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30 November 2022

Kate Lee’s Q&A: “People are surprised by how ruthlessly commercial I am”

The CEO of Alzheimer’s Society discusses working in the charity sector, and the appalling state of UK social care.

By New Statesman

Kate Lee was born in York in 1972 and was the CEO of Young Lives vs Cancer (formerly CLIC Sargent). Since 2020 she has led the care and research charity Alzheimer’s Society.

What’s your earliest memory?

Watching, through a crack in the door, as my big sister danced in her bedroom. She is ten years older and seemed so impossibly cool.

Who are your heroes?

Even as a child I looked up to strong female characters: Madame Cholet from The Wombles and Morticia Addams from The Addams Family. Now I admire Jacinda Ardern and Michelle Obama. The way they use non-threatening power is a masterclass in being a strong female leader.

What book last changed your thinking?

Kim Scott’s Radical Candor. In the charity sector we can be too nice. Scott provides a model that is both kind and frank.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Aneurin Bevan. Imagine having his legacy.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

My friends would say the use of coupons and discount codes. I can get a deal on anything.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

The Roaring Twenties. The misogyny would probably kill me off, but so many cocktails were invented then. Does that sound shallow?

What TV show could you not live without?

I’m not a great TV watcher. As a single mum of teenagers there isn’t much time. But I loved Line of Duty – Vicky McClure is a big Alzheimer’s Society supporter and she is an amazing actor.

Who would paint your portrait?

My step-granddaughter Iris. She has a great eye for colour. And how bad could I look in a painting by a one-year-old?  

What’s your theme tune?

“Unorthodox” by Wretch 32: “We don’t follow no crowd, they follow us.” Apparently I also hum the theme tune to The Archers when I’m not concentrating.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

If you can’t be sunshine, don’t be a cloud. It’s not always easy, especially when you see thousands of families really struggle.

What’s currently bugging you?

The appalling state of UK social care. Diagnosis rates for dementia at a five-year low. Exhausted family carers desperately trying to get support and struggling emotionally, financially and physically. There are 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with millions more caring for them. It’s the UK’s biggest killer and needs to be prioritised.

What single thing would make your life better?

A new cheese grater.

When were you happiest?

When I started to see my organisation turn a corner, to stabilise and grow. I saw real pride in the staff. For a short time, I allowed myself to think “I did that”.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I have the best job in the world. But if I couldn’t do this I’d be a florist. Or CEO of something massive in the private sector. I’d change the world by demonstrating that business principles do not need to be in opposition to great, progressive cultures. People are often surprised by just how ruthlessly commercial I am.

Are we all doomed?

Absolutely not. Scientific progress and the power of humanity will keep us safe. I see it every day, working where I do.

To find out more about Alzheimer’s Society, visit alzheimers.org.uk. For support and information, call 0333 150 3456

[See also: Britain’s lost children]

This article appears in the 30 Nov 2022 issue of the New Statesman, World Prince