February 07 2013
My morning is spent in the office,
talking horse racing and football. From Wednesday onwards the office gets
busier, as this is when the more high-profile sports tend to be played. This
evening we have a seductive international friendly, with England hosting Brazil
at Wembley. Adam Cheng is our football expert; it is his job to know as much
about every game as possible, from expected tactics to being up-to-date on team
news. Brazil are favourites, although the trade paper The Racing Post
tips England to win at odds of 9-4. Adam agrees, so it is decided: we are happy
to accommodate our members at generous prices on Brazil and the draw.
Taking a view such as this is imperative as a bookmaker – although you won’t always be right, but you certainly want to make sure you are right more often than you are wrong. It is a very tough industry; not everyone stays the course. A mentor of mine summed it up nicely when he said: “This game can tame lions.”
As tempting as it is to stay and watch the 1.30pm race from Southwell, I have a lunch date. My walk to Hakkasan on Bruton Street is one I have probably done more than a thousand times: nipping across Savile Row, past Cecconi’s, right on to Bond Street before taking a left towards Berkeley Square. This walk often reminds me of some of the passages from JP Donleavy’s The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, when the hero (the world’s last shy, elegant young man) moves to London and wanders the streets of Mayfair and Kensington, looking for love. I have a special fondness for the novel, as my father read the book to my mother when she was expecting me. They fell in love with the story and decided that if they had a boy they would name him Balthazar. The book was also the inspiration behind the name of our business – Fitzdares – because the love of Balthazar’s life is Elizabeth Fitzdare. We thought that having the word “dare” in our name was rather appropriate. I’m also very excited that Keith McNally will soon be opening a Covent Garden branch of the New York restaurant that shares my name; they have been kind enough to invite me to a soft opening next week. I’ll be sure to stock up on matchboxes.
But today I am having lunch with a very close friend, Amit Bhatia. Lunch with Amit is always a highlight. A more modest, polite, intelligent man you couldn’t wish to meet – yes, I have a man crush. And, crucially, he knows his way around the Hakkasan menu. The duck salad is superb, likewise the Shanghai dumplings, while the Oasis fan in me can’t help but order the morning glory [water spinach] with chilli. Amit has just become the UK’s largest independent supplier of construction materials, on account of Mittal Investments’ acquisition of Tarmac and Lafarge to create Hope Construction Materials. He talks passionately about his plans for the business and I have no doubt he will drive it to become a global player. He looks set to give his father-in-law, Lakshmi Mittal, a run for his money.
Inspired after two hours spent with Amit, I head back to the office for a meeting with the marketing team from Walpole, the trade body for the British luxury industry. Walpole has been a magnificent support since we started in 2005; we have benefited hugely from advice generously given by industry insiders including Lucia van der Post and John Ayton. I remain extraordinarily grateful.