Where in London do you live and/or work?
I live outside of London, near Silverstone, now, but I used to live in Bayswater. These days my time is split between home, the Bremont headquarters in Henley and our two main shops in London – at The Royal Exchange and in Mayfair. So I still spend a lot of time in the city. I think both areas have a lovely buzz about them; they’re quite similar in the sense that the restaurants and the bars are great, and there’s just a good atmosphere. It’s nice to see people coming back to the City now. I used to work in the City a long time ago, so I have fond memories of it.
What’s your earliest memory of London?
I grew up in Norfolk and my earliest memories are of coming to London with my mother to see my grandparents, and my mother getting completely lost driving around London. After university I got a job in corporate finance in the City, so that was my first experience of spending proper time in London and it was just full of excitement, with so much going on. I love the place.
What makes London special to you?
I travel a lot, and I go to lots of cities around the world, and without doubt London is my favourite. What I love is that there are so many different villages within London. Even in the City you can go down a different street and find there’s a whole new world and climate going on there. I also think the food in London is some of the best food in the world. I love the multicultural feel to it as well, the way it has that buzz but with a slightly village feel. It’s not engulfed into one centre, there are lots of different parts to London. And obviously the architecture is just to die for – wherever you go around London, from the old and modern buildings of the City to the lovely townhouses of Mayfair. It’s very special.
How would you describe London in three words?
Fun, buzzy, experiential.
Because whenever you go to London you have an experience of some kind, and you never quite know what that’s going to be. Even if it’s just going to the barber or to a pub on the corner, it always feels like an experience of some kind.
What’s your usual morning ritual?
It has to be a good strong coffee, to start off with. But then, since lockdown, going out in the garden and doing a bit of gardening, or just getting some fresh air into my lungs. We recently got a dog, so I’ll take the dog for a walk. I think getting outside in the morning, and doing something, is incredibly important. So, definitely: coffee, a quick check of our global retail sales emails from around the world and then going outside for a bit of fresh air.
What do you do to keep a good work-life balance?
I’ve always felt it’s very important to have hobbies. Growing up, my father had this amazing workshop – he built aeroplanes, he built a boat that we lived on, and he had this love for watches and clocks. The love that my brother Nick and I have for watchmaking came from our father and being in that workshop, so I find nothing more fun than getting into the workshop and having a hobby. I’m building a wooden surfboard at the moment and I’m doing up my old motorbike. I find fiddling around in the workshop is a really good stress reliever. Having a distraction like that, or it could be playing sport, just to get away from your phone, is so good for you.
Also, learning something new. Every year I try and learn a new skill. My latest one is learning to race classic cars. My brother and I also play in a band, so we’re never bored! Make sure you have hobbies, or your work can be all too consuming in life.
What activities, habits or rituals have you found help you to maintain good mental health through challenging times?
I think you’ve got to learn and teach yourself not to dwell on stuff that’s gone wrong. When something is going badly, I’ve tried to teach myself to look forward positively, not to look back and get too stuck in what went wrong.
In our business, we’ve always had this “three times” rule, which is where we expect that things will always take three times longer, be three times harder, and cost three times more. If you accept that, it can help you to fight through the stress and challenges to come out the other side. So just accepting difficulties rather than chastising yourself for them.
I also think having someone to turn to is important. I’ve got my wife, who is very good at telling me to put my phone down, have a drink and just relax. I think it’s very easy to get into a mode where there’s no off button – especially the past couple of years, when is that off button kicking in? My advice would be to make sure you have someone to talk to and try to keep looking forward and not to dwell on the past.
Are there any resources that you use, and would recommend, to help keep a positive state of mind?
At Bremont, we work with a lot of ex-military people, such as Aldo Kane and Jason Fox, and all of these people have been through these highs and lows. I think reading their books about their experiences, and reading around these subjects, helps you to realise that actually there are ways around challenges, and it’s not just you going through these stressful times. My recommendation is to pick up these inspirational books, where people have had these highs and lows, and learn from those, because it’s very therapeutic.
The Royal Exchange Bremont boutique
What do you like to do to relax?
I think friends are very important. It’s very easy to stop making the effort that you should be, when you’re working hard and you’re stuck in your little world. I think making sure you keep in contact with friends and doing some socialising away from everything else is a very good tonic. Laughter, and never taking yourself too seriously, I think is pretty key.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 6 months?
There’s a very good book that I recently re-read called Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel. It’s all about the story of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and how John Harrison invented the marine chronometer, to discover the world. It sounds like an incredibly dry book, but it’s actually a really inspirational story about British watchmaking and how an eccentric carpenter came down to London and spent over 30 years of his life solving this problem of how to measure longitudinal time, which meant that the whole British Empire grew because they could now tell the time at sea. It’s a brilliant and fascinating read, and I think every Londoner should understand why the world still sets its time by Greenwich Mean Time. There’s a reason for that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My father, who sadly died in a plane crash when he was 49, had an expression he used to say: ‘It is better to live life and lose it, then never live life at all.’ I didn’t really know what it meant while he was alive, but afterwards I realised that he’d had this most amazing life and that every day was important. In the stresses and strains of everyday life, it’s very easy to forget why we are all here, but he definitely didn’t sit back and waste his life. So that saying has always stuck in my head – to treat every day as though it is potentially our last, and just live life.
What thought always puts you in a good mood?
My family. I’ve got three beautiful daughters, and they make me laugh. And also, the weekend!
Giles English is the co-founder of British watch brand Bremont, which has a boutique at The Royal Exchange. Discover more about Bremont watches here.
The Royal Exchange is partnering with Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest to encourage conversations about mental health, wellbeing and community spirit. For further information on Mind in the City, its support services – a range of innovative and collaborative services to support people’s mental and physical wellbeing, resilience and recovery – and how you can get involved with campaigning, fundraising or volunteering, please visit: mindchwf.org.uk
Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is part of the national Mind network, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing difficulties, visit mind.org.uk to access information about a broad range of topics and services, designed to help you overcome the challenges of this difficult time