“If I had a house big enough, I’d put a Gipsy Moth biplane in the sitting room”
Giles English is co-founder of Bremont Watch Company, an English luxury watchmaker with workshops in Henley-on-Thames and Silverstone.
Where do you go to think?
Into my garden to do some weeding. I’m not disturbed by anything, it’s very therapeutic and I’m also achieving something.
What are the everyday pleasures that you can’t live without?
A morning coffee, sitting in my kitchen with my family. Black filter coffee, just the right strength, and I have to make it myself.
To whom do you look for advice most often?
That has to be my brother [Nick English, co-founder of Bremont]. We work together and he is one of the few people who really understands the complete picture. I suspect he would say the same about me.
What’s the best thing you’ve done for someone else?
Employing people in the UK. We’ve got about 90 staff now, and when you employ someone you’ve got their whole livelihood at stake, their family situation, and it’s quite a responsibility – I do feel that. There’s pressure on both sides of the employee-employer relationship, but I like it when people can feel they’ve achieved and are part of something and Bremont is very much a team effort.
What’s the best thing anyone’s done for you?
In 2013, when I had my plane crash [piloting a 1930 Gipsy Moth], I was picked up by Northamptonshire Air Ambulance and I wouldn’t be in the state I am now if it hadn’t rescued me and my godson who was with me.
One of the lovely things about my job is that every day is spent designing and building
Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?
When I was about 12, we had a family sailing trip. We’d spent our lives up to that point sailing in the North Sea, near Ipswich, then we sailed to the Mediterranean, and landed on a little island called Tagomago, near Ibiza. It was paradise: there was a single bar, no other boats, and I thought this is what sailing, and life, is all about. Before then, I hadn’t realised you could dive into water without a wetsuit.
What’s the best thing you can cook?
Beef Wellington, because I surprise myself with it not being terrible each time I cook it. It’s one of those dishes you never make or eat regularly but is really nice. I cooked it for my wife’s birthday once and though, ‘Actually, this is good.’ I have tried making my own pastry, but shop-bought is the way to go.
How do you make yourself happy?
Family comes first, but on a personal level, fiddling around in the workshop or fixing old cars and motorbikes. Working with my hands, fixing something, creating something. I live my life around cogs and gears, and fitting them together in some form that works is deeply satisfying.
Name the art and/or culture that most inspires you or enriches your leisure time.
I see art in a way an engine is built, or a car is built, as much as a painting on a wall. Classic cars, guitars and beautifully made musical instruments are art to me. I find them inspiring. Cars like the old E-Type Jaguars, Ferrari GTO, and old Bentleys. Gibson guitars. If I had a house big enough, I’d put a Gipsy Moth biplane in the sitting room as a piece of art.
Can you name something you’ve bought that you would never give away?
When I was coming out of university, I got my first job, my first money, and I went into an old garage and saw this very sad 1973 Porsche 911 – which is the same age as me – for sale. Madly, I bought it, restored it myself, used it as a daily car; I still use it often as a daily car. There have been so many tight situations, like when we were raising money for Bremont and remortgaged our houses, that I should have sold this car, but I could never bring myself to do it.
When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised?
As I’ve got older, I’ve realised that materialism dies and other things matter more. For me, the excitement of material things is in building and working on them; actually owning them is not so much the joy. Really, it’s the love of your family that you want to see – and making life simple. I never thought I would like gardening.
When was the last time you made or created something?
We’re just launching our America’s Cup watch collection, which has been a long process of design and manufacturing, about two years. One of the lovely things about the job I do is that every day is spent designing and building. It’s a passion that I can put into my work.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My family. Kids bring so much. I have twins aged 14 and a 12-year-old. They are a real gang. Outside the family, it’s starting Bremont, something that everyone said would be impossible.
What do you consider humankind’s greatest achievement?
It has to be love and appreciation of one another – yes, that sounds a bit corny, but everything comes down to that. When it works, it’s amazing and nothing else matters.
Who best demonstrates, or has demonstrated, the courage of their convictions?
I’m amazed by the explorers we’ve worked with. People like Kenton Cool, who has just climbed Everest for the 12th time. Jake Meyer, off to K2 shortly. Ben Saunders, who did the South Pole. They push themselves beyond limits to a level I can’t comprehend. Ben spent 10 years of his life to raise funds to do the Pole trip, and then almost killed himself on it. That has to be ‘courage of your convictions’, doesn’t it?
What song could you sing most completely right now?
Another Girl, Another Planet by [punk band] The Only Ones, which is a song my band plays. We’re a very bad band; my brother-in-law sings, my brother and I play guitar song, and I hum along in the background. We’ve been playing the same songs for about 20 years.
What’s the best journey you’ve ever been on?
Nick and I did an amazing trip together around France and Eastern Europe in two old biplanes in 1992. Sleeping under the wings of the planes. Flying over the remnants of the Berlin Wall not long after it had been pulled down – this scar in the land beneath us – and being some of the first British pilots to land at certain airfields in Eastern Europe.
If you could do one thing to change the status quo, what would it be?
A three-day weekend. If you could run the economy off that, everyone would be so much happier.
You have one trip in a time machine: where and when would you go?
Back to the day my dad died in 1995, a beautiful March morning, to do whatever I could to prevent it. [Euan English died when the WWII Harvard aircraft he was flying along with Nick English crashed.]
If money were no object, what would you buy?
A tangible ‘thing’ would be John Harrison’s marine clock that Captain Cook took, so he could tell the time and measure longitude at sea, and discovered the world with. Listed in the top 100 objects in the world, it is an amazing invention.