Cotswold Character: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen
PUBLISHED: 00:16 16 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:18 20 February 2013
Katie Jarvis gets an insight into life behind the doors of the Llewelyn-Bowen household, and finds out how he'd like to sprinkle a little bit of glamorous fairy-dust in our lives
Bother. I knew I should have paid attention to what Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen was wearing. (Style guru. God of frilly cuffs.) Im pretty sure he came into the room on the second floor of his Cirencester offices on a horse (a Stubbs one) a la the Anthony van Dyck portrait of Charles I. Possibly clad in armour and maybe wearing a Garter Sovereign. But I couldnt honestly swear to that its a general impression. Its just that he distracts me whenever I see him: glamorous, funny, flamboyantly ironic (and, yes, that is possible).
So heres the interview as I do remember it: Im actually meant to be seeing his wife, Jackie, too, but shes not here. The two of them are off to Mauritius on Monday part work, part play but Jackie has just discovered her passport is soon to run out. The stress of the situation has been tremendous. Laurence shudders. Because what does one wear to wait for four hours at a passport office? he asks, reasonably.
Even I can see its a tough call. Does one dress to impress in the hope it will mean being seen more quickly? Or should one go for an impression of desperate neediness?
Weve got new passport photographs in which, obviously, you want to look really quite nice because youre lumbered with them for 10 years. So if you look too dressed down and dont relate to your photo, you might not get in, Laurence muses.
For a few silent seconds, we contemplate the complexities of a Darwinian world where only the truly stylish survive. Nature, red in tooth and claw, with leopard-print accessories.
You know, if its hard to capture Laurences physical presence on paper, its even more tricky to convey the man himself. His statements need to be annotated with readers notes (Eg, NB: this is said with straight-faced hilarity.) in case anyone thinks hes as serious as he sounds. Picture a conversation with Leslie Nielsen, but good looking, and styled by the Tailor of Gloucester.
The reason why Jackies absence is particularly distressing is that were here to talk primarily about a fundraising event the Llewelyn-Bowens are hosting in aid of LINC, Cheltenhams fantastic cancer charity. (The praise he gives its co-founder and coordinator, Dr Gill Rouse, would make her blush scarlet; but, there again, hes expressing what we all think.) So where is this charity event going to take place, Laurence, and when? He sighs. Im never given serious information because, as everyone knows, I will completely forget it. It means getting rid of important stuff Renaissance stuff just so I can remember where the hell my car keys are.
In fact, worry not: I do find out the details (Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham, December 1, pre-Christmas drinks party entitled Joy to the Wold; theres more in a column down the side of this article) because Jackie phones me later. But in all truthfulness somewhat essential facts apart Laurence is just the person to talk about the event. Were beginning to develop such a family feeling towards a lot of the local charities like LINC and Breakthrough (the breast-cancer charity); and, obviously, LINC has that added dimension because my father died of leukaemia. He pauses. In fact, I think he died of what we would now classify as being a treatable leukaemia so its incredibly poignant in many respects.
Its a family tragedy Ive not heard him speak of before and I could guess at lots of reasons why. Its taken me a while to twig that, despite his open faade, he doesnt reveal a great deal about his real self. And why should he? Particularly when it comes to something as personal as this. His dad, Trefor, was a leading Harley-Street orthopaedic surgeon who died in 1974.
He was 42 and I was eight or nine. But it was a completely different world in those days. You had a much more formal relationship with your parents, and particularly with fathers. They werent expected to come home and, if they did, they played golf Not that he did.
But he was a busy man?
He was extraordinarily busy and this was one of the things that everyone felt was so tragic at the time. Hed been working very, very hard in a specialist field and was on the cusp of being so incredibly prominent; but he was dead very quickly. He was diagnosed just after Christmas and dead by July. So the thing is, my personal experience is very useful as a fundraiser and as a patron but, if Im entirely honest, its not as personal as it really sounds. Interestingly, its incredibly personal to my children, though. They get really emotional about it.
The grandfather they never knew?
Yes, but also they suddenly have these moments where they relate their relationship with me to the fact that I didnt have that relationship with a father.
