FEW people would be as comfortable rubbing shoulders with “Mad” Frankie Fraser as with Richard Attenborough and Sue Barker.

Chris Walker met all kinds of people, including the former south London gangster, in his years driving a horse-drawn funeral carriage. The motorcycle- riding pensioner now hopes to use that comfortable manner in his year as Southend mayor.

Mr Walker, of Eastwood, said: “We have done weddings and funerals, from huge houses to council homes.

“We have worked and spoken with everybody and then you throw in the charity work for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, where Richard Attenborough was president and now it’s Sue Barker. We are used to meeting people from all walks of life.”

Ms Barker attended Mr Walker’s recent inauguration at the Civic Centre and the 69-yearold has pledged to support the charity this year with a series of musical fundraisers.

Mr Walker plans to tap up contacts built up through his pianist wife Janet’s 15 years as specialist head of music at West Leigh Junior School and musical director of Leigh Orpheus Male Voice Choir.

Janet is the new mayoress.

The couple will have to put their busy lives on hold to take on mayoral duties, but Mr Walker is no stranger to hard work.

He left school at 15 to follow his father into the print industry, taking a six-and-a-half-year apprenticeship.

The no-nonsense Conservative worked his way up to be a proof reader in Fleet Street, culminating with four years at the London Evening Standard, before computerisation left him redundant in 1988.

It was then that a friend for whom he had driven wedding carriages on weekends invited him to set up business as a funeral carriage for hire. Mr Walker used his beloved horses Ronnie and Reg, named after notorious gangsters the Kray twins, and Frankie and Fraser as an icebreaker as he met grieving families.

He even employed the tactic when he attended a number of funerals for south London gangsters.

Southend’s 94th mayor said: “Frankie recognised me from a couple of funerals and said: ‘Those horses, have they got names?’ I said: ‘The first pair are called Ronnie and Reg, but the second pair you may not approve.

They are Frankie and Fraser.’ His bodyguards looked taken aback that anyone would speak to him like that, but he just said: ‘I like that,’ and laughed.”

One passion Mr Walker may have little time for this year is motorcycle riding. His 1994 BMW 800 may have to stay in his already cluttered garage. Mr Walker said: “The mayoress does ride on the back; not at speed.

It’s fun. If you are a biker you understand you need to ride to feel alive.”

But his other passion – straight talking in the council chamber that saw him face down more than 100 seawall opponents last month – is likely to continue.

Mr Walker, who has been on 22 working parties and committees since joining the council in 1997, said: “Most people worry about what people think about them. I didn’t come into politics to be popular. I came into politics to make a difference.

“You don’t make a difference by pussy-footing and telling people what they want to hear. They need to be told the truth and the facts.”

Mr Walker revealed the truth behind the origins of his tradmark RAF-style moustache. He said: “I grew it when I was 16 and I’ve had it ever since. Frankly, I had such a girly face and I thought: ‘I’ve got to have something to hide behind’."

Half a century fighting muscle disease

SPORTS presenter and former tennis star Sue Barker was among the guests at Chris Walker’s inauguration as mayor.

She is president of what is now the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.

Mr Walker has spent a halfcentury involved in the fight against the muscle-wasting disease after meeting sufferers as an 18-year-old youth group leader for St Aidan’s Parish Church, Leigh. In the Sixties, doctors tried to combat the-then littleunderstood disease by cutting off victims’ legs. Mr Walker was overwhelmed after meeting child amputees.

He said: “I thought we are so lucky. We are healthy and these lads knowwhat they have got. Noone tried to hide anything from them, but they were so keen to experience everything.”

Decades of fundraising brought Mr Walker into contact with actor and film director Richard Attenborough, the previous president, and now Ms Barker.

The mayor said: “She’s lovely. She comes across just as she does on TV. I’ve never known her without a smile on her face.”