Dom Joly: Goodbye to a Cotswold life

Allan Mustoe with Dom Joly

Allan Mustoe with Dom Joly - Credit: Archant

Dom Joly says goodbye to Allan Mustoe, a friend and a true Cotswold character.

The Windrush church was packed – people were standing at the back as the bell was rung energetically for five minutes to summon any latecomers to the service. We’d got there in good time but only just managed to find a seat. We’d come to say goodbye to an extraordinary man – Allan Mustoe, who was taken way before his time. As I sat in the back row and peered over the heads of the congregation to the wooden coffin that sat up front, I found it difficult to believe that I was really there – at the end of a true Cotswold life.

I met Allan when I first moved down to the Cotswolds and settled into the village of Quenington. He was one of the first people that I came across in our new rural life. To say that he was a character would be an understatement. He knocked on the door and introduced himself with enormous charm. In he came for one of a hundred or so subsequent cups of tea as he would wax lyrical about politics, the village, something I’d recently done on the telly or simply to let us know what mischief our Labrador had got up to on one his many escapades. Allan worked on the estate we lived on and his battered old Land Rover would be a familiar sight, his two sheepdogs in the back, with him either clutching an enormous chainsaw or some other sinister looking implement for use that day.

When I’d take the dogs for a walk along the River Coln. Allan would always be stoking some huge fire or fencing off a piece of woodland, or up some long, perilous looking ladder. He’d stop whatever he was doing for a long chat about whatever had caught his interest that particular day. He was a man of many surprises. He’d never been abroad but was spectacularly well informed and inquisitive about any place I’d recently returned from.

I’d talk to him about his life; he was born in Windrush to a very humble family – “the poorest in the village, we were Dom.” As a boy, he was partial to a spot of poaching and always told me that he’d preferred fishing to school that he left at 15 to become a shepherd. He loved the countryside so much and was incredibly useful in guiding Stacey and I through some of the more intricate rituals facing an urban couple who’d set up home in this strange new world.

When I set up a gym at home and started to try to box for exercise he turned up with his own set of gloves and proceeded to tutor me in the finer arts of pugilism, always insisting that I should do this while listening to his beloved band – The Who – at full volume. I asked him why he was so adept at boxing but he just winked at me and hinted of long forgotten battles when he was in the construction trade.

He would always give it to me straight. He was effusive about my early TV work and adored the spoof travel show I did round the world. If, however, something did not sit right with him, he’d tell me straight away. My second book was – “not to my liking, if I’m honest Dom… not really my thing…” and when he discovered Twitter he was often horrified at some of my more feisty interactions with disgruntled members of the public.

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He would often invite Stacey and I round to his house for dinner. His beloved wife would load our plates up with hearty grub as we’d chat to his two impressive kids of whom he was so rightly proud.

And now, here I was in this stark, old church saying goodbye to this true Cotswold character. He’d died way too young, in his sleep at home, having done his usual ‘energetic’ dancing at a party.

His kids spoke movingly about their father and how he would never now see them become the successful adults they are already clearly going to be. Allan would have been so proud of the way they spoke at the service. I was certainly exceptionally proud to call him a friend. Goodbye Allan. The Cotswolds is a poorer place without you.