Liz O’Neill, GM Freeze

Peter was a great friend to GM Freeze and I am writing on behalf of myself and the rest of the GM Freeze team – staff and management committee, both past and present.

We all have different memories to treasure. Some were at Peter’s side in that field of GM maize back in 1999; others have always taken a more behind-the-scenes role. Some have worked with Peter for the best part of twenty years; others are relative new-comers. What we all share, though, is the keen awareness that what we do, and what we have achieved, has been influenced by Peter’s knowledge; by his flair for campaigning; and by his generosity of spirit. For myself, I always knew that I could rely on Peter for support, advice and – when necessary – challenge.

Some people leave the world a better place than it would have been without them and Peter was most definitely one of them. We miss him terribly.

Helen Taylor

It’s been so lovely reading people’s memories about Peter, and listening to his story on Radio 4, yesterday. How he’d smile, I’m sure – not to mention give that endearing chuckle – to be remembered alongside Burt Reynolds!

Peter was quite simply my ‘David Attenborough’. He opened up my world to very many environmental issues, and gave enormous confidence to many, enabling us to fight for what is right..

I remember fondly those meetings with the multiple retailers – including CEO’s.. Steven Esom, Sir Stuart Rose, Justin King and very many technologists who twisted and turned but couldn’t deny that Peter was right, when discussing the merits of organic food. He commanded such respect!

His meeting with Sir John Krebs to challenge his GM stance. The time he gave to people like Georgina Downs, helping her win her battle against the damaging affects of spraying pesticides on her health, and others’, were just two events I recall with absolute admiration for Peter.

And of course, his ‘Food for Life’ work with his team mates, Lizzie and Jeanette… How he touched peoples’ lives, so many and of all ages. It was truly touching to see him interact with the school children, who this wondrous team had helped, through their gutsy and persistence work, in resurrecting the way we feed our school children.

I also loved his presentations… you just knew that other speakers would have agonised over their words and PowerPoints. When it was Peter’s turn he’d chat to his audience with his lovely, calm and booming voice, then flick through a few slides and end on a stunning image of two hares leaping in the sunshine, taken at his farm, I think! It always made me smile. He made things very simple and kept us all grounded, bless him.

And best of all whenever I was with him – even after I’d left the Soil Association, he’d always want to know how I was and give me a big, reassuring hug. He was so, so kind to us all..

Thank you you for everything, Peter. You will be sorely, sorely missed.

Big hug… xx

Sarah Compson

It’s been hard to think of the right words to write about Peter’s passing. Like many of us who worked with him closely, his loss will be felt keenly in so many ways. It’s difficult to do justice (without a surfeit of well-justified adjectives) to quite what impact Peter has had both in terms of what he has achieved and the person that he was. Others have done an excellent job in this regard, so I just wanted to write a few words about what Peter has meant to me personally.

I first met Peter over 10 years ago when I began working at the Soil Association. His reputation certainly preceded him, and I remember feeling rather nervous about working with this Lord who eschewed the establishment, invented chugging, helped make Glastonbury Festival a thing, trashed GM crops, had been in charge of Greenpeace, had campaigned for decriminalising weed, and was a vegetarian pig-farmer! I remember being slightly bemused (and relieved) to find that the actual man behind the stories was very personable, with his shirt invariably untucked, his eyes twinkly, the most booming voice and an excellent chuckle.

As a junior member of staff with a good dose of imposter syndrome, I started off just doing as I was told by him. But I remember that my working relationship with Peter became much better when I started to disagree with him! Right now, I can picture the look in his eyes whenever I tried to counter his arguments. He relished a good debate! And so did I. Our movement is characterised by passionate people driven by strongly held values. The shadow side to this is that personal agendas and egos can often get in the way. I never felt that Peter led with his ego. I always respected the fact that he could be persuaded to a different viewpoint with sound reasoning, and I have always appreciated that a good debate with Peter helped to flesh out ideas rather than diminish them – which is surely the real purpose of debate in the first place. It never mattered if the reasoning came from the most senior or junior person in the room – he was focussed on the quality of the argument, not the arguer. Because of this, Peter always made time to listen carefully to different views, which I think is one of the reasons he is so well loved by so many people.

He also had a habit of creating opportunities – opening doors – then letting others walk through. It seems like many of us have stories of where Peter threw us in at the deep-end in early stages of our careers, but his backing and belief in our ability always seemed to make it feel possible to step up to the mark. I will be forever grateful for this.
Another thing I will always remember about Peter was that he was a ‘do-er’. He never had much time for talking shops, and would prefer to just get on with things, the more ambitious the better. His belief in the possible (albeit sometimes improbable) meant he would aim for targets that seemed ridiculously ambitious – but this is where his belief in doing what is right, combined with his campaigning spirit and determined approach always seemed to pay off. I most closely worked with Peter in relation to the Soil Association’s work on sustainable textiles, primarily organic cotton. Just last year he initiated a collaboration between the biggest global sustainable textile schemes around the world to galvanise brands and retailers into sourcing 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. The first report on the success of this initiative is due out soon, but it is doubtless that the impact on livelihoods, biodiversity and the environment will be huge. He has certainly left an important legacy in the textile sector – one of many that he worked across.

Ultimately, I feel like Peter’s many achievements in life come down to the person that he was. Honourable in far more than name, his absolute integrity always shone through. He lived his values, not because that is what you should do, but just because that is who he was. We have lost an extraordinary soul and I will miss him greatly.

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.

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.