A STATIONMASTER who has worked on the railways for more than 50 years has been named the Face of Henley.
A portrait of Norman Topsom MBE has been hanging at the Old Fire Station Gallery for the past week alongside those of 137 other people from the area, some of them well-known names.
The exhibition was to mark the 10th anniversary of The Face of Henley charity, which raises money for people experiencing tragedy or hardship.
Photographers Claire Smith and Janet Hanton aimed to capture the essence of each person’s personality, job or hobby.
About 700 people visited the gallery during the week and 611 cast votes for their “favourite face”.
Mr Topsom beat runner-up Lynda Parker, manager of Duke Street hairdresser Rudi Kartal, by just seven votes.
Waitrose worker Russell Horne came third and Hils Evans, manager of Pātisserie Valerie in Market Place, was named fourth favourite.
Mr Topsom, of Gainsborough Hill, Henley, said: “I am very surprised — I do not think anyone thinks that they will be voted for, especially when people such as the Mayor are pictured.
“It was a lovely exhibition and a very nice and original project that went across all social boundaries. All sorts of people were involved.”
The 66-year-old, who will have worked for British Rail for 52 years next month, says the best part of his job at Twyford station is meeting people.
He also has a long association with St Mary’s Church, where he has been an altar server and bell-ringer for 40 years and keeper of the church tower clock for 35 years. He is also a director of Henley YMCA.
Mr Topsom was awarded an MBE in 2005 for services to the community.
He said: “This is a lovely town. You walk round and meet so many people you know and now I have learnt about more of them through the 100 Faces of Henley.”
Mrs Smith said: “Norman’s votes came from the most diverse range of visitors to the gallery, not just from people who know him and appreciate his incredible levels of customer service but also from strangers to Henley who were simply drawn to the character he exudes in his portrait.
“One person said of him, ‘Norman Topsom makes my commute to London almost enjoyable. He truly understands customer service’. He is a very special man whose biography shows how much more he is than simply the charismatic local station manager.”
Mr Topsom will receive a copy of his portrait in a special designer frame worth more than £200.
Ms Parker came from Australia as a baby to live in Henley, where her family lived above her uncle’s greengrocer’s shop in Duke Street.
She started at Rudi Kartal as a Saturday assistant while still a pupil at Gillotts School and 34 years later bought the salon.
Four years ago, she was diagnosed with cancer and lost her hair as a result of her treatment.
Now back at work, she has raised money for Macmillan Cancer Care and is pleased to help other cancer patients cope with losing their hair.
Mr Horne has worked for Waitrose in Henley for 23 years and maintains a cheery outlook at all times.
His duties include collecting trolleys, patrolling the car park and keeping litter under control, working as a cashier and replenishing the shelves.
He is described by colleagues as “a pleasure to work with” and a “great advertisement for the store”.
Ms Evans moved to the town with her two daughters 15 years ago.
She has managed the pātisserie since leaving her role as assistant manager at the Regal Cinema.
Ms Evans is a keen photographer and has a passion for snapping archaeological monuments. She is also a steward of Henley Royal Regatta.
Mrs Hanton, of Church Street, Wargrave, said she had not expected so many visitors to the exhibition. She said: “The response has been fantastic and even people who are not connected to Henley have loved it.
“The project has snowballed — we never imagined it would be this big. People have been so enthusiastic about the stories and pictures.
“Even our families have been surprised when they have seen it. My daughter Katie, who came down from Newcastle University, said it was brilliant.
“She served drinks with my son while my husband was doorman and Claire’s husband, mother and daughter were on the desk.
“Every single member of our families has been involved, which is lovely as they have been through it with us from start to finish.”
Mrs Smith thanked people for their positive comments.
“We have really enjoyed the buzz in the gallery,” she said. “People have been saying how every piece made them smile and they learned something new about people that they thought they knew.
“We were absolutely delighted with the gallery. We were planning to feature 100 faces but because of the response we had 138 people turn up to be photographed.
“As we felt we connected with all of them as everyone has a great story and has engaged with the concept, we could not cut it down.”
The 100 Faces of Henley commemorative book is available to buy at the Bell Bookshop and online at www.faceofhenley.org.uk