Theo Fennel Q&A
YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY EXPERIENCED A GREAT DEAL OF SUCCESS IN YOUR LIFE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT, AND WHY?
My family, would be the greatest accomplishment and one sadly underrated nowadays when people seem so motivated by money and ‘success’ which is such an illusory thing and never quite achieved. My wife and daughters and their partners all have their own full lives, doing the interesting things they do brilliantly with a great deal of humour and decency. We are all very engaged in life and have, between us, a huge range of interests and passions, some serious and some extremely puerile. We still spend a lot of time together and, without that, nothing else would mean very much. I suppose having kept a workshop and studio together for forty-odd years is the other thing that gives great joy.
LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS SMOOTH. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT A SETBACK OR TRAGEDY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED, HOW YOU DEALT WITH IT, AND THE IMPACT IT HAS HAD ON YOU?
I think, every creative who finds themselves working in a commercial world with suits and investors is going to have setbacks and disappointments galore and I have certainly had more of those than you could shake a stick at. But disaster is often comical and, if you can take the mistakes you made with humour and realise the people who have let you down have to live with that, you have the makings of a good sitcom. Like anyone, I have had people close to me die and be in grave danger but life is not perfect and anyone living during the years I have in the places I have should consider themselves blessed. I think I tend to be good in a crisis but I don’t really want to test that theory too often!
DO YOU SET ASIDE “ME-TIME” IN YOUR CALENDAR, AND WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME TO RELAX?
I try to but, like anyone with a butterfly brain and too many interests I teeter on the verge of complete indolence so I tend to do three or four ‘relaxing’ things at thesame time; draw, do a crossword, watch television and write at the same time. I find playing the guitar badly, golf equally so, reading, sketching….many, many things but not always in a relaxed way. It is my autumn of life mission to learn to sit still without doing more than one thing.
WHAT’S THE MOST MAGICAL PLACE YOU’VE DISCOVERED WHERE YOU CAN GO TO CHILL OUT?
I find a lot of places very sympathetic but I prefer home most of all. I love many parts of the world and imagine what it might be like to live there but, in the end, my heart tugs me back here and sitting at home with family and friends is always the most magical ….but then that can happen anywhere in the world with the right people.
DOES PHILANTHROPY PLAY A ROLE IN YOUR LIFE, TO WHAT EXTENT AND HOW?
In as much as I feel I can help people not to make the mistakes I made and spend time with them to give them some sort of advice, I do try. I find spending time teaching and mentoring hugely satisfying so it isn’t purely altruistic. We have an initiative called Gilded Youth in our company that tries to give some help and support-sometimes technical, sometimes moral and occasionally financial – to young people either at college or just starting. It seems that too many young people have become so obsessed with fame, riches and glamour that they have forgotten the satisfaction of designing, inventing and making things and of being responsible for themselves. There is too much unrealistic aspiration which becomes so disenfranchising. Learning to do something really well, whatever it is, takes time and some tenacity but being useful can lead to such a fulfilling and enjoyable life. The young people I work with who are prepared either to apprentice themselves or learn a trade become so self-reliant, decent and happy in their skins. I really believe we have to change the way we think so we have more respect for each other’s skills, usefulness and trades and understand how important each of these these are. It is what was called parity of esteem. So, in as much as I can help with this, I will.
WHO IS ON THE GUEST LIST FOR YOUR IDEAL DINNER PARTY, PRESENT OR PAST?
Difficult, I would rather keep it to dead people at their zenith. P.G Wodehouse to make us all laugh, Kay Kendall who I have loved since I was eleven, Elvis Presley to sing to us (I would be very upset if he pulled Kay), Billie Holliday to sing after Elvis, Cesar Ritz to cook for us, Ava Garner for my father, my father who died many years ago but who I would love to have met when he was 30, Wallis Simpson to see what all the fuss was about, Tommy Cooper, obviously and Lucretia Borgia to tell us about the all Renaissance shenanigans. I wouldn’t mind meeting Shakespeare after dinner to confirm that he wrote all his plays and verse and X who could answer the question “…but who did it? With the death of X we will never know.”
CAN YOU OFFER ANY WORDS OF WISDOM FOR OUR READERS?
Nothing really that Shakespeare didn’t say first “this, above all, to thine own self be true.” There are some terrible, selfish and uncivilized people out there but the world is overwhelmingly full of decent, thoughtful and amusing people. Decency, a sense of humour, the ability not to take life too seriously and loyalty are all desperately undervalued things and anyone who has these is half way to happiness.
And, remember ‘A friend in need is a bloody nuisance.’