Peter and Jessica Frankopan
Q You have given generous support to Jesus College and to Gender Studies programmes at Cambridge. What is it about these projects that particularly interests you?
A Jessica: We were both at Jesus College, and it is where we met and fell in love. So we owe the College for that! Gender Studies is the area that unites us academically and intellectually. I studied archaeology and anthropology and then Development Studies, always with a particular interest in gender. Peter's particular expertise as a historian is on Anna Komnene, author of one of the most important works in Byzantine literature and the first published woman historian in European literature. We have both been enthused by studying our subjects through the prism of gender.
Peter: Jesus College was a fantastic experience for us both, and we look back fondly on that stage of our lives, too, when we had few obligations! We know that Colleges need the support of their alumni, and by giving back to Jesus, we are making sure that future generations can have as rewarding a time as we did. We both think that Gender is the next methodological barrier to go through for all subjects; one of the reasons we have supported it strongly is because it is inter-disciplinary and offers limitless scope. Why are there few women composers; how has wi-fi affected the traditional gendered model of the family; why do men trade differently in the financial markets to women, and why is this changing? A subject with such broad reach is utterly fascinating.
Q What did Cambridge mean to you as a student?
A Jessica: It was a huge honour to be there. The amazing lectures, supervisions where you had to be sharp, and plenty of very clever, creative people... it was a fantastic environment in which to spend three years. We both have so many friends from our time there, both from Jesus and from many other Colleges. Peter: At the time, of course, it felt completely normal, though even then we realised how lucky we were to be there.
Q How has that changed?
A Jessica: We both now know why people look back on those days so fondly. Oh for a hard day's work to be a couple of hours in the Library and at lectures! Or to complain about 5th week blues! I would love to have the time to re-read some of the books and articles I studied. I still look longingly on shelves in the anthropology section in bookshops to see if any of my supervisors have published anything recently.
Peter: Being on the other side of the fence as an academic in Oxford makes me understand and appreciate the commitment of the people who taught us. Having spent some time in the USA, too, has made us both painfully aware of the disadvantages that universities like Cambridge now face in funding terms, where the challenge of remaining world-class already depends on alumni who have gone on to do well giving back and supporting the infrastructure and future of the University.
Jessica and Peter Frankopan are a modern Renaissance couple with wide-ranging of interests, irons in many fires, and a large family to boot. They met at Jesus College where Peter, a Choral scholar, took a first in History and won a fives blue, and Jessica got a 2:1 in Archaeology and Anthropology, and captained the College tennis team. After completing a Masters in International Development at LSE, Jessica went on to work for the EU in Brussels, then for several NGOs focusing on Fair Trade. Peter took a PhD in Byzantine history at Oxford, becoming a don at the age of 26.
In the late 90s they became convinced that there was a gap in the market for a hip country hotel. Commissioning a new firm of architects who were their contemporaries at Cambridge, they transformed the run-down Cowley Manor estate in Gloucestershire into a multi-award-winning luxury hotel. In perfect harmony with its rural setting, Cowley Manor is a showcase for outstanding young British designers, and epitomises the Frankopans' eclectic interests, passionate dedication to good causes, and entrepreneurial flair. It provided the archetype for further projects including the famous L'Hotel in Paris and, due to open in late 2009, The Canal House in Amsterdam.
Jessica and Peter are involved with a small number of academic, environmental and cultural projects, serving on Development Committees at Oxford and Cambridge, as well as being Trustees of a handful of charitable trusts.
It is no surprise that Jessica writes: "As parents of four young children, we often find ourselves asking why there are only 24 hours in a day!"
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