Jen Collins

Peter played the long game and saw the big picture. I worked closely with him campaigning to protect the term organic on beauty products, an area he liked to joke that he was naturally suited to! We had great fun.

When we came across companies which packaged their products in a way that could potentially mislead consumers, you could almost hear Peter rubbing his hands with glee down the phone. He was so keen to make sure companies did the right thing and that consumer rights – and the term organic – were protected.

When we received legal letters about our campaigning, Peter found this exciting and said it showed we were having an impact. Our serious phone calls with the lawyer were peppered with jokes and he would chuckle delightedly when I pointed out something incorrect in the opposition’s approach.

Peter always knew exactly where the line was and trod it very carefully, proving time and again that we were in the right. He was fair, open minded and had faith in his colleagues and our abilities. He would take the time to listen to the views of people working at the coal face and to address the concerns of staff who felt our approach was too radical (it wasn’t).

He respected people and – as a good friend & colleague said to me on sharing the news – he was one of few senior men who genuinely felt women were equal. He proved this in a meeting when we were discussing the possibility of more beauty campaigning. I pointed out that I wouldn’t be around as I was going on maternity leave. Peter boomed affectionately down the phone; “Jenny! Maternity leave doesn’t last forever!” The whole meeting fell about laughing.

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Natasha Collins-Daniel

Peter and I spoke almost daily since I joined the Soil Association PR team in 2012. He would ring, email or text some helpful bit of content or an idea for our press or social media channels. Or very occasionally, to gossip about Lillian’s affair in the Archers or some other controversial happening in Ambridge! I’ve never worked with any campaigner, let alone a policy director, who understood how to work the media like he did. He literally spoke in media soundbites!

He always shared success, never taking the glory for things – even when it was mostly his work. I found this especially entertaining (and endearing) when drafting media lines in my early days at SA. He would ring me up to discuss our media statement on something while I furiously typed what he was saying. When I’d send it round to other colleagues later he would always credit me. “Natasha’s written an excellent statement on X.” he would reply all (he loved a reply all!) and when I bashfully pointed out that he pretty much dictated the whole thing, he’d say “well, you’re the one that got in in the paper”.

“No, you’re the one who did Peter, they wouldn’t take it if we weren’t saying something interesting” I’d say to which he just laughed. I will miss his laugh. It was a common response to many tricky situations we had to navigate in the media.

When we were threatened legal action for a campaign about fake organic beauty products, he just laughed when I told him. When they call in the lawyers, that’s how you know it’s working he said.

He was absolutely unflappable. Always treated everyone with the same professional courtesy, no matter if they were volunteering in the press office or a full-time member of staff. He always took time to explain complex work or history around issues and I learnt so much from working with him.

I’m really going to miss our chats. But like many before me here have said, we’ll all be taking our learnings from him forward on the campaigns he cared so deeply about. So many lives have been touched by him. Not just those who worked with him, but the millions of people affected by the campaigns he worked on.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that he was adored by everyone who has worked in the Soil Association press office since I have been there and he will be truly missed.

Sarah Burton

Peter Melchett was first a client of mine in my legal practice, who turned into a friend, a boss and then a mentor. He had a profound impact on my life. And also on the organisation we both loved, Greenpeace, because he was a change-maker; someone who had a vision for the organisation, in the UK and globally, and then worked tirelessly to help make that a reality.

As a client, he was clear in his instructions, decisive, and focused. And always grateful when a legal strategy worked! As a friend, he was warm, generous and loyal. Always made me laugh and feel good about myself. Invited me into his home, his family, his networks and with amazing facility made me feel a part of his life. As a boss, Peter was fair, honest, helpful – his job as your boss was to make you successful. He had the foresight to see the benefit of Greenpeace bringing in-house a lawyer who could both be a significant defender of the organisation, but also a proactive legal campaigner.

As a mentor, well, what does one say? In everything Peter lived his values. He was forthright, open, principled and clear-thinking. Even today, many years – decades – after we stopped working together, when needing to act in a difficult situation, particularly one involving conflict, I try to imagine how Peter would approach it, and emulate him. He could be tough as nails, but always calm and respectful. In making a complex and sensitive decision, or helping others to do so, he asked the question, “what are we trying to achieve here?” and let that guide the decision. It seems simple, but when emotions are riding high, it is not easy to step outside and ask that important question.

I learned about environmentalism from him, from his deep connection to and love for nature. I learned about management from him, from his desire to always improve outcomes and build people. I learned so much from Peter, and my only regret is not to have seen enough of him in recent years, when I have been living in Amsterdam…but that is my loss. And Peter’s death is all our loss.

Caroline Lucas MP

On behalf of the Green Party of England and Wales I’d like to send all our sympathies to Peter’s family, and to say what a huge gap he has left in the environmental movement.
He was such an inspiring leader, combining brave campaigning and brilliant political advocacy and policy-making, and as a pioneering organic farmer himself, he showed by his own example that we can do things differently and better.
The Green movement owes him a huge debt. He’ll be sorely missed.

Mike Duckett MBE FIH

I was saddened to hear the sudden death of Peter at such a relatively young age. He was very supportive while I was manager at the Royal Brompton Hospital and his common sense approach to hospital meals was refreshing and he kept everyone firmly on a objective that hospital meals meant a traditional recipe basis using the local ingredients rather than a fine dining approach. He certainly helped in reaching and the use of the available organic ingredients which supported the high level of patients satisfaction. He will be missed by many in the NHS.