Is that another legacy of this tragedy, I wonder. You cant talk to Laurence for long without Jackie or their girls 16-year-old Cecile and 13-year-old Hermione coming up naturally in conversation. He doesnt push them forward in any troubling way; its more that the Llewelyn-Bowens are a package. Perhaps the strength of that family unit is a result of his early loss.
Theres an element of that but I think, more than anything, Ive just been extraordinarily well trained by my wife, which is far more critical, he says, reverting to norm. Im also extremely lucky because I really like my children. Im not sure what I would have done with a thuggish son. Cecile is at Marlborough, recreating as Helena Bonham Carter in Room with a View. Theres a real strain of Edwardian bluestocking coming out in her, which has taken her mother and me completely by surprise. And then Hermione, being the dominant strain she is, is spreading like a virus to fill all the space now left available.
Theyve had an unusual childhood but I do feel these slightly extraordinary situations which, theoretically, are supposed to be bad for them like exposure to the Me-jia and access to five-star travel and all the trolley-dashes in Hamleys seem to have resulted in two very confident children rather than messed up showbiz kids.
The girls have also got two highly intelligent parents, of course. Its easy to forget that Laurence, as he wafts around giving sagging houses the decorative equivalent of a shot of botox, is incredibly cultured. Im never really sure I want to be a polymath, he demurs, though not primarily modestly. Its a combination of two words Ive never liked: poly, as in short for polyester, and math as in short for maths. I prefer dilettante. My mother begged me practically on her deathbed to promise her Id never be a dilettante. It was a term of such abuse as far as she was concerned; but, as far as Im concerned, its absolutely perfect.* The Society of Dilettanti was about the pursuit of the delectable and it was deliberately about not specialising in one thing too deeply: it was about floating across the meniscus of loveliness.
Oooh, I dont know maybe cultural epicure, then?
He tries it for size. Cepicure? Culpicure? I prefer glam-monger.
Hes just finished a big series for the BBC in Northern Ireland on contemporary architecture, and another on the Hidden Houses of Wales: The ability to be able to drag people to a little bit of information or a little bit of culture, without it being too stodgy, too carbohydrate, is what television does best.
Not that hes being patronising. Were all Culpicures in his books look at the impressive listening figures for Classic FM, for example (and particularly his show). Were a really passionate nation about culture. If you think about an institution like the National Trust, its demographic is extraordinary. Youve even got a little chapter in there Hells Angels at the National Trust which is one of the best things about it. Im sure there are all sorts: Wife Swappers at the National Trust. Doggers at the National Trust though Im still not entirely sure what that is.
But in case you think hes gone completely Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, fear not: My big thing at the moment is the fact that Makeover will be back and I apologise to everyone in advance. But weve got exactly the right business and economic climate to create the energy for makeover on television. Its what happened in 95/96 with Changing Rooms, as in: people arent moving. Theyre feeling very depressed by the fact that they cant do a Kevin McCloud (which Im quite secretly pleased about). The ability to be able to sprinkle a little bit of glamorous fairy-dust in your life, for not much money, is absolutely paramount.
In fact, he says, the dire state of the economy could make people happier, in a strange way. When the property market boomed, people felt they had to keep moving which meant they took down their flying ducks and beiged their houses (remember Ann Maurice?) and failed to engage with their communities because they didnt stay put for five minutes.
Now they are genuinely wanting to cheer themselves up wanting to let their hair down a bit. Even when it comes to something like putting in a new kitchen which has got to be several tens of thousands but its still a hell of a lot less than the commitment you make when you move even with that, people are putting in red; theyre putting in pink, orange. Theyre making real statements about themselves again, which they were so good at 10 years ago and so incredibly bad at five years ago.
So once again, hell be going through peoples knicker drawers, covering their walls in something big, swirly and Baroque, and revisiting Aunty Ritas flock wallpaper with a twist. Depending on whether you want to put yourself forward, or lock your door and hide, filming is due to begin just after Christmas.
Ah, yes. Christmas. He sighs. Weve got one of those coming up, I seem to remember. Were still waiting for the final headcount but we think it might be about 35 for lunch.
Where does he find them all?
I dont know, he says, with a certain cheerful resignation. I think we put an advert in Cotswold Life.
So I leave him to his festive contemplation, not hugely better informed but highly entertained. And shortly after, I assume, Laurence trots off on his horse to have his garters re-ironed.