Great Britain

Lady Hale on her Brexit brooch: 'You can do a lot with a spider'

This outfit – a dress and the brooch – epitomises the sort of look that I have when I’m sitting as a judge. I wore this black crepe A-line dress, with velvet bands across it and a rather pretty stand-up collar, for the prorogation decision, but the black spider brooch in this picture is a different one.

The spider in this photograph lived on that dress and I had decided that it was the appropriate dress to wear for the prorogation judgment, but when I got it out of the wardrobe the spider was no longer there. It had obviously dropped off at some point and I couldn’t find it, so, because a spider lived on that dress, I looked in my drawer and found another redder, silvery, sparkly one.

A lot was made of my wearing that brooch on that day. I know that Madeleine Albright was quite deliberately giving messages with her brooches – she has written a lovely book about it called Read My Pins; I’ve got it. But I wasn’t giving any sort of hidden message – I’m not a politician, so I don’t play any part in politics. If I had realised some of the things that people might have speculated, then I would probably have worn an innocuous bunch of flowers.

I started to wear brooches when I was in the family division of the high court. I was wearing, on the whole, dark suits and my husband started buying me brooches to lighten them. The first brooch he bought for me was a spider. I don’t think there is any particular reason I have so many spider brooches. The spider is a very good artistic theme – you can do a lot with a spider. The same is true of frogs, I have a lot of frogs.

Of course, once one person sees you wearing something, then other people – members of the family or friends who want to give me a present – start giving you much the same. And so the collection grows. I don’t know how many I have, but there are a lot.

None of my brooches are worth very much; they are all costume jewellery. The infamous spider brooch was from Cards Galore; it cost about £12. They are mostly creatures of one sort or another. Bugs, beetles, a dragonfly, a fox and a nice little cat. But I think to say I was a fan of the natural world might be putting it a little high.

I tend to wear them more in London than I do up here in Yorkshire. I haven’t been wearing many brooches in lockdown, because I’m not going out anywhere. But I have been trying to keep presentable – I’ve got quite a lot of new casual clothes, like jeans and tops from Joules; comfortable, but not jogging bottoms or pyjamas.

People comment on women’s appearance much more than they comment on men’s, but I recall in another case most of the press comment was not on what I was wearing during the hearing – it was all on one of my fellow justice’s ties. I had taken great care to wear a different dress and brooch each day and nobody noticed!

When I got to the House of Lords, I decided I would wear a reasonably sober dress but doll it up a bit [rather than try to blend into the suits of her male colleagues]. I would wear colourful scarves because I was rather anxious that it should be apparent that there was a woman there now and that it was necessary to stand out – not in an aggressive or dramatic way, but just to make it clear that it was no longer all men.

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