerry Yeoung over dim sum.
Meeting the High Sheriff of Greater Manchester in the Trafford Centre may seem a bit bizarre until I explain that, not only is it the location of Gerry Yeung OBE DL’s head quarters, but also two of his restaurants: the Yang Sing Cathay and Yang Sing Xpression.
As we meet again, after a gap of several years, Gerry proudly explains his role.
“I’m honoured to be the first Chinese High Sheriff - a title which has existed since Anglo- Saxon times. It’s mentioned in 27 of 63 clauses in the Magna Carta encompassing law and order - combining jobs now carried out by the police, the court, magistrates, and local authorities. We still represent the Queen as the head of the judiciary, but that’s purely ceremonial.”
Gerry’s too modest to mention first you have to be acknowledged as a prominent figure in the community before being considered for the role. A notable restaurateur, he and his family have done much to promote Manchester’s Chinatown.
“It’s very important that, while the Chinese community retains its identity, it also integrates with other communities in the city.” he impresses.
Gerry and his family have been involved in cultural, educational and charitable events in the city for many years. Indeed for services to business in Manchester, in the 2003 Queens Birthday Honours List, he was awarded an OBE.
“Although it was HRH the Queen who presented my OBE, I’ve since met several members of the royal family - although my children were most impressed when I met Prince William and his lovely wife Catherine!”
Kui Man, Gerry’s birth name, was born in Guangzho and spent his childhood in Hong Kong.
“I came to the UK when I was only 16, with limited school English, and here’s a funny story,” he chuckles.
“In my passport were the words Leave to Remain. I was confused because leave means go and remain means stay - it took me a while to puzzle that one out."
It didn’t take the determined student too long because in one year he passed both his O and A Level exams and studied for his BSc at York University. Since then Gerry has added Honorary Doctorates in Science from the University of Salford, and Business Administration from MMU, as well as a Medal of Honour awarded by the University of Manchester in 2016. After graduation, in 1977, Gerry worked as a trainee accountant until his father asked him to join the family business, the new Yang Sing Restaurant.
We first met at the BBC, when I was invited to a wonderful banquet to celebrate Chinese New Year, the first of many, prepared by his brother Harry. Gerry ensured it became one of the most famous restaurants in Manchester. Now its management has been handed to the third generation of the Yeung family. Was he disappointed neither of his children followed in the family business?
“Not at all. In catering there’s no such thing as a life/work balance and they are both doing well in London.” As we reminisce over a delicious lunch, Gerry looks back at his year as High Sheriff. “The installation ceremony was impressive and I wore military rather than court dress. I’m so grateful to my wife Yin Ling (Joanne) and my PA Margaret Gore – an amazing team.”
One of the happier events Gerry enjoys is talking to children in schools.
“However, I’ve found my ceremonial sword is more popular than I am,” he jokes. “Once, while travelling to London for a Royal Garden Party, I accidentally left it on the train. Fortunately an astute police constable at Euston station found it, saw my name inscribed, and called the High Sheriffs Office. When I thanked him I discovered he was from Preston – it really is a small world!”
However, the High Sheriff’s most emotional experiences was attending the vigil in Albert Square to remember the victims of the Arena bombing.
“When the vigil began, someone in the crowd of thousands shouted thank you to the police and the emergency services and everyone burst into spontaneous applause. We need to be thankful we have efficient and caring emergency services. The community responded to this dreadful atrocity with true Manchester spirit - grit, pride and togetherness.”
The High Sheriff is holding a series of events to thank as many as he can. “I was so moved by the way our wonderful police force reacted on that awful night I felt it was the right thing to do. As a family we took part in the Greater Manchester Run alongside 30,000 competitors to raise awareness and sponsorship. After the terrible events of 22 May, everyone came to stand in solidarity with Manchester.”
Among the many charities which benefit from Gerry’s £20,000 sponsorship are Disabled Living, RE: DISH, and the Greater Manchester Police Trust. The office of High Sheriff is privately funded by the individual, so no costs fall on the public purse.
As Gerry’s time as High Sheriff comes to a close at the end of April, he’s currently working on a free school project, aimed at bringing together the best practices of eastern and western education. He and his business partners have been facilitating collaborations between the two countries in education and media.
“I was delighted about the Prime Minister’s visit to China. Anything that generates trade between our two countries can only be beneficial to both.”
Looking back over an emotionally-charged year what impressed Gerry most?
“The strength of the human spirit in adversity. As president of Disabled Living, one of the oldest charities in Manchester, I met a three-year- old little girl called Angel who was born with no arms. At the Orchard Foundation’s Special Needs Unit, she was lying on the floor - but she’d discovered how to operate a computer mouse with her toes. I was overcome by her fortitude and as I left she raced past me in a wheelchair shouting she was going OUT! To me that amazing little girl is an enduring example of the human spirit and I’m so glad I met her.”