Durham miner’s daughter hailed for Trump probe evidence – but is she a Geordie?
Bishop Auckland-born Fiona Hill told how her accent had held her back in the UK but claims she is a Geordie are proving controversial.
British-born US security adviser Fiona Hill has been praised in her home town as a great example of a strong northern woman.
The Russian analyst for the Trump administration wowed observers, particularly his political opponents, while she gave evidence at his impeachment hearing in Washington on Thursday.
The daughter of a coalminer, she was born in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, where her widowed mother, a retired midwife, still lives.
Commentators on Twitter have called her a “bad ass”, wished she could be president, demanded a TV mini-series be made of her life, and hailed her straight-talking style.
The Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Councillor Joy Allen, said: “I cannot imagine what it must have been like for her, to go out and give evidence when the world was watching.
She (Fiona Hill) is a shining light Joy Allen, Mayor of Bishop Auckland
“She must have nerves of steel.
“She came across so well, so honest and so trustworthy.
“It is great for the North East, great for northern women, and she is a really great role model.
“I am really proud of her coming from Bishop Auckland and doing so well.
“She is a shining light.”
During her evidence, Dr Hill explained how she became a US citizen by choice, saying: “This country has offered for me opportunities I never would have had in England.
“I grew up poor, with a very distinctive working-class accent.
“In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement.
“This background has never set me back in America.”
She also confirmed a story about a boy setting fire to her pigtails when she was 11, while she as taking a school test, and she calmly put the flames out and carried on with the exam.
In 2016 she told The Guardian newspaper about trying to win a place at Oxford University in the 1980s and compared it to a scene from the film Billy Elliot, which features a schoolboy from County Durham attending the Royal Ballet School.
She said: “People were making fun of me for my accent and the way I was dressed.
“It was the most embarrassing, awful experience I had ever had in my life.”
In 2017, her mother June told The Times newspaper that her daughter had retained her North East accent, adding: “It can confuse people, because they can’t believe she is this important person in Washington.”
History writer Dan Jackson, author of the best-selling book The Northumbrians: North-East England And Its People, questioned whether a Geordie accent was still a block to success in the way Dr Hill surmised.
He said: “If you look at Ant and Dec, it’s not held them back, they have been voted Britain’s most popular entertainers 18 years running.
“I’m sure part of their appeal is that people like their accents.”
The writer also addressed the vexatious question of whether, as someone from County Durham, she was correctly labelled as having a Geordie accent, because some believe the term only refers to people born in Newcastle.
Until recently, he said, people from Sunderland were also called Geordies, not just those from Newcastle – and the author said those from Northumberland or County Durham could make a claim to that name if they wanted.
He said: “There’s no consensus on it, no arbitrating authority.
“It’s a matter of self-identity.